Do You Get Ripped From Swimming?

If you're like many people, "getting ripped" is shorthand for gaining noticeable muscle definition. For serious strength trainers, the term is somewhere between "cut" and "swole." But no matter how literally you take the expression, a ripped body calls for low body fat and visible muscle definition. So how does swimming work into a routine for getting ripped?

The butterfly is just one of several swimming strokes that help you build muscle. (Image: technotr/E+/GettyImages)


Swimming, alone, may not give you the ability to isolate and build the muscle groups you’re looking to define. But adding swimming to your strength-training routine and strategic eating plan can be an effective way to get “ripped” more quickly.

Swimming Workouts to Target Muscles

Still looking for more ab definition, or to build up your biceps? Before you plunge — literally — into a swimming body transformation effort, it helps to know which strokes work which muscle groups.

  • Butterfly. This stroke is a challenge because of the effort needed to propel your upper body up and out of the water. Your chest, arms and shoulders will be well on their way to being ripped if the butterfly is a regular part of your swim routine.
  • Freestyle and backstroke. The backstroke and freestyle, also known as "the crawl," use virtually the same motions and muscle groups. Both strokes rely heavily on twisting your torso as you move through the water, which engages your abdominal muscles. In addition, deltoids, biceps and triceps are heavily worked with these two strokes.
  • Breaststroke. Your chest and upper back bear the brunt of the breaststroke when it comes to upper-body efforts. Specifically, your pecs and lats are engaged in the sweeping motion that propels your body forward.
  • All strokes. No matter which swimming style you favor, the activity is an all-over toner. Virtually every kind of lap you do will work your abs, lower and upper back, shoulders, arms, glutes and thigh muscles.

Burning Body Fat

One key element of getting ripped is having low enough body fat for muscles to really stand out. This is certainly where a swimming transformation for male athletes can make an impact. In fact, swimming workouts are valuable for men or women when it comes to burning body fat.

According to fitness expert Marc Perry, a truly "ripped" male will have a body fat percentage of no higher than 7 percent. Female athletes usually aim for between 15 and 17 percent, with only extreme female athletes going below that threshold.

The American Council of Exercise (ACE) places the body fat threshold in the same ballpark. ACE notes that an "athletic" male will have a body fat of between 6 and 13 percent. For women, the "athletic" build is 14 to 20 percent body fat.

If part of your swimming body transformation plan is lowering your body fat, it helps to aim for the strokes which burn the most calories overall. The freestyle crawl and the butterfly burn between 330 and 480 calories during 30-minute swimming workouts, depending on your current body weight. The breaststroke and vigorous treading-water burn a minimum of 300 calories per half-hour, and the backstroke burns at least 240 calories per half-hour.

Coping When “Ripped” Gets Painful

For people with chronic pain, strength training is challenging. For them, setting a goal to be "ripped" in the classic bodybuilding sense may be difficult. The resistance level and number of reps needed during strength training may be too intense for those with chronic pain. In addition, high-impact cardio designed to burn body fat may also cause discomfort.

If you fall into this category but still want to achieve a ripped look, swimming may provide the missing link. The Centers for Disease Control notes that swimming is less painful than on-land fitness routines for people with certain chronic diseases like osteoarthritis.

In addition, the conditioning efforts of swimming may actually improve those conditions overall. For that reason alone, pursuing a swimming transformation for male or female bodies may even improve your ability to pursue the other workouts that contribute to that ripped physique!

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