Should You Lift Weights Before Or After Swimming?

We all know that weightlifting and strength training work to enhance the performance of swimmers. It makes sense, because the more muscle power you have to push you through the water, the faster you’ll be able to swim.

This is why most swimming pool centers are equipped with gyms and high-quality weight training rooms. 

Should You Lift Weights Before Or After Swimming

However, there is something of an age-old debate in the world of fitness that goes something like this: “Should you lift weights before or after swimming?”.

We all know that you should lift weights before a cardio session (or a separate day to cardio) to achieve the best results, but what about swimming?

One of the main reasons why this debate exists is due to the number of strokes available in swimming, each of which targets a different set of muscle groups. 

So, if you’re looking to enhance your swimming performance by implementing weightlifting into your routine, here is everything you need to know about whether to lift weights before or after swimming! 

Should I Lift Weights Before Or After Swimming?

To put it simply: you should lift weights before you go swimming if you want to increase your muscle strength and hypertrophy. Alternatively, you should lift weights after you go swimming to improve your technique and strokes in the water.

It all comes down to your personal goals and what you wish to achieve from implementing weightlifting into your swimming routine. 

Generally speaking, those who wish to use swimming as part of their workout routine to improve their strength and muscular endurance will lift weights before swimming, thus using the pool and a relaxing method of cardio.

Those who are keen swimmers (or perhaps professional swimmers) will lift weights after swimming to enhance their technique and speed in the water. 

If you’re confused about why it matters when you decide to lift weights either before or after you go swimming, continue reading. 

Lifting Weights Before Swimming

Research has suggested that lifting weights before swimming is most beneficial to those who feel weak and lack strength when in the pool.

As swimming is all about bursts of power to help push you through the water, this is most beneficial for strokes such as butterfly and breaststroke. 

Implementing weight lifting straight after warming up at the gym is excellent for muscle growth because your glycogen levels won’t have depleted. Glycogen is the storage of carbohydrates, which are essential for keeping your energy levels high.

This means that once you burn through your glycogen stores by lifting weights, your body is then free to burn fat while swimming in the pool.

The other way round would mean that you burn the glycogen stores in the pool before going to the gym, wherein lifting weights won’t build as much muscle because of the limited carbohydrate levels in your body. 

However, the main problem with lifting weights before swimming is that you run the risk of exhausting yourself when you get into the pool.

This can result in weakened arms, a slower pace, and that horrible jelly-like feeling in your legs when you push off from the wall. Due to this, swimmers will often advise against lifting weights before swimming because it will seemingly affect their performance in the water. 

Weakened muscles and joints will mostly result in bad swimming performance due to lazy technique, as your body will alter the way it swims when the muscles are exhausted from lifting weights. 

While they might be true about how weight lifting immediately before swimming will make you too exhausted to perform brilliantly in the water, the key is to lift weights at the optimal time.

This is why it is generally recommended to lift weights several hours before you go swimming, so it allows enough time for your body to recover.

A lot of swimmers who commit to this routine will lift weights in the morning and swim later in the day (perhaps the afternoon or evening) to allow their joints and muscles to recover, thus improving the quality of their swimming performance. 

It is mostly up to you about how soon after lifting weights you want to go swimming. You could even lift weights the day before you go swimming, but just be mindful that your body might be aching a lot the next day, which could affect your swimming performance. 

You’ve also got to think about the type of weightlifting you wish to implement in your workout routine. While you might assume that lighter weights for longer repetitions will prevent you from feeling weak in the water, it is actually recommended doing the opposite.

Instead, commit to lifting heavy weights for shorter repetitions, as this won’t work to burn your glycogen levels as fast as lifting lighter weights for longer repetitions. Otherwise, you won’t see results in muscular hypertrophy and strength. 

Lifting Weights After Swimming

Lifting Weights After Swimming

If your goal is to improve your swimming technique in terms of style, speed, and endurance, then you should lift weights after swimming. This is because you will prioritize your energy levels into your swimming performance before using the rest of your energy lifting weights.

Interestingly, swimming actually saves most of your energy levels as your muscles are not being overworked, which is why people will comfortably lift weights after swimming. 

However, lifting weights after swimming inevitably means that your weight lifting performance won’t be as good as if you were to lift weights before going into the pool.

This is because you will have used some of your glycogen levels in the water, and due to the notion of swimming, your body will be very relaxed when it comes to lifting weights. This can often lead to you feeling floppy and slightly weaker when lifting weights after swimming. 

The opposite to this, on the other hand, would be attempting to swim when your muscles and joints are already exhausted after lifting weights before going into the pool.

Swimming with tired muscles and joints will not only impact your swimming performance (most notably the speed and endurance), but it can also lead to injuries.

Overusing muscles that are already exhausted will affect your body overtime, mostly resulting in the strain of essential muscles such as the shoulder muscle. 

Swimming And Weightlifting On The Same Day

It’s no secret that every human body is different to another. Someone may have different tolerances to someone else when it comes to swimming or weightlifting, wherein they might find that they can lift weights shortly before or after going into the pool.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what works best for your body. 

To put it simply, you can absolutely swim and lift weights on the same day! As long as you stick to a routine throughout the week and that you allow yourself enough time to recover from such high-intensity exercises, then you can do both weightlifting and swimming whenever you like.

If anything, lifting weights and swimming on the same day helps to improve your cardiovascular fitness and strength levels far more than doing the exercises on two separate days. 

Think of it like this – if you lift weights on one day and plan to swim the next, not only will your muscles and joints be aching (as they always do the day after a high-intensity workout), but your body will have augmented its glycogen stores overnight, thus rendering the weightlifting and swimming exercises unrelated to each other.

For the best results, it’s recommended that you swim and lift weights on the same day, as the exercises will be close enough together that they improve your overall performance. 

However, you’ve got to prioritize recovering your muscles and joints after swimming and weightlifting on the same day. It’s not just about resting for a couple of hours in between exercises – you need to allow yourself time to recover within the week (and even month).

This can be achieved by committing to a good nutrition that is high in protein, as the protein will encourage your muscles to recover faster and more efficiently. 

You should also make sure to warm up and cool down before and after both swimming and lifting weights to prevent injury. Plus, ensure to stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. 

How To Use Swimming And Weightlifting To Lose Weight 

Swimming And Weightlifting On The Same Day

So, if you’re not looking to build muscular hypertrophy or improve your swimming technique through swimming and weightlifting, and instead you’re looking to use both exercises to lose weight, you can mix and match both exercises however you like.

There are advantages and disadvantages to lifting weights before or after swimming with the goal to lose weight, so it mostly comes down to what works for you. 

Generally speaking, the best way to lose weight is to lift weights before you go swimming.

This is because when you start your day lifting weights, you will be using all the carbohydrates in the glycogen stores as your main source of energy, thus allowing you to use heavier weights.

Once these stores are virtually depleted, swimming will encourage your body to convert fat into energy, resulting in weight loss. 

However, keep in mind that swimming after lifting weights means that your swimming exercise won’t be as intense as you might like it to be due to your weakened muscles.

As a result of this, you might not burn the amount of calories that you wish to burn if you’re swimming slowly.

At the same time, you don’t want to push yourself into swimming with high-intensity after lifting weights, as this can lead to injury and complete exhaustion. 

The best thing to do is to take your time with both weightlifting and swimming. Your body will adapt to a routine and will show results based on that.

However, make sure to remember that weight lifting before swimming will result in muscular hypertrophy, and while this isn’t the same as weight gain from fat, your muscles will look and weigh heavier than usual. 

Is Swimming Bad For Building Muscle?

Muscles rely on resistance to build in size and strength. As swimming is all about resistance against water, it is argued that swimming is the better alternative to building muscle than cardio.

This is because water has a far higher resistance level than air, thus the notion of pulling your entire body through the water with your arms, shoulders, and often legs, will result in muscular hypertrophy. 

On a scientific level, the amount of resistance used in swimming uses up the glycogen stored differently to cardio. Cardio burns through the stored glycogen and fat to provide adequate energy, which is why cardio is generally the better option for losing weight.

However, swimming requires more consistent strength to power through the water, thus using the glycogen stores similarly to weight lifting. 

When Should Swimmers Start Lifting Weights?

According to most trainers and coaches, there is no specific age requirement for when a swimmer should start lifting weights. This is because everybody develops at a different rate, both physically and mentally.

While an 18-year-old might have the body of a 15-year-old, their age doesn’t mean they should start lifting weights, because their bodies aren’t prepared for it yet. 

The only time a swimmer should start lifting weights is when they are ready to commit to training in the gym as well as in the water.

Weight lifting alongside swimming is only effective when the individual commits to both exercises regularly – as well all know, lack of routine produces lack of results. 

The swimmer should be well-versed in standard bodyweight training exercises such as push ups, squats, pull-ups, and more. For those who are totally new to bodyweight training alongside swimming, it is recommended doing 12-16 weeks of this training before progressing to weightlifting.

This is because dry-land training establishes the roots of safely lifting weights. They will also need to follow the guidance of a trainer to ensure that they won’t do any damage to their body, which would then affect their swimming performance. 

Matt Williams