What Muscles Are Used in Swimming?


Swimming is a great way to increase your muscular strength and endurance. More commonly viewed as a cardiovascular workout, swimming is still a great way to tone your muscles. You may be wondering what muscles it works. These are the muscles used in swimming.

Muscles Used in Swimming

The muscles used in swimming largely depend on what stroke you are doing in the water. Certain strokes utilize some muscles more than others. However, you’ll start to notice commonalities in all four of the following swimming strokes.

Swimming Breaststroke Muscles

Breaststroke is a great form of exercise. It’s challenging because it requires a lot of rhythmic movement from your arms and legs. Therefore, it works a lot of different muscle groups. So what muscles does breaststroke use?

Breaststroke uses upper body muscles including the latissimus dorsi (back muscles), pectoralis major (chest muscles), biceps and triceps (arm muscles), brachialis, brachioradialis, and deltoids (shoulder muscles). Some of the leg muscles used during breaststroke include glutes (butt muscle), quads (thigh muscles), and your gastroc and soleus (calf muscles). You use a lot to these muscles in day-to-day actions like walking, going up the stairs, and pulling things towards you.

Read our blog to learn more about swimming the breaststroke.

Swimming Freestyle Muscles

The freestyle, or front crawl, swimming stroke uses a lot of arm movement to power you through the water. The flutter kick is also used so some leg muscles are also activated. Therefore, you’ll primarily activate muscles like the triceps, biceps, quadriceps, and hamstrings.

We’ve broken down the stroke into its various movement segments, which are kicking, reach, catch, pull, push, and recovery. Your core is engaged throughout this stroke as well, which is great for toning the abdominals and obliques.

Part of Stroke


Muscles Used

Daily Activities Used


Kicking Down Quadriceps Thighs Walking
Tibialis Anterior Shins


Kicking Up

Hamstrings Thighs Stepping up



Pointing your toes




Twisting your body

Triceps Brachii Arms

Opening a door

Latissimus Dorsi Lower Back Pulling something towards you

Rotator Cuff


Swinging your arms



Shoulder Raising your hand

Extensor Digitorum

Forearm Pointing your fingers
Triceps Brachii Arm

Shooting a basketball

Brachioradialis Arm

Twisting your arm


Latissimus Dorsi

Back Pull- ups/ Chin-ups


Arm Bending at the elbow
Triceps Brachii Arm

Push Ups

Trapezius Shoulder

Shrugging your shoulders



Upper Back


Latissimus Dorsi

Mid/lower Back Bent over row
Deltoids Shoulder

Crossing arm over body

Rectus Abdominus

Abs Crunches
Obliques Abs




Shoulder Getting a box from a shelf


Arms Hitting a tennis ball
Trapezius Shoulder


Obliques Abs

Rotating your body

To learn more about the technique on how to perform the freestyle swimming stroke, check out our blog.

swimming freestyle muscles

Swimming Backstroke Muscles

The backstroke uses a lot of the same muscles as the freestyle, but it also counters some of those movements. The reverse arm movement activates more of the deltoids (shoulders) and latissimus dorsi (the large muscles that extend across your back). Remember to keep that core engaged as well!

Because the flutter kick is virtually identical as in freestyle, you will activate your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and anterior tibialis (shin muscles) in your legs.

The video below shows that the backstroke is almost like an upside down version of freestyle.

Learn more about the backstroke here.

Swimming Butterfly Muscles

Butterfly is a very physically demanding stroke. To master the butterfly, you need to coordinate the timing of your pull/push arm movements with your dolphin kick (more information on the technique for butterfly can be found here).

This swim stroke utilizes a wide variety of muscles. Some of the more dominant ones include your abdominals, quads, pecs, hamstrings, glutes, deltoids, and lats.

Given all that swimming can do for your muscles, you can see it’s an excellent form of exercise. A summary of muscles used in swimming for the four strokes can be found below.


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