The 3 Best Swimming Workouts To Get Toned


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Swimming is an excellent aerobic workout that builds cardiovascular fitness. Even relatively fit athletes who are on accustomed to swimming and jump into the pool for a couple of laps quickly see how breathless they can become while swimming.

However, swimming workouts can also help you get toned. By performing swim workouts that include a variety of swimming strokes and drills, you can get a fantastic total-body strengthening workout.

If you are new to the pool or just need a little inspiration for some swimming workouts and exercises to make your water workouts more effective and varied, keep reading for some great ideas for swimming workouts for different fitness levels.

We will cover: 

  • Benefits of Swimming
  • Can Swimming Get You Toned?
  • The 3 Best Swimming Workouts To Get Toned
  • Tips for Effective Swimming Workouts

Let’s get started!

A person swimming in a lap pool.

Benefits of Swimming

There are numerous benefits of swimming for exercise. It is a great way to build aerobic fitness, increase your endurance, and strengthen your heart and lungs.

Swimming also can strengthen the muscles in your shoulders, back, arms, core, and legs, including your deltoids and rotator cups, latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, biceps and triceps, forearms, abdominal muscles, spinal stabilizer muscles, glutes, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, calves, shins, and hip abductor and adductor muscle groups.

The more variety in the swimming strokes you perform in your swimming exercises, the more muscle groups you will target.

Another benefit of swimming is that it is a non-impact activity. The water provides buoyancy to the body, making swimming an excellent exercise for people with arthritis, joint disease, or musculoskeletal injuries that prevent weight-bearing.

Swimming can also be beginner-friendly and approachable for those who are overweight or obese because the buoyancy of the water can help offset the challenges of moving a larger body size against gravity.

A person swimming butterfly.

Can Swimming Get You Toned?

In addition to swimming workouts providing a great form of cardiovascular exercise, the water provides natural resistance to your body as you travel through it. 

Having to push water out of your way as you kick, pull, push, and perform various swimming strokes helps increase muscular endurance and strength. Therefore, swimming can be an effective way to strengthen your muscles.

Note that many people take on various types of exercise to get more “toned.“ This refers to having noticeable muscle definition and a lean, sculpted appearance.

Theoretically, it is certainly possible to perform swimming workouts that get you toned, but the most important factor in seeing visible muscle definition is reducing your body fat percentage.

Swimming is a total-body workout, so it has the potential to burn a lot of calories as long as you are swimming at a vigorous intensity and performing longer workouts. The more calories you burn, the easier it will be to reduce your body fat.

A person swimming the backstroke.

Keep in mind that to lose one pound of body fat, you need to create a caloric deficit of 3500 calories.

Therefore, if your goal is to get toned through swimming, make sure that you are also focusing on your diet and trying to reduce your body fat percentage as you build muscle and strengthen your muscles through swimming.

You will also want to be performing swimming workouts that target different muscles of the body and aim to strengthen and increase muscle mass. 

This is often best accomplished by swimming exercises that are performed at a high intensity and involve powerful movements such as kick drills and swimming sprints more so than just long, endurance swimming workouts where you move along at a gentle pace.

You can increase the muscle-strengthening effects of swimming by using tools such as kickboards, fins, and pull buoys, and you can increase the resistance of the water against your body by doing deep and shallow water running, both of which also increase muscular strength and provide a fantastic aerobic workout.

Some of the most effective swimming workouts combine full-body strokes with drills that isolate the upper body and lower body, such as kicking-only drills for the lower body and pulling-only drills for the upper body.

People swimming laps.

The 3 Best Swimming Workouts To Get Toned

#1: Lap Swimming

Depending on your fitness level, lap swimming workouts can range anywhere from five minutes to over an hour and may incorporate one or more strokes. The more variety you can add, the better, both in terms of the muscles that you will work and the enjoyment of the workout.

Each length of a standard swimming pool is 25m, so one full lap (down and back) is 50 meters.

Try performing sets of 50-100 meters of each stroke.

Lap swimming workout for beginners: perform 1 to 4 sets of the following:

  • 50m freestyle (crawl) stroke
  • 50m backstroke
  • 50m breaststroke
  • 50m elementary backstroke
A person swimming laps.

Lap swimming workouts for advanced swimmers: Perform 2-4 sets of the following:

  • 100m freestyle (crawl) stroke
  • 100m backstroke
  • 100m breaststroke
  • 50m butterfly

#2: Swimming Workout for Building Strength

  • 100 meters freestyle swimming while focusing on form followed by 30 seconds of rest
  • 50 meters kicking only using a kickboard
  • 50 meters breaststroke while focusing on form, followed by 30 seconds of rest
  • 100 meters pulling using a pull buoy and arm paddles followed by 30 seconds of rest 
  • 100 meters freestyle swimming hard effort followed by 30 seconds rest
  • 50 meters power kicking only using a kickboard, using strong kicks
  • 50 meters of breaststroke focusing on pulling and pushing with your arms, followed by 30 seconds of rest
  • 100 meters freestyle using paddles while focusing on pushing the water backward as forcefully as possible big pulls with each arm followed by 30 seconds rest
  • 50 meters kicking at an all-out effort followed by 30 seconds of rest
  • 100 meters freestyle using paddles but no pull buoy (total-body) at max effort
  • 50 meters easy breaststroke to cool down
A person swimming butterfly.

#3: Swim Workout With Bodyweight Exercises

Your swim workouts can be a combination of swim exercises and other water-based exercises, such as deep and shallow water running and bodyweight exercises. 

This will challenge different muscles and will break up the monotony of long continuous lap swimming.

Here is an example of how to do a swim workout that blends swim exercises with bodyweight training:

  • Swim one full lap of freestyle
  • In the shallow end, performed 25 jump squats. To do so, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, bend your knees and sit your hips back as if reaching for a chair. 

Once your shoulders are submerged, and your knees are bent to 90°, press powerfully through your feet to launch your body upward out of the water, straightening your legs as you move into a vertical jump position. Thrust your arms straight overhead to increase your vertical height.

As you land, bend your knees to return to the squat position and move continuously onto the next rep.

People pool running.
  • Then swim a full lap of freestyle at a vigorous effort.
  • Next, perform shallow water high knees sprinting in place for 45 seconds.

To do so, stand in the shallow end of the pool, and pump your arms vigorously to drive your knees up to your chest, sprinting as fast as you can.

  • Then, swim one full lap of breaststroke.
  • When you get back to the shallow end, perform 25 seal claps. These are vigorous jumping jacks, but instead of bringing your arms up overhead, bring them parallel to the surface of the water and clap them in front of your body.

Move rapidly and powerfully. As you get stronger, you can perform these in slightly deeper water so that your shoulders are submerged, and your arms are forced to move against the resistance of the water.

  • Then, swim another full lap of freestyle at a vigorous effort.
  • This time, when you get to the shallow end, perform 25 push-ups against the wall of the pool.
  • Then, swim to the deep end of the water and tread water for two minutes with your arms above the water so that you are only using your legs.
  • Then, swim back to the shallow end and perform 40 alternating jumping lunges, 20 per leg. Explode powerfully off each leg as you jump.
  • End by swimming 50 to 100 meters freestyle.
A person swimming butterfly.

Tips for Effective Swimming Workouts

Particularly if you are a beginner, swimming workouts can seem quite daunting. Here are some tips for having the best swim workouts:

#1: Get Some Coaching

Much more so than many types of cardio exercise, such as walking, running, elliptical training, and even stair climbing, swimming is a highly technical sport. The better your technique and form, the more efficient and effective your workouts will be. 

Consider getting some one-on-one coaching, particularly if you are a beginner, to get you started with the basic technique for each major stroke. 

Building on a solid foundation will help you maximize the effectiveness of your swimming workouts in the long term.

If you cannot afford private coaching, try watching swimming technique videos online or consider asking a more experienced friend for some swimming form tips to get you started.

A person with a swim coach.

#2: Get the Right Gear

Make sure that you have goggles and that your pool has access to a kickboard, paddles, fins, and pull buoy, or buy your own.

#3: Harness Technology for Motivation

Just as how runners like to use GPS running watches to keep track of their distance, pace, and other training metrics, getting a swimming watch that can keep track of your laps is a great way to quantify your swimming workouts, monitor progress, and provide additional motivation.

There are even smart swimming goggles that can count laps, keep track of your pace, and provide other insights into your swimming exercise performance.

For example, FORM swim goggles are premium smart swimming goggles that give users real-time metrics, activity tracking, and detailed post-swim workout analysis. There are even thousands of swimming workouts and swimming training plans that members get access to. 

A person doing the butterfly.

#4: Mix It Up

Whether you are doing lap swimming or focusing primarily on swimming exercise drills, keep your swimming workouts as varied as possible.

Incorporate different strokes and different techniques (pulling, pushing, kicking, etc.) to target different muscles and provide a different training stimulus to your body.

Variety will also help prevent boredom and can help break up your workout into different sections to help the time go more quickly.

For example, hopping in the pool and just swimming the crawl stroke continuously for 30 minutes can get somewhat monotonous.

However, if you do a warm-up and then perform intervals with each of the major swimming strokes (for example, 200m of freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly, elementary backstroke, etc.), either once through or in sets depending on your fitness level and the intended length of your workout, the session will go much faster, and you will get a more well-rounded workout.

As mentioned, in addition to swimming workouts, lowering your body fat percentage goes hand in hand with a toned body. For more information on body fat percentages, take a look at our article, What Is A Healthy Body Fat Percentage?

A lap pool.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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