How Swimming Increases Your Endurance

swimming increases endurance
Photo Credit: Wynand van Poortvliet

If you’ve ever watched Michael Phelps swim during the Olympics, you’ve probably marveled at how fast he is. Phelps was decently fast at short-distance, or sprint, swimming, but his real talent was in endurance swimming. By utilizing the unique ways that swimming conditioned his body, Phelps was able to build both endurance and speed as he practiced.

We can’t promise that you’ll ever win an Olympic gold medal, but we can show you ways that you can increase swimming endurance for yourself. In addition to being a great total-body workout, swimming is a great way to get anaerobic exercise and increase your lungs’ capacity. Swimming is also a low-impact sport, meaning that it’s much easier on your knees, and because it’s usually an individual sport, you can train at your own pace. Here are ways to use swimming to increase your overall physical endurance.

  1. Swimming uses cross-training

Cross-training is a pretty general term–the more dedicated swimmers sometimes refer to this as “dryland.” Essentially, cross-training of any kind means that athletes take a short break from their specialty sport and try a different sport or some type of other exercise that they don’t normally do. By trying other exercises, athletes develop muscles and gain skills that make them faster and stronger at their specialty sport. For swimmers, this means doing anything that’s not in the water (hence “dryland”). Cross-training can range from jump rope to yoga to weights and anything in between. As these types of exercises help strengthen underused muscles, they also give swimmers a break from the muscles they typically use in their swimming routines. This combination of dryland and swimming offers athletes a way to increase endurance in all muscle groups for a total body workout.

  1. Swimming increases your aerobic capabilities

Building swimming endurance requires top-notch aerobic capabilities. Swimming is usually considered an aerobic exercise because you’re consistently and regularly breathing, and your body can intake the needed oxygen to sustain exercise for extended lengths of time. To become better at endurance swimming, you’ll need to master your body’s aerobic exercise techniques to make sure that your body can more efficiently intake and retain oxygen.

One way to do this is to simply swim longer distances at the same pace. However, one trick to help your lungs increase their aerobic capacity faster is to use breathing techniques. One breathing technique is “bilateral breathing.” Bilateral breathing means that you alternate breathing on both your right and left sides. To increase aerobic capacity, try completing three strokes, breathing, and then completing five strokes and breathing again. When you feel like you can swim without getting lightheaded, try adding more strokes in between each breath. The longer you can go without breathing, the more efficient your body is getting at utilizing oxygen. The better you get at aerobic activity, the better you’ll be at all aerobic sports.

  1. Swimming uses a variety of equipment

Swimming is a great way to increase your body’s overall endurance. Especially with a variety of available equipment, you can get a total body workout easily. For one of your swimming practices, you can use flippers and focus exclusively on kicking. You can also add small weights to your wrists or ankles to increase muscle strength while you swim. These exercises can help you increase your endurance in swimming, but the muscle mass you gain will give you a competitive edge in other sports, too.

  1. Swimming uses a lot of repetition

Building swimming endurance–or endurance for any sport–doesn’t happen in a day. It takes a lot of practice. If you take a break for an extended period of time, you can lose all your progress. Experts recommend swimming at least three times a week at a minimum to keep your abilities up. To increase swimming endurance, you can also do “ladders” during your workout. If you haven’t done ladders before, the concept is that you gradually increase then decrease the distances in your workout. Begin with three laps, take a short break, then do five laps, have a break, then seven laps. After that, slowly work your way down again. As you increase endurance, you can bump up your top number of laps at your highest ladder. This kind of repetition is essential for all sports, especially running, so the skills transfer well.

  1. Swimming is better than leg day

Swimming is an excellent exercise for your legs. The nonstop kicking will tone your muscles in no time. Many of the same cross-training concepts apply here: the stronger your legs get at swimming, the more the muscles will develop to help you in other sports. Swimming is also unique because it uses such a variety of muscles in your legs. Depending on the type of kicks you use, you can focus on quads, inner thighs, or hamstrings.

  1. Core body strength is essential to swimming

If you’re a swimmer, you’re guaranteed to have good core body strength. Core body strength is essential in building swimming endurance. Both abs and lower back muscles are used to keep your body balanced in the water and keep opposite arms and legs coordinated in front stroke.

  1. Upper body strength is unparalleled

For a true upper body strength workout, there are very few workouts that can compare to swimming. Especially if you’re a swimmer who specializes in front stroke or breast stroke, you’re already doing well on your deltoids and lats. Breaststroke and butterfly increase your endurance in deltoids, pecs, and biceps, and backstroke works all of your shoulder muscles.

By using these methods to increase swimming endurance, you’ll be well on your way to better fitness. You’ll be able to swim longer distances faster, and many of the physical abilities you gain from endurance swimming can translate to other physical activities. For more ways to build endurance swimming, check out these swimming strokes that are designed to build your endurance in the water. If you’d like to start building swimming endurance, even if you’re just a beginner, contact SwimJim today!