Is Swimming Cardio or Strength Exercise?


It’s the age old question. Swimming: is it a cardio exercise or a strength exercise?

After all, you’re moving your body like cardio, but you’ve got all that weight of the water moving against you. And how can something be low-impact and high-intensity at the same time?

Let’s break down the two and discover once and for all whether swimming is cardio or strength.

So what is cardio?

Cardio is cardiovascular exercise. Easy done…

But what does that mean? In simple terms, cardio is exercise that works out your heart and your lungs. This is to make them pump blood through your body.

So any activity that raises the heart rate and make you breathe more counts as cardio. This includes: running, jump rope, rowing, and vigorous home cleaning.

Regular cardio exercise improves your cardiovascular system and makes your body healthier.

But what about strength?

Strength exercise simply means exercise with resistance.

So while it may mean 1000lb squats (not likely for us mere mortals!), it may also be keeping it simple. This means planks, dumbbell curls, and push-ups all count.

The point of strength exercise is to make your muscle work. It uses quick bursts of energy to meet a goal e.g. lifting that box, pushing that boulder (that is a nice boulder!), leaping tall buildings in a single bound. This makes strength exercises more ‘stop-start’ than cardio.

By adding resistance, it forces your muscles to work towards their limits. This makes you stronger, and builds power, size, and endurance.

So swimming is…?

Short answer: cardio. Longer answer: a little bit of both.

As we said at the start, the pool water gives you resistance. Each stroke has you fighting against the force of that H20! However, the same can be said for running against the wind. And we’d still call that cardio (protip: we don’t suggest running in a hurricane!).

So let’s move to cardio. The effect from swimming is much like running: more blood flow, more oxygen. And again, like running or a long note from a grand piano, it’s sustained. It doesn’t have that ‘stop-start’y-ness.

So how do you, as Miley Cyrus would say, get the best of both worlds?

Interval. Training.

By setting a timer for each lap, you get the cardio of long swims, combined with the short bursts of strength to meet the deadline. With this technique, you work out both your strength and cardio styles. And if you want to work out some other finer points of fitness – like fine motor skills, balance, flexibility, and more – join us for one of our group classes. Right here at Adelaide Aquatic Centre.