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The Best Swimming Workouts for Every Fitness Level

The Best Swimming Workouts: Start Here

swim workouts for every level

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Ready to dive in? Swimming workouts are a great way to build muscle, develop cardio-respiratory fitness, and burn calories—all without putting too much of a strain on your joints. Still, endless laps can get boring, and you’re not going to work as hard as you can if you aren’t engaged. That’s why we swear by intervals to mix things up and challenge your body in new ways. (Not a huge fan of swimming workouts? These alternative water-based exercise options might float your boat!)

How it works: For these swimming workouts, swim freestyle and using your rate of perceived exertion (RPE, or how hard the workout feels on a scale of 1 to 10) where indicated. Distances are based on a 25-yard pool (one length); to do these routines, you should feel comfortable swimming at least 100 yards without stopping. You'll need a kickboard, fins, and a watch or clock with a second hand (available at most public pools).

Now slip on your suit (we're obsessed with these cute swimsuits you can actually work out in) and get kickin'.

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Beginner Swimming Workout

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Beginner Swimming Workout Length: 750 yards

  • 100 yards (4 lengths): Warm up @ RPE 3.
  • 50 yards (2 lengths): Flutter kick on side @ RPE 3. Lie on one side with lower arm extended, ear resting on arm, upper arm along body; hold on to a board with top hand if necessary. Kick from hips (not knees), looking up and keeping knees and side or back of head in water.
  • 50 yards: Flutter kick with kickboard (keep head in water and breathe to both sides) @ RPE 4.
  • 5 x 50 yards: Swim at a moderate to hard intensity (RPE 7) for 5 laps, taking a breath every 3 strokes. Take 50 to 60 seconds to swim each lap, resting at the wall if you have extra time.
  • 2 x 50 yards: Swim easy (RPE 3) for 2 laps, taking 1 to 1:15 minutes to swim each lap.
  • 100 yards: Swim at a moderate intensity @ RPE 6.
  • 100 yards: Cool down at an easy swimming workout pace @ RPE 3.

(Related: 4 Reasons the Cayman Islands are the Perfect Getaway for Fans of Swimming Workouts)

Photo:   Jacob Ammentorp Lund/Shutterstock

Intermediate Swimming Workout

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Intermediate Swimming Workout Length: 1,200 yards

  • 200 yards: Warm up, easy @ RPE 3. 
  • 100 yards: Pulling, freestyle @ RPE 4. Squeeze a pull buoy between upper thighs and swim only with upper body (no kicking).
  • 2 x 50 yards: Moderate/hard in 40 to 50 seconds @ RPE 7.
  • 1 x 100 yards: Moderate in 2 to 2:15 minutes @ RPE 6.
  • 2 x 50 yards: Moderate/hard in 40 to 50 seconds @ RPE 7.
  • 1 x 50 yards: Easy in 1 minute @ RPE 4.
  • 2 x 100 yards: Moderate/hard in 2 to 2:15 minutes @ RPE 7. For the first 25 yards of this portion of the swimming workout, breathe every 3 strokes; second 25, breathe every 5; third 25, breathe every 7; fourth 25, breathe every 9. Repeat sequence.
  • 1 x 50 yards: Easy in 1 minute @ RPE 4.
  • 2 x 50 yards: Sprints with fins.
  • 4 x 25 yards: Cool down. Flutter kick with kickboard and fins @RPE 4–7. Do first 25 yards slow, next medium, then fast and very fast.
  • 100 yards: Easy @ RPE 3. Count arm strokes every 25 yards, trying to reduce stroke count with each lap.

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Advanced Swimming Workout

advanced lap swimming workout for the pool

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Advanced Swimming Workout Length: 1,800 yards (1 mile)

  • 100 yards: Warm up performing a flutter kick with fins @ RPE 3. (25 yards facedown, 25 yards on left side, 25 yards on back, 25 yards on right side).
  • 200 yards: Swim first 25 breathing to left every 4 strokes, next 25 breathing to right every 4 strokes, final 50 breathing to either side every 3 strokes @ RPE 3. Repeat.
  • 5 x 150 yards: Swim 150 yds.; rest 15 seconds. Swim 125 yds., then swim 25 yds., breathing every 9 strokes; rest 15 seconds. Swim 100 yds., then swim 50 yds., breathing every 7 strokes; rest 15 seconds. Swim 75 yds., then swim 75 yds., breathing every 5 strokes; rest 15 seconds. Swim 50 yds., then swim 100 yds., breathing every 3 strokes; rest 15 seconds @ RPE 5–6 throughout this portion of the swimming workout.
  • 1 x 100 yards: Swim at an easy pace @ RPE 3.
  • 5 x 50 yards: Swim 25 yards fast @ RPE 7, 25 yards slow @RPE 3. Then swim 25 yds. slow, 25 yds. fast. Rest 15 seconds between sets.
  • 1 x 50 yards: Easy in 1 minute @ RPE 4.
  • 8 x 25 yards: Sprint @ RPE 8–9 45 seconds.
  • 4 x 25 yards: Flutter kick with kickboard and fins. Do first 25 yds. slow, next 25 medium, then fast and very fast @ RPE 4–7.
  • 100 yards: Cool down by swimming easy @RPE 3.

Photo:   Digital Vision/Getty Images

Get More Out of Your Swimming Workouts

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As you rock these swimming workouts, keep these top three tips in mind to swim smarter and stronger. (Related: Why One Woman Swims—Even in Winter!—to Clear Her Head)

  1. Focus on form. During freestyle swimming workouts, look at the bottom of the pool, pressing chest down and keeping head, hips, and feet at the surface. If your head and chest are too high, your legs and hips will drop, creating drag. As you take a stroke, reach forward just under the surface, extending your arm from your shoulder when your hand enters the water. Pull the water toward you, then keep elbow high as you pull your arm back. Try to maintain a constant strong, fast, small kick throughout the entire swimming workout. Begin by kicking from the hips (not the knees), keeping your ankles floppy and relaxed.
  2. Breathe better. The smoothest swimmers practice "bilateral" breathing, or breathing alternately on right and left sides. To do it, turn your body to either side every time you take a breath during these swimming workouts.
  3. Roll with it. Avoid lifting your whole head to breathe. Instead, roll your body on one side so your chest faces the side of the pool as your arm pushes down and leaves the water. Keep your ear in the water as you take a breath and the corner of your mouth at the surface. (Here are even more swimming workout tips for better form, workout design, and more.)

Photo:   Sofie Delauw/Getty Images

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