Cardio and strength training each have specific benefits that are more useful in different situations. Is swimming cardio or strength training?
Whether an exercise is strength training, exercise for building muscle, varies from person to person.
If you are an absolute strength training beginner, swimming may initially be light strength training for you.
However, for most people, and soon even if you are a strength training beginner, swimming will be mainly a cardio workout for you.
You may see muscular professional swimmers and think that swimming must build a lot of muscle. The thing is that these athletes usually do strength training on top of their swimming training.
This article will go a bit more in-depth on what makes an exercise cardio or strength training and in what situation swimming can help you build muscle anyway.
What is cardio exactly?
The term cardio can be used in different ways. Sometimes it means a low-intensity type of workout where your body can use oxygen to sustain your current level of movement.
In the context of whether swimming is cardio or strength training, cardio generally means the type of exercise. You can describe this as cardiovascular-focused exercise.
Exercise like this will mainly challenge your cardiovascular system which includes your heart and blood vessels. These transport many types of important nutrients, oxygen, and waste throughout your body.
Some examples of workouts like this include running, jumping rope, and cycling. You can also do these at a high intensity.
What is strength training exactly?
The term strength training is also used in different ways. Generally, it means training with the goal of improving muscle strength, how much force your muscles can exert. Someone who is able to do a lot of repetitions of a strength training exercise with a low weight does not necessarily have great muscle strength.
Some typical strength training exercise examples include weighted squats, shoulder presses, deadlifts, bench presses, and weight lifting rows.
The thing with strength training is that an exercise that is strength training for one individual can be cardio for someone else.
The way you build muscle is by engaging your muscles so that they get damaged enough. This may sound counterintuitive but this damaging makes it so your body repairs these muscles, and adds a bit more to be better prepared to exert similar efforts in the future.
Once your muscles are stronger, the same exercise that was enough pressure to damage your muscles before may now not be enough for that goal. Even an exercise like pushups can become more of a cardio workout if you lift heavier weights in the gym with similar muscles.
Is swimming mainly cardio or strength training?
One of the benefits of swimming is that the resistance the water offers does engage muscles all over your body a small amount.
So for someone who is an absolute strength training beginner, swimming may initially be light strength training. However, for most people swimming is mostly a cardio-focused workout.
Swimming may still improve muscle endurance but this is a different physical fitness component than muscle strength.
If you want to raise the chances of building some muscle strength with swimming try to swim at high speeds.
Even if you swim at high intensity the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week (1).