Body Parts Used in Swimming

Swimming works all your major muscle groups and uses all of your limbs.
i Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

Swimming is a full-body sport that works out all your major muscle groups. It is one of the few sports that is able to do this. This cardiovascular sport increases strength, flexibility and muscle endurance. Although the four dominant strokes -- freestyle, backstroke, butterfly and breaststroke -- may slightly emphasize different body parts, in general, they all provide a full-body workout.

Upper Body

When swimming, your shoulders and arms create the power behind the stroke. Everything from your hands all the way up to your shoulders are used and even your neck is engaged to keep your body position balanced in the water and to assist in breathing. With swimming, the aim is to keep your shoulders and neck as relaxed as possible so that your arms move fluidly without strain. In most strokes, your elbows are only slightly flexed. Yet in breaststroke, you nearly complete flex your elbow joint when you sweep your hands through your pull.

Lower Body

In swimming, your legs are essential for lifting your body up into a more streamlined position that reduces drag, timing the rotation of your entire body during your stroke, providing power and making you more efficient. The kick begins from your abdominal muscles and then travels through your hips. In freestyle, instead of bending your knee, the kick comes from the hip and uses your quadriceps located on your upper legs for power. The rest of your leg is relatively straight but you should keep your ankle flexed. In breaststroke, you bend your knees and use your calf muscles and ankle joint to power the stroke.


Beginning with your chest, this part of your body is essential in swimming, particularly during the breaststroke and butterfly because of the undulating movement of these strokes. Your core is essential in synchronizing your upper-body and lower-body movements, but it does much more than that. Your abdominal muscles make your body more streamlined in the pool, which reduces drag. Furthermore, they prevent you from overarching your back during the freestyle.


Maintaining your streamline position is essential for forward propulsion. The main ways to do this is through a horizontal body position and fluid hip roll. Your back needs to have a neutral spine with your head just at the surface and eyes focused straight down. This position brings your shoulders, upper back and glutes out of the water. In every stroke you swim, your body uses your latissimus dorsi, spinal cord support muscles, trapezius and rhomboids.

the nest