Which Swim Stroke Is Best for Toning? Swim Tonning Guide!

Swimming is a great workout for anyone looking to improve their endurance, strength, and even physical appearance. Whether you’re swimming for fun or as part of a triathlon training plan, swimming is a great option to add to your routine.

There are four primary strokes you can use when swimming: freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke, and backstroke. Working on all of them will make you a more well-rounded swimmer and increase your comfort in the water.

It can also translate to better cardiovascular health and endurance outside the pool, so it’s a great way to add some low-impact cross-training.

But there are swim strokes that are harder than others, which can make a difference if you’re looking to shape your physique or give your body a new challenge

Which Swim Stroke Is Best for Toning?

It is generally agreed on that the butterfly stroke is the best swim stroke for toning. One can burn an average of 450 calories in 30 minutes of swimming the butterfly. It targets your chest, stomach, arms (especially the triceps), and the back, which can even lead to improved posture. This is what makes the butterfly the most effective stroke for strength and muscle toning.

The butterfly stroke will give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to training your physique

While the word “toning” is often considered a vague term, we’ll use it here to describe the act of strengthening your muscles as a byproduct of your endurance-focused training. Of course, if your ultimate goal is to grow muscle strength and size, you will want to follow a structured strength training or weightlifting program focusing on progressive overload. For more on this, we recommend that you check out our post ” Swim or Gym – Which Is Better? Should You Swim Before or After a Workout!

Endurance work is not a suitable replacement for the kind of strength gains you’d get from lifting heavyweights. However, strength training is an important aspect of injury prevention for endurance athletes, so it’s good to incorporate it into your routine regardless of what results you’re aiming for.

That being said, swimming is an incredible full-body workout that requires both strength and endurance.

We’ll look into the different ways the sport can have an impact on your body and possibly even your physique. If you’re wondering if swimming can give you that lean, “toned” look, read on.


How Long Do You Have to Swim to Get Toned?

Generally speaking, it can take 6 to 8 weeks to see the impact of swimming on your body. However, the amount of time it takes to see muscle changes from swimming is highly dependent on your body type and the effort you put into swimming. (Source)

You can burn anywhere from 430 to 575 calories per hour of swimming, which can help put you in a caloric deficit if your goal is to lose fat (Source).

You’ll want to have an underlying base of muscle if you’re looking for a lean, muscular look. It’s important to continue eating enough protein for muscle maintenance and growth and to avoid going into too steep of a caloric deficit. Eating too few calories will limit your performance and can even cause you to lose muscle, which would make it difficult to get that “toned” look.

Also, find out “Should You Workout Before or After Swimming? Pros & Cons

Does Swimming Tone Bum?

Swimming engages all of the major glute muscles due to the kicking, so you may see a change in your bum over time. One way to increase the load on your glutes is to hold onto a kickboard and only do the leg portion of a breaststroke. (Source)

Keep in mind that engaging your glutes may not always be the same as growing them. The difference in appearance from your glutes may actually be coming from fat loss due to burning extra calories from the effort. If you want to grow the size of your glute muscles and possibly change the overall look of your glutes, you can incorporate glute-focused exercises during your strength training days.

Glute-Focused Strength Exercises

  • Weighted hip thrusts
  • Glute bridges
  • Single-leg glute bridge
  • Split squat
  • Glute kick-back machine

This, in combination with a solid nutrition plan and consistent endurance training, may result in a more toned look for your glutes. Also, check out Do Triathletes Lift Weights? Is The Gym & Crossfit For Triathletes!

Does Swimming Tone Arms?

Yes, swimming can strengthen and tone the arms. Swimming is a very arm-focused workout as swimmers primarily use their arms to propel themselves forward through the water. One can add extra focus on arms by using a pull buoy. This will isolate the arm muscles and intensify the workout, ultimately helping in building arm muscles more quickly. (Source)

You can also add some arm-specific workouts to your gym days. This will translate to better strength in the pool and can lead to stronger, more “toned” looking arms.

Arm-Focused Strength Exercises

  • Push-ups
  • Dips
  • Chin-ups
  • Lat pull downs

Also, find out “Why Do Swimmers Have Broad Shoulders, Flabby Arms and Big Thighs ?!

Does Swimming Tone Legs?

Swimming is a great way to work the legs, especially if the individual is looking for something low-impact. To get the most benefit in the legs, one can utilize specific swim strokes. Two swimming techniques that work the legs the most are the backstroke and the dolphin kick (Source).

The more you can keep your legs moving while in the water, the better. In addition, you can add some leg-focused workouts in the gym during your strength training days.

Leg-Focused Strength Exercises

  • Leg press
  • Leg curls
  • Calf raises
  • Squats
  • Deadlifts

Does Swimming Get Rid of Cellulite?

Exercise alone will not get rid of cellulite. In fact, there are few (if any) ways to treat cellulite and even these are often temporary. The technique that has proven to last the longest is surgery, which lasts two to three years, though research is still mixed. (Source),


Cellulite looks like bumpy or dimpled skin made of fat tissue and is most common around the thighs and bum.

The appearance of cellulite can sometimes be reduced through overall fat loss and muscle gain. The cellulite itself will still remain under the surface, but it can be less noticeable at first glance – you’d likely only see it when you pinch certain areas of your skin.

Can Swimming Reduce Tummy?

You may notice fat loss in your stomach if you’re swimming consistently and eating in a caloric deficit. However, one can’t spot-reduce fat loss. Where one loses fat is highly dependent on their genetics (Source).

That being said, you can work on overall fat loss while also working on building your core in order to pursue a more “toned” looking stomach. Swimming utilizes your core (including stomach) muscles to keep you steady in the water.

Core strength is also important for other activities, so it’s always a good idea to work on increasing your overall core strength. This can be done with stabilizing exercises like planks and dead bugs. If you want to target your abs specifically, you can do exercises like weighted sit-ups or cable crunches.

Things to Keep In Mind

Swimming is an incredible full-body exercise that can provide noticeable changes to your body, leading to a more toned appearance

Adding strength training to your swimming days can be a great way of building your muscles and making you a stronger athlete overall. But if you prefer to stick to just swimming, you’ll still gain strength and endurance without a lot of impact on your joints.

It can always help to have a set goal in mind, especially if it’s realistic and achievable. If you’re struggling to get certain results, it may help to find a pre-made plan to follow. More importantly, focus on staying consistent and enjoying the process.


An extreme triathlete who have competed in dozens of triathlons including IronMans and Extreme triathlons.

Recent Posts