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Professional swimmers are famous for their impressive bodies.
But what's unique about swimming is that it seems like every muscle group gets an even workout.
You'll never see a swimmer with an overdeveloped tennis arm. And you'll never see a swimmer who looks like they skipped leg day.
But if you look a little closer, you'll find that their muscles aren't as equal as you think. There's rarely a muscle that gets neglected – but there are some that are crucial to giving you the balance and propulsion you need to master the water.
So if you're looking to add some extra training outside the pool (or you're just curious about which muscles your favourite stroke uses), you need to know what your body's up to you when you swim.
Here are five of the most important muscles that every swimmer should pay attention to.
Your triceps are the muscles at the back of your upper arms. They're usually associated with any kind of 'push' activity – like push-ups, boxing, or bench presses.
But when it comes to swimming, they become a part of your pull.
So how does that work?
When you're swimming in front crawl, backstroke, or butterfly, the final part of each stroke (the downward push towards your hips) relies heavily on your triceps.
Which means that if your triceps aren't strong, you're missing out on a significant chunk of each stroke. And in a long-distance swim or a race, those small inefficiencies really start to add up.
Without a well-trained pair of triceps to help you squeeze every bit of momentum out of each and every cycle, you'll need to use more strokes to cover the same distance. (A bit like trying to cycle everywhere in first gear.)
Your lats are the big muscles on the sides of your middle back. And unlike the triceps, they're a huge part of every 'pull' your body makes.
(If you're not sure where your lats are, just go and do a few pull-ups. You'll know exactly where they are for the next few days after that!)
They're used in all of the major swimming strokes, creating the initial pull as your hand moves down to your chest before your triceps start to take over.
But they also have a special function in the backstroke: When you're going for a flat-out sprint using the backstroke, the flexing of your lats shifts you into a different rhythm – one where your body sits higher up in the water.
It's not a good position to keep up for long periods of time. But by having strong lats, you should find it easier to kick into a short burst of speed when you need to.
It should come as no surprise that your shoulder muscles play a huge part in how you swim. Every motion of every type of swimming stroke rotates around the shoulders – which means they're the essential pivot that enables a strong swim.
Unfortunately, that also means they come under the most stress. And if you're not careful, you could develop something called Swimmer's Shoulder.
So while it's important to train your shoulder muscles so they can handle the extra work, you should be especially careful not to overdo it – you need your shoulders if you want to swim!
Your quadriceps are the big muscles at the front of the tops of your legs. And while everyone knows legs are important, there's one lesser-known area where your quads play a massive role:
And that's any time you touch a wall.
When racers roll into a wall-turn – or when they dive from their starting blocks – a strong set of quads can help to launch you faster and further.
So why should that matter?
Because swimming underwater is a huge advantage.
Back in 1988, Olympic swimmer David Berkoff broke the world record for backstroke by staying underwater for as long as possible on each lap.
In fact, his performance was so strong that it forced the international swimming regulators to change the rules, putting a fifteen-metre limit on underwater swimming after each turn or dive.
So if you want to get the most out of that fifteen metres in your next competition, you could do with a well-trained pair of quads to help you take off. Take a look at our recently launched kickboard for extra assistance when looking to develop your legs and core faster.
While your abs don't directly contribute to your propulsion through the water, they do play a vital role in helping you keep your body hydrodynamic. (That's just a fancy term for 'streamlined'. Think 'aerodynamic' – but in the water.)
Without a strong core, you'll find it harder to keep your body straight and high up in the water. And if you start to sag, you start to drag.
If your body isn't straight and streamlined, you'll create extra resistance that slows you down – and that means your other muscles will need to work harder to help you hit the same speed.
So while you should definitely be training the muscles that directly help you move, you shouldn't neglect your core. They're the muscles that help your other muscles have an easier time. Using a pullbuoy is often a great way of ensuring that you work your core as you can keep swimming further as your chest and arms get tired
Have you got a favourite workout routine that's focused on swimming? Or do you just let the water train whichever muscles it wants?
We'd love to hear about the progress you've made in the comments below. And if you've got any secret training tips, don't keep them all to yourself!
Written by Michael Chapman
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