Swimming Styles | Which Muscles Are Used When Swimming and Their Benefits?

Swimming Styles | Which Muscles Are Used When Swimming and Their Benefits?

Various Swimming Styles

Overall swimming style is a combination of body position, arm movement, leg movement, tempo, and breathing. Knowing how to move in the water is a good thing, but knowing and mastering the different styles of swimming is quite another! This guide offers a brief overview of the main types of swimming styles.

Before starting to learn the technicalities of various strokes, it may

be necessary to review the basics… and a common basis for all swimming is mastery of “aquatic” breathing.

A wide variety of swimming styles: breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly, freestyle…


The breaststroke is the most practiced swimming, and arguably the simplest because it does not require the head under water (except in the case of the breaststroke, a variation of the breaststroke that involves placing the head under water every other movement to gain speed).


The swimmer’s position offers less resistance to water in the front crawl than in other strokes, because most of the body, including the head, is submerged in the water.

The fastest type of swimming because alternating arm pulls and continuous leg kicks produce a continuous push. The swimmer’s face points to the bottom of the water. To breathe, the head is not completely lifted out of the water as in the breaststroke, but is turned to the side. This keeps the body in a horizontal orientation.

Butterfly style

This style of swimming is the most technical of movements, either for coordination of movements or for breathing. In general, this style is for the more athletic swimmer; very physically exhausting due to the intensity and force required.

If swimming properly, butterflies are the second fastest swimmers on the surface, after front crawling. Butterflies are generally considered to be the most spectacular swimmers.


Once mastered, this style allows for real relaxation. It helps to train the back, and is often recommended by physiotherapists.

When swimming with the backstroke, the arm pulls are alternated, where the arms are dipped in the water above the head, guided underwater towards the body in the direction of the feet and the back above the water surface. To achieve the highest possible efficiency, the arms are not straight, but bent underwater, because you have more force in the bent arm (called forward elbow position).

Alternatively, alternating arm pulls can also be substituted by moving the hand and forearm slowly up and down. The upper arms are held outstretched at the sides of the body. In both variants there is a foot kick, as in crawl swimming, from alternating up and down movements of the legs from the hips. A powerful kick in the backstroke stabilizes the position in the water.

Butterfly swimming style | Which Muscles Are Used When Swimming and Their Benefits?
Butterfly swimming style | Which Muscles Are Used When Swimming and Their Benefits? Photo credit: Pxfuel

What muscles are worked when swimming?

The forms of swimming vary and allow you to work different muscles. Here are 4 techniques of each swimming styles:

Benefits of swimming breaststroke

It mainly works on the biceps, chest, stomach and calves. Hands joined at chest level. They are then pushed forward until the arms are fully extended. Then, they separate, run on each side of the body and meet in the starting position. During this time, the leg performs a scissor breaststroke which involves bringing the heel close to the buttocks and then performing a push like a frog jump. The faster this combination of moves, the stronger the momentum.

Benefits of freestyle swimming

Easy to do, crawling lets you swim fast. As the legs alternate kicks, the arms come out of the water. The palms should face the water when diving to encourage power. This type of swimming helps tone all the muscles: arms, shoulders, legs, chest, and abs.

Benefits of backstroke swimming

This exercise allows you to work your back muscles effectively. The movement is the same as the front crawl except the back is facing the water and not the chest. The main difficulty of the backstroke is to stay in the starting trajectory. major muscle groups used during this backstroke are latissimus dorsi (the muscles down the sides of your back), trapezius, triceps and biceps.

The tricep is the back of the upper arm muscle which has three heads, namely the outer or lateral head (the outer tricep muscle), the inner head (the inner tricep muscle), and the long head (the side tricep muscle).

The biceps are a muscle located at the front of your upper arm. It is referred to as a ‘bi’ because it consists of two distinct heads – a longer outer head and a shorter inner head.

Benefits of butterfly swimming

The butterfly-type swimming motion allows you to deeply build your abdominal muscles.

It’s most effective all round stroke for toning and building muscles. It helps with upper body strength, toning your chest, stomach, arms (particularly your triceps) and your back muscles. However, this is the most difficult technique to master because it requires perfect coordination. The legs should be arched so that the trunk is pushed out of the water. When out of the water, arms open in a U shape and palms should come back first. Once the arm is in the water, the arm should be pushed back toward the waist. This sequence must be repeated continuously.

Benefits of Swimming

Sports activities without impact on joints

One of the first benefits of swimming is of course no impact on the joints and back, which makes this sport suitable for all ages. Research has shown that participating in water activities soothes pain associated with arthritis and osteoarthritis while strengthening the joints.

Swimming also helps maintain and even improve bone health in premenopausal and postmenopausal women. By practicing this type of exercise, physically fit people will protect themselves from possible joint pain.

Tighten muscles without pain

The weightless effect felt when a person is immersed in water allows all the muscles to work very gently. Since the body’s buoyancy is 80%, movements that are difficult to achieve on the ground can be easily performed in the water. In addition, additional heavy loads are not required because the aquatic environment itself provides resistance. Men who practiced the swimming program for 8 weeks increased their triceps muscle mass by 23.8%. Regular swimming exercises help tone the muscles of the arms, legs, and body.

Benefits for mental health

When we soak in the water, our weight is lighter and this makes all the muscles more relaxed, like the position of the fetus in the mother’s womb.

Thus, tension and stress evaporate, giving way to a calmer feeling. In addition to the relaxation context in which it is practiced, swimming, like all sports, causes the secretion of endorphins (= neurotransmitters produced by the pituitary and hypothalamus). These hormones work in the brain, spinal cord, and digestive system to bring the person into a happy state. The results of the study concluded that swimming reduces tension, excessive anger, the risk of depression, confusion and restores strength for those who indulge.

Improve the capacity of the heart (cardiovascular) and better breathing

In addition to using all the muscles of the body (biceps, triceps, abs, quads, etc.), swimming requires a respiratory system and cardiovascular capacity.

You may have noticed that it is impossible to breathe underwater. To develop properly in water, it is therefore necessary to coordinate breathing (especially inspiration) with movement.

Read also: Heart diseases | List of cardiovascular diseases | Include pathologies that affect the heart and all of the blood vessels

If you are still having trouble controlling your breathing, i.e. inhaling on the surface and exhaling underwater, all without interfering with your movements, it is better to practice and do some exercises. On the other hand, if you have total mastery of aquatic breathing, no doubt, you are ready to learn all the styles of swimming!

It is one of the most effective physical activities for increasing venous return. Due to muscle contraction and relaxation, the various movements performed increase blood circulation while limiting water retention. This is especially beneficial for frequently affected feet. By swimming regularly, the heart will provide increased energy and endurance. Swimming thus reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease because, both at rest and during exercise, the work of the heart becomes easier.

Some general tips before you swim

Make sure you know how to swim.
Choose a safe environment and ensure water safety for children.
Warm up and stretch your muscles and joints before getting into the water.
Provide plenty of fluids and drink regularly.
Don’t over-swim if you’re just starting out.
See your doctor if you haven’t exercised in a long time.

Sources: PinterPandai, StackSports PublicationsAll American SwimEnjoy Swimming

Photo credit (main photo): Pxfuel


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