How to Start Swimming for Exercise

A young girl swims in the pool with a supporting Board for practicing smooth movement on the surface of the track.

Makalish / Getty Images

One of the most crucial components of physical fitness is sustainability. Finding activities that are able to be long-term forms of exercise (and enjoyment!) make it easier to adapt fitness to your current schedule, goals, and overall needs. It's also important to maintain some variety in your fitness routine—different workout styles can help you change it up and boost your momentum.

Swimming is a full-body, low-impact exercise, which is excellent for all body shapes and sizes. There are numerous benefits of swimming, including reducing stress, improving strength, and supporting heart health.

Benefits of Swimming

Swimming offers numerous benefits, from heart health to reducing stress. It's a full-body workout that is helpful for most bodies.

Low-Impact and Low-Risk

Swimming is a low-impact exercise, making it suitable for anyone with arthritis, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, or joint conditions. In addition, the soft resistance water provides makes it a safe workout.

A 2016 study found that swimming regularly helped people with osteoarthritis. Participants swam 45 minutes a day, three times a week for three months. As a result, they saw an improvement in physical limitations and muscle strength. They even experienced a significant reduction in joint pain and stiffness.


Swimming is an excellent exercise for any body type, fitness level, and many medical conditions. If you have a disability or injury, swimming exercise can help ease the pain you're experiencing while providing a good workout.

Going for a swim is safe during pregnancy because you have a reduced risk of injuries. In addition, you can swim or do aqua exercises.

"Other cardio exercises that are high impact, such as running, actually can add up to four to five times your bodyweight on your hips and knees, when swimming elevates those issues," adds Dan Jonhenry, certified personal trainer and fitness coach at Retro Fitness.

Provides Full-Body Workout

Swimming is an excellent option for a full-body workout. "Swimming uses about every muscle group in your body. Your arms, shoulders, and chest muscles are used to pull you through the water, as is your core. Your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves are all activated when you kick," says Jennifer Conroyd, certified ACE trainer and founder of Fluid Running, a deep water running fitness company.

Swimming includes both cardio exercise and strength training. "Swimming is a great total body workout that tones muscle while building strength and endurance," explains Chris DeJong, five-time national champion swimmer and founder of Big Blue Swim School.

When swimming, the water offers resistance for your body, improving physical strength and muscle tone. It also improves cardio endurance and flexibility.

Supports Heart Health

Like other forms of cardio exercise, swimming supports heart health. A 2012 study focused on 43 people, average age of 60, with prehypertension or stage one hypertension. After swimming for 12 weeks, their average systolic blood pressure plunged substantially. They also experienced improved cardiovascular health.

Moderate-intensity swimming exercise for eight weeks has proved to have numerous health benefits. It lowered systolic blood pressure, helped vascular stiffness, and improved blood flow to the brain.

May Promote Weight Loss

If your health goals include losing weight, swimming may help due to the activity's ability to burn calories. For example, a 185-pound person swimming laps for 30 minutes can burn 420 calories. That provides a significant calorie deficit for the day.

Relieves Stress

One study researched the effects of swimming on depression and stress. Researchers gave 101 people questionnaires before and after swimming. Forty-four of those people felt stressed and were mildly depressed before swimming. After swimming, that number dropped to just eight people.

How to Start Swimming

It's never too late to learn how to swim. Lessons are often available at local gyms and pools—this option helps you learn how to swim in a safe space from an expert.

Chris DeJong

My first piece of advice would be to take a lesson if you are a beginner to get to know the basics how your body moves through the water. Once you have a basic understanding of balance and buoyancy, you can start to propel yourself through the water with greater efficiency,

— Chris DeJong

What You Need to Swim for Exercise

Proper swimming equipment can help make your exercise sessions satisfying and assist your workouts.

Invest in a well-fitting swimsuit that is slightly tight and doesn't restrict your movement.

Towel: A towel is a necessity for swimming. You need something to help you dry off and stay warm after swimming.

Swim cap: Swim caps protect your hair from the water's elements and keep your hair from blocking your view while swimming. It will also help keep you streamlined in the pool.

Goggles: Goggles protect your eyes and help you see better underwater. Find a comfortable pair that doesn't leak.

Kick board: Many indoor pools will have kick boards that swimmers can borrow during their time in the water. Otherwise, you'll have to find your own. Lean your upper body on the board and kick, focusing on lower body work.

Pull buoy: The opposite of a kick board, this will help you focus on your arm work. Place it between your upper thighs to help your legs float as you pull with your arms.

Where to Swim

You can swim indoors or outdoors. There are a few possibilities: check with your local YMCA, your local gym, or see if your community has a public pool.

Follow the posted rules for swimming at these places. There are often different lanes for different swimming levels so that you won't swim into other people.

Check with a healthcare professional

Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. They might recommend specific swimming gear if you need assistance while swimming.

3 Swim Workouts for Beginners

Grab your pull buoy and kick board to help with these exercises. These are great for breaking up regular lap swim and keeping your workout exciting.

"It is best to come to the pool with a plan, whether it is how many laps you are going to do or how long you plan to swim. If you are new to swimming, you may find that even swimming one length of the pool is challenging. Try to add one length without stopping each time you come to the pool," says Conroyd.

Laps With Kickboard and Buoy

  • Swim one lap (from one end of the pool to the other end)
  • Use a kick board for the second lap, relying on just your legs to push you forward
  • Use a pill buoy for the third lap, relying on just your arms to pull you forward
  • Repeat for 15 to 20 minutes for a great full body workout

5-Minute Repeats

  • Swim laps for five minutes, taking breaks at either end of the pool for 15 to 30 seconds
  • Use the kick board for five minutes
  • Repeat three times for a full body, cardio workout

Swim and Water Walk

  • Swim one lap
  • Walk briskly back to your starting point (you may need a buoyancy belt in deep water to keep you from sinking)
  • Repeat for 15 to 20 minutes

Jonhenry recommends learning the breaststroke, backstroke, and sidestroke. While they are all full-body workouts, the backstroke targets your legs and the sidestroke targets your core and obliques.

A Word From Verywell

Swimming is a form of exercise that can benefit athletes of all ages. But before jumping into the deep end, make sure you are aware of how to stay safe within the sport. Speak to a health care professional if you have any questions or concerns about how swimming may impact your body.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is swimming good exercise?

    Swimming is an excellent cardio and strength training exercise. "Swimming burns anywhere from 300 to 800 calories an hour depending on your body size and pace," advises DeJong.

  • Does swimming help you lose weight?

    You need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight, and swimming burns hundreds of calories. "An hour of consistent swimming can result in up to 500 to 700 calories burned," says Jonhenry.

  • What type of exercise is swimming?

    Swimming provides a cardio and strength training exercise. Swimming exercise will increase your heart rate and the buoyancy of the water gives you resistance.

  • Is swimming good exercise when pregnant?

    Swimming is one of the exercises recommended by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology due to the water's support. It's a low-impact, low-risk workout, which is good during pregnancy.

9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Colorado Pain Care. Swimming for low-impact exercise.

  2. Alkatan M, Baker JR, Machin DR, et al. Improved function and reduced pain after swimming and cycling training in patients with osteoarthritis. The Journal of Rheumatology. 2016;43(3):666-672. doi:10.3899/jrheum.151110

  3. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Exercise during pregnancy.

  4. Lee BA, Oh DJ. Effect of regular swimming exercise on the physical composition, strength, and blood lipid of middle-aged womenJ Exerc Rehabil. 2015;11(5):266–271. doi:10.12965/jer.150242

  5. Nualnim N, Parkhurst K, Dhindsa M, Tarumi T, Vavrek J, Tanaka H. Effects of swimming training on blood pressure and vascular function in adults >50 years of age. American Journal of Cardiology. 2012;109(7):1005-1010. doi:10.1016/j.amjcard.2011.11.029

  6. Yuan WX, Liu HB, Gao FS, Wang YX, Qin KR. Effects of 8-week swimming training on carotid arterial stiffness and hemodynamics in young overweight adults. Biomed Eng Online. 2016;15(Suppl 2):151. doi:10.1186/s12938-016-0274-y

  7. Harvard Health Publishing. Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights.

  8. Chen CC, Kuo YW, Hung KT, et al. The effect of swimming exercise on life stress relief. Int J Phys Educ Sports Health. 2015;1(5):51-53.

  9. Gatta G, Zamparo P, Cortesi M. Effect of swim cap model on passive drag. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27(10):2904-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318280cc3a

By Nicole M. LaMarco
Nicole M. LaMarco has 19 years of experience freelance writing for various publications. She researches and reads the latest peer-reviewed scientific studies and interviews subject matter experts. Her goal is to present that data to readers in an interesting and easy-to-understand way so they can make informed decisions about their health.