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Is Swimming Aerobic or Anaerobic?

author image Jessica Owens
Based in Denver, Jessica Owens is a yoga teacher and a writer. She began writing in college for the school newspaper and currently writes for online publications about health and wellness. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hamilton College in 2009.
Is Swimming Aerobic or Anaerobic?
Swimmer doing front crawl in pool Photo Credit photoclicks/iStock/Getty Images

Swimming can be both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. It can be an effective exercise for all fitness levels and fitness goals. Swimming helps improve cardiovascular health, circulatory and respiratory functions, and muscle strength and endurance. Swimming can be used as a moderate aerobic activity or an intense anaerobic activity for people who want a more challenging workout.

Swimming as an Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic literally means "with air." Aerobic swimming is a light to moderately intense exercise that can be performed for an extended period of time, 15 to 20 minutes or longer, while maintaining 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, also known as your target heart rate. Your goal in aerobic swimming is to maintain your target heart rate. According to the Mayo Clinic, you can gauge the intensity of your workout by how hard you are breathing. For aerobic exercises, you should not be breathing so hard that you can't carry on a conversation.

Swimming as an Anaerobic Exercise

Anaerobic literally means "without air." With anaerobic swimming, your body relies on phosphates and glucose stored in your muscles for energy instead of oxygen. For most newbies or people out of shape, swimming is an anaerobic exercise in the beginning. Anaerobic exercises are short bursts of high intensity exercise that cannot be sustained for long. If you are a seasoned swimmer, you can make your swimming workout anaerobic by practicing sprints. For example, do 10 30-second to one-minute sprints, resting for one minute between each sprint.

Advantages of Aerobic Swimming

Aerobic swimming strengthens your heart and lungs so that your body can absorb oxygen more efficiently. With a greater oxygen supply, your muscles are able to work harder, build strength and move faster, improving your overall fitness level. Aerobic swimming can help you lose weight, tone up, increase your endurance, and in the long run prevent heart disease and increase longevity. Additionally, aerobic swimming can improve your psychological state. As your body gets healthier and stronger, so will your mind.

Benefits of Anaerobic Swimming

Anaerobic swimming builds greater strength, speed, lean muscles and increased metabolism. Anaerobic exercise in general is key to reaching your maximum aerobic capacity, which is the amount of oxygen that your body can absorb. For people who are already fit but want to reach peak fitness, anaerobic swimming is a means to an end. With greater aerobic capacity, all of your body's functions improve, including respiratory function, blood circulation and your body's ability to remove toxins.

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