Posted on July 24 2019
Does swimming work your abs? Ha. Just ask my aching core when I crawl out of the pool after a few hundred meters of laps. Swimming is a hybrid, cardio-plus-strength, full-body, low-impact workout that forces you to engage your core with every stroke and kick. But there's also a handful of strokes to choose from, all of which work your body in different ways, not to mention all the variations you can do with kickboards, pull buoys, and flippers. And if strong abdominals are something you want in your life (which, I mean, yes), you'll inevitably start wondering what stroke is doing the most good for your core.
What Swim Stroke Is the Best For Abs?
"Long axis" strokes, like freestyle and backstroke, seem to be the best for your abs because you're constantly reaching and rotating through the water, explained swim coach and water fitness instructor Kim E. "Think of your body as being a long pole," Kim told us. When your arms and legs reach "up" in length, you're working along the long axis, as opposed to moving them out to the sides as in "short axis" strokes like breaststroke and butterfly. In backstroke and freestyle, your forward movement causes your hips and trunk to tilt from side to side, which forces both your core and back muscles to engage, Kim said.
Jason L., an eight-time Olympic medal-winning swimmer, said that freestyle is especially great for the core. "If you do the stroke correctly, you are working your whole middle section, including upper and lower abs as well as obliques," he told us. To engage all of those core muscles, Jason said, make sure to fully extend your arms on each stroke; proper technique is key to seeing results and avoiding injury.
But it's not like you forget about your abs during "short axis" strokes like breaststroke and butterfly. With those motions, Kim explained, your core has to work to stabilize your body as you reach out and pull back in. Butterfly, one of the more difficult strokes, forces you to "engage and propel your torso to lift your body out of the water," explained Craig H., an ASCA-certified swim coach, and Jessica H., an Olympic gold medalist swimmer. If that stroke is beyond your ability, they recommended starting with a simplified variation: grab a kickboard and do a "dolphin kick," the undulating, full-body kicking motion used in the butterfly stroke. It's a simple but difficult movement that requires major ab engagement, Craig and Jessica told us.
How Can I See Ab Results From Swimming?
To actually see results around your midsection, Kim said you first need to learn how to swim properly, which might mean taking lessons from a swim coach. That's likely a financial commitment, but it's worth it; once you get the strokes down, "it is far easier to stick with swimming and do it for longer than a few minutes," Kim explained.
After that, it's all about frequency. "Swimming a couple of times per week for under an hour can give you some great results," Kim said. Craig and Jessica recommended hitting the pool at least three days a week for 30 to 45 minutes at a time, which should help you see some results after about a month if combined with a healthy diet.