While swimming tones your chest muscles, it's not a resistance exercise, such as body building or strength training. This means that swimming will never give you chest development on par with a top female bodybuilder, but you might not want to look like that. So look to swimming to tone your chest muscles, giving you a more muscular and shapely appearance without the hard, muscular look that occurs with bodybuilding.
When you swim, your muscles become stressed from moving against the resistance of water. This resistance causes small tears in your muscle fibers, which rebuild themselves stronger during rest periods between workouts. An added benefit is that swimming burns calories like crazy -- about 3 calories per mile for every pound you weigh. Burning calories leads to overall body-fat reduction, which shows off your newly toned muscles. If you hit the pool regularly, your chest muscles will tone and tighten along with your overall look.
Although the main muscle you work while doing the backstroke is the latissimus dorsi on your back, the backstroke works out every muscle group including your chest. Do the backstroke while you are lying flat on your back with your arms above and behind your head and your legs extended in front of you. Alternate your arm strokes in a windmill-type motion. This windmill motion is responsible for giving your chest a great workout.
To get a great chest workout, try the front crawl -- or freestyle swim -- which you perform with your face in the pool, your arms stretched forward and your legs extended. Move your arms in an alternating pattern with one pulling and pushing while the other is recovering. The front crawl works the pectoral muscles in your chest as well as other muscles that support your chest such as your back muscles and deltoids. The entire central core is activated as you do the front crawl, which will make your chest look toned and firm, according to the Canadian Health magazine.
The breaststroke is another great way to shape your pectoral muscles, and it's often the first stroke that beginning swimmers learn. As with the front crawl, you do the breaststroke with your face in the water, your arms stretched forward and your legs extended backward. The difference is in the arm movements, which are simultaneous in the breaststroke, instead of alternating as they are in the front crawl. In the breaststroke, you also move your arms outward in a "Y" shape. Working both arms at once provides greater resistance, which leads to more stress on your chest muscles and, therefore, more potential for rebuilding during rest periods. Moving your arms outward works the outer part of your latissimus dorsi, which develops strong outer-chest muscles.
Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.