Does Swimming Work Your Triceps?

The breaststroke requires you to bend then extend your elbows, working your triceps.
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Swimming engages muscles throughout your body, including your triceps. As a low-impact workout, swimming can help build stronger muscles and develop your cardiovascular system without stressing your joints. The triceps are in the back of your arm, a difficult area to target when exercising. However, the movement your arms make in most major swimming strokes works your tricep and bicep, developing them together.

What Works the Triceps

You work your triceps whenever you bend the elbow and straighten your arm. Swimming strokes often involve extending the arm to reach through the water in front of you, then bending the arm as you pull back against the resistance of the water. The consistent and smooth movements during swimming lengthen and contract the triceps, helping you develop more defined muscle tone.

Water Resistance

Bucknell University touts the benefits of swimming, saying that water offers 12 percent to 14 percent more resistance than air. This means you get a more powerful workout in the water than doing the same movements on land. Using your arms to propel you through the water uses the built-in resistance of the water to work your triceps with a full range of motion as you move your arm up and out of the water, and down and back beneath the water.


Although several major swimming strokes look very different, they typically work your triceps as part of the movement. The front crawl, or freestyle, stroke extends an arm above the water while the other pushes back under the water, working both sets of arm muscles in different ways at the same time. The butterfly uses the power of your shoulders, chest and back to push through the water, but it works the triceps as the arms extend forward and enter the water. In the breaststroke, the arms stay in the water more than with some other strokes, offering increased resistance when you straighten your arms and push them back and to the sides. Even the more relaxed backstroke works your triceps as you rotate your arms to move backward through the water.

Water Tricep Workouts

You can focus your water workouts on your triceps in addition to using them while swimming. The water itself provides resistance when you're performing triceps kick-backs, for example, where you stand still with your elbows bent beside you and push your arms straight back. Holding floats in your hands can increase the difficulty. Or, stand near the pool wall and put your hands on the deck behind you. Push yourself up until your biceps are parallel to the pool deck and your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Dip your body back into the pool, controlling the movement with your arms, and pull yourself back up. These dips use only a portion of your body weight as resistance because the water offsets part of your weight, making the dips ideal for beginners.

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