What Muscle Groups Are Most Active While Swimming?

Swimming has become a form of physical therapy for young and older people alike because of its ability to work out a variety of muscle groups. With a low risk for injury, it is no surprise that many people turn to swimming for healing or competitive fun. Swimming is a full body workout, so strength training for swimmers is critical for increasing speed and technique. However, being aware of all the muscle groups that are activated while swimming can help plan your workout regime and not overly exhaust one muscle group:

Butterfly stroke – As you push through the water, the butterfly stroke requires a lot of power from the deltoid and trapezius muscles. The deltoid muscles include the front and back of the shoulders while the trapezius muscles encompass the area behind the back of the neck and side of the neck. These two muscles are the key components to propelling yourself through the water. Butterfly stroke swimmers often experience lower back pain because of the excessive abdomen engagement involved in the stroke. Strength training for swimmers who perform the butterfly stroke should include abdomen and lower back exercises in order to alleviate pain.

Backstroke – Despite its name, the back muscles (latissimus dorsi and spinus erectors) are only one piece of backstroke swimming. The muscles located in the thigh and groin area have a critical job to propel you through the water (with help from your arm muscles), specifically the hip flexors. Once again, abdominal muscles are critical to back support.

Breaststroke – The most important part of this technique is perfectly timing movement between the upper and lower body. The pectoralis major muscle (upper body) and bicep muscles in the arms are used to drive you through the water. Once the swimmer reverts back to the starting position, the deltoid and trapezius muscles are activated, similarly to the butterfly stroke technique. The frog kick utilizes the glutes, hip, knee, and ankle muscles to quickly drive you through the water.

While planning out strength training for swimmers, it’s important to space out workouts for each muscle group. Swim stroke training can help strengthen muscles while improving joint flexibility. The Race Club is dedicated to helping professional swimmers improve their technique and speed through our Lane subscriptions. Learn about our free Lane 1 subscription packed with training resources for swimmers.