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Which Is Better: Swimming or Going to the Gym?

Adam Nakada

How Swimming Differs From Other Exercise

Swimming is a sport, hobby, and a lifestyle for people of all ages. It's a great way for your body to recover, grow, and become stronger. Why is swimming so synonymous with building muscle? To see how you can gain muscle from swimming, we'll have to look at some of the fundamental aspects of swimming.

  • Swimming is a resistance exercise, similar to weight-lifting. But, unlike weight-lifting, swimming places almost no stress on your joints and bones. So not only does swimming work your muscles but it doesn't have some of the negative impacts that lifting weights has.
  • There are many muscles that swimming can strengthen. However, swimming does work some muscles more than others. These muscles, in particular, are your: traps, shoulders, back, abs, lats, legs, and triceps.
  • The constant pulling and pushing of and against water builds great muscle endurance and work capacity with these above-listed muscles. If you've ever heard the term "swimmer's body," then, you probably know what the typical competitive swimmer looks like: good.

So, how can you start to utilize swimming to maximize muscle growth as well as aerobic fitness? The first step is to start browsing some swimming workouts online, and check to see when your local pool is open.

The Nutritional Side of Swimming

A long time ago, when Michael Phelps was still the pinnacle of swimming, it was common knowledge that he would consume up to 400% more calories than a normal person. This is in part due to the fact that swimming is a very demanding exercise. This extra consumption of calories may not be for you.

  • As most people know, carbohydrates are a person's primary source of energy when working out.
  • Protein serves to patch up all of the "tears" in your muscles caused by intense exercise such as swimming or lifting weights.
  • Then, there are the fats. Oh, fats. While they are essential for bodily functions, only good fats are necessary and they come from fish, nuts, and other natural foods. It's best to stay away from the typical cafeteria style foods such as cheeseburgers, pizza, fried foods etc. The more natural and whole your food seems the better. This goes for health in general, not simply swimming.
  • If you are swimming a considerable amount, you'll want to make sure that you're getting at least 65% of your daily calories from carbohydrates, 25% from protein, and 10-15% from fats.

Swimming Alone Isn't Enough

Although I'm advocating swimming as one of the best activities for muscle growth, it's not enough. You still have to lift weights, or else you'll never put on the muscle you want. By combining swimming and weightlifting, you'll see gains like never before. What other cardiovascular activity works as many muscles at once than swimming? Running, cycling, cart-wheels? None of the above.

Lifting weights must be done according to your goals:

  • If you're looking to look good, then focus on several compound exercises with plenty of isolated exercises too.
  • If you're looking to get faster at swimming or get stronger for your sport, then look more towards compound (multi-muscle) exercises and less towards isolated (one muscle only) ones.

Whatever you decide to do as far as weight-lifting goes, it will complement nicely with swimming. Try to work those muscles involved with swimming if you can. Luckily for you, swimming involves many muscles, as mentioned above. Note, however, that you should try and stay away from working your biceps and chest too much.

Recovery Actually Means Gaining Muscle

The only time you actually gain muscle is through recovery. When you work out, you are actually tearing your muscles down. So, if you can improve your recovery process or increase how much your body has to recover then that's when you'll start building more muscle. Obviously to increase how much your body must recover you must work out harder and longer, but how do you boost recovery efficiency with swimming?

  • One of the most beautiful aspects of swimming is that you are horizontal as you exercise. So? This is actually a great thing for recovery. Cooling down can greatly decrease the time it takes for you to recover. Cooling down works because it enables your heart rate to be higher than normal for a period of time after intense exercise which means increased blood flow.
  • With an increased blood flow after intense exercise, your body can carry out waste products produced from exercising from the muscles.
  • Take this scenario, for example: Two swimmers raced 200 yards as fast as they could go. One swimmer sat on the edge for 5 minutes before the next 200 yard race. The other swimmer took those 5 minutes to lightly swim. When it was time to race again, both swimmers started out at the same speed, but the swimmer who lightly swam before the race was able to maintain the speed better and won.

So, try and cool down as often as you can, especially after lifting weights or after intense exercise. It will enable you to recover faster and do more exercise in a given week.

Swimming and Muscle Building: Conclusion

Swimming is a great muscle building resistance exercise with properties to increase recovery efficiency. If you want to decrease the risk of injury and strain on your body in general, you should definitely consider swimming. Let's also not forget that lung capacity is most easily increased through swimming which will enhance your work capacity in any activity.

Note, however, that while more infrequent than with other sports, you should still watch out for injuries. A common one to watch out for is in your shoulders -- though, that's usually only caused from years and years of intense swimming.

Which Is Better: Swimming or Going to the Gym?

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