8 Great Swimming Alternatives

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Swimming can be a fun way to get a variety of health benefits but you may want other options. What are some alternatives to swimming with similar benefits?

Some of the benefits of swimming are improving your cardiovascular health, improving coordination, helping you burn calories, and engaging a variety of muscles.

The exact muscles worked will vary from swimming style to swimming style but typically your latissimus dorsi, shoulders, glutes, hip flexors, quadriceps, and hamstrings play the biggest roles.

In something like the breaststroke, you will also engage your inner thighs, outer thighs, and scapular upper back muscles a lot.

Whether you don’t enjoy swimming, you don’t have a swimming pool at home, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these swimming substitutes can offer you some or all of the same benefits.

1. Running

While swimming does engage your muscles a nice amount, it is still mostly a cardiovascular exercise. That means something like running will offer many of the same health benefits.

Running is one of the most popular aerobic exercises out there. It is also just an aspect of many sports.

A big benefit of running as a stand-alone workout is that you almost need no special equipment. Once you have a good pair of running shoes and some workout clothes you are good to go.

Another benefit of running over swimming is that it will help you strengthen your bones more.

Besides the differences, these two sports will also offer similar benefits like improving cardiovascular health, burning calories, and engaging your hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, core muscles, etc.

One potential downside to keep in mind is that running is typically harder on your knees than swimming.

2. Squats

Other cardiovascular workouts can be great alternatives to swimming but you can also improve your swimming at home or in the gym.

By strengthening the main muscles involved in swimming you can increase the amount of power you can generate and in turn swim faster for longer.

An exercise example to do this is a bodyweight squat. Take the following steps to do this movement:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
  2. Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you ideally want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
  3. Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs.
How to do a bodyweight squat

Squats mainly work muscles like your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. As mentioned before, these typically play a big role in swimming.

Individuals more experienced with working out may need extra resistance to make the exercise challenging enough for muscle growth and strength progress.

For this, you can use squat equipment like dumbbells, resistance bands, a barbell, etc.

3. Elliptical machine

The next alternative is another popular option when it comes to cardiovascular workouts.

An elliptical machine is a steel construction where two big pedals can rotate and two handles can go back and forth by using the machine.

This may sound and look a bit complicated at first but this cardio gym machine is actually very beginner-friendly.

Similar to swimming, the elliptical trainer can help you improve your cardiovascular health, burn a lot of calories, be soft on your knees, work a variety of muscles, etc.

The muscles you work with the elliptical machine are actually relatively similar to swimming. These include your latissimus dorsi, glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings.

One potential downside is that you need an elliptical machine to do this exercise. For most people that means investing in your own elliptical machine or getting a gym subscription.

4. Pull-ups

Pull-ups are another exercise to train the muscles used during swimming. To do this exercise you need something to do the pull-up on.

Even if you currently don’t have something like this, a doorway pull-up bar is relatively inexpensive. Take the following steps to do a pull-up:

  1. Hang from the pull-up bar with your hands at about shoulder-width with your hand palms facing forward.
  2. Pull your body up slowly until your shoulders are the height of the bar.
  3. Lower your body again into starting position in a controlled motion.

Pull-ups engage muscles like your latissimus dorsi, biceps, core, rhomboids, and deltoids. Growing and strengthening these can improve your swimming performance and offer a variety of health benefits.

5. High knees

How to do high knees

High knees are a type of exercise where you basically run in place while lifting your knees high with each step. This alternative can train your cardiovascular health and engage a few muscles.

Relatively unique when it comes to the options on this list is that high knees focus a lot on your hip flexor muscles.

These are responsible for bringing your thighs towards your upper body and play an important role in several swimming styles.

One potential downside of high knees is that some people consider this exercise to be a lot more boring than swimming.

On the other hand, an advantage of high knees is that they require absolutely no equipment. This means they can be done at home or anywhere else.

6. Front raises

To do this next swimming alternative you need some type of resistance. Some examples include dumbbells, resistance bands, a barbell, etc. but also heavy objects you find at home like grocery bags and a heavy backpack.

Take the following steps to do a front raise with dumbbells:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet at about shoulder width, dumbbells in your hands, and your arms hanging down beside you.
  2. Slowly raise your hands forward and upward with slightly less than stretched arms until your arms are about horizontal.
  3. After a second or two, lower your hands back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.

Front raises are a shoulder isolation exercise that works the front part of your deltoids (the main shoulder muscle). These are relatively active in many swimming styles.

Something that can be either a benefit or downside of this exercise is its extremely narrow focus. To get better at swimming you will definitely benefit from implementing other resistance training exercises as well.

7. Jumping jacks

How to do a jumping jack

Jumping jacks are mainly a cardiovascular exercise where you alternate between two stances with a jump between each one.

You start off standing with your two feet together and your arms down by your side. In the second stance, your 2 feet are apart slightly further than shoulder-width and your hands are above your head with stretched arms.

During the entire movement, you keep your arms stretched.

Besides a variety of health benefits, jumping jacks can help you improve your cardiovascular health and engage a few muscles.

Some of these muscles include the inner thighs, outer thighs, shoulders, and latissimus dorsi. As you may be able to tell these muscles also have to work hard while swimming breaststroke style.

Jumping jacks are not the perfect substitute for swimming breaststroke but they do have a few important commonalities.

8. Rowing

Rowing can be done both in an actual boat and on a rowing machine. For most people, the machine option will be the most accessible.

The movements you do with both versions work your cardiovascular system and muscles like your latissimus dorsi, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and biceps.

They are not exactly the same but in general, this makes rowing somewhat of a good substitute for swimming.

One potential downside of this alternative is that some people find using the rowing machine a bit boring. On the other hand, if you have a rowing machine at home this workout requires a lot less preparation time than swimming.

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Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.