Swimming for Cardio

When I am swimming I can feel my heart steadily start beating a bit harder over time. I find that when I haven’t been swimming for a while, it takes a few swimming sessions to get back into a good rhythm for consistently smooth strokes.   

Swimming can provide a good cardio workout. If you are swimming at a regular pace for a period of time, your heart will get stronger and pump blood more effectively. 

When I am swimming I can feel my heart steadily start beating a bit harder as I work toward a 30-minute swimming session. By the end, my heart has been beating strong for a while and has increased its ability to endure under these conditions.

What is a Cardio Workout?

Cardio male swimmer swimming in pool

A cardio workout is when you are focusing on activities that make your heartbeat stronger for extended periods. That’s about 140 – 160 beats per minute for a 20-year-old. Sometimes called aerobic exercise, it requires your body to use oxygen to make the muscles move.

If you workout with a more intense effort you will be getting an anaerobic workout. So if you swim hard for a minute of two and can no longer sustain your effort, you have moved into anaerobic exercise. 

Cardio is an exercise that you can sustain for a while at a certain heartbeat depending on your age. Your heart gets stronger and has the ability to move blood around your body better. 

You’ll receive many health benefits from doing cardio as you swim, or do other exercises that raise your heartbeat to the correct level.

Staying Within the Cardio Range

cardio by age chart

While the number of heartbeats per minute will change depending on how old you are, you should be able to stay in the correct cardio range by swimming at a pace that is not too hard or too easy.

You should not be out of breath but your heart should be beating enough that you have to breathe at an increased pace. If it seems doesn’t seem like too much effort, slowly increase your swimming pace a bit until you can sustain an effort that feels correct. 

You can always check your heart rate with a waterproof smartwatch or by checking your pulse yourself. When your heart is within the cardio range you can then continue to exercise at that pace for the rest of the time you are swimming. 

Which Swimming Activities Should I Do?

You can do almost any type of swimming activity to get a cardio workout. Most people who swim in a pool will do the front crawl, usually seen in freestyle swimming competitions. (Credit – Wikipedia)

There are many ways to get your heart rate up consistently while exercising in water. Which swimming activity do you like the most?

Water Sports

If you are involved with a water team sport, such as synchronized swimming or water polo, you will likely be getting plenty of cardio during your practice time. 

Activities that involve treading water or swimming for any period of time will consistently get your heart beating harder for longer. 

I think the forward crawl and similar strokes during swimming are best because they are easy on the joints and provides good cardio.  

You can also do water sports such as a swimming team or water volleyball. Whatever your choice, you will be increasing your cardio each time you participate for an extended period. 

30 minutes of Swimming

Once you can get up to 30 minutes of swimming cardio, you can claim that you are doing what doctors say you need to, to stay healthy.  

You can be one of the elite and join a group of only about 5% of adults who stay healthier, live longer, and receive many benefits from the half an hour of exercise they perform each day. (Credit – https://www.hhs.gov/)

Ocean Activities

Don’t forget about other water activities that involve swimming, such as surfing, bodyboarding, snorkeling, and scuba diving. When’s your next visit to the beach?

Is Swimming Better for Cardio than other Cardio Exercises?

There’s something to be said for low-impact exercises or activities that get your heart rate of for periods of time. If I were to rank swimming on a 1-10 scale of the best cardio activities, it would be at or near the top.

In general, water-based cardio places low strain on the body, while providing a great workout for your heart and muscles. Land-based activities can still be low impact but do tend to cause more strain on the body. 

This chart below lists the benefits of water and land cardio activities

Which is Better? Water or Land Cardio


  • Joints – When swimming you have very low impact on the joints.
  • Muscles – Muscle development is quicker than land based cardio. 
  • Bones – The  bones are not strengthen as much as they could be on land.
  • Injuries – Swimmers are likely to injure the shoulder area, biceps, and back. 
  • Heart – The heart is able to pump blood to all areas of the body a bit better since water creates a sense of weightlessness.


  • Joints – Low to high impact when doing cardio on land.        
  • Muscles – Muscle development can be more diverse on land.
  • Bones – The bones can get stronger faster on land because of resistant to gravity and weights.
  • Injuries – Land exercisers are likely to injure the knees, feet, and back.  

Water Does Shows Benefits Over Land

Water cardio exercises seem to have a general benefit over land cardio exercises with the heart, muscles, and joints. Although, I would recommend alternating various cardio and muscle strengthening exercises to help with overall body health and getting variety into your routine.

Cardio Helps Your Heart

You are helping yourself avoid problems with your heart when you do cardio. The heart is vulnerable to heart disease because of how our modern diet. We have sugary, fatty, and salty food all around us, and they may be very hard to avoid.

While diet plays an essential role in heart health, cardio is also very important. When we use our heart muscles often, we are helping them to stay healthy and avoid some of the problems that our modern diet places on our hearts.

 On a normal day, our heartbeats about 100000 times each day. It needs to be strong to maintain blood flow to each part of the body and get oxygen and nutrients to each cell in your body. 

As we strengthen our hearts by doing cardio we receive the following benefits:

Major Benefits of Cardio

Endurance and Lung Capacity

The muscles can work harder for longer. This helps us accomplish tasks easier and feel less tired when our heart has to put in more effort.

Your lungs will increase their oxygen capacity, so more oxygen gets in the blood.

Increase in Capillary size

When our capillaries are bigger, we can receive more benefits to our cells. If we are injured, it is likely the injury will heal faster.

Improved Sleep

The body may need the proper chemicals to trigger restful sleep. It may not be in the first month of consistent exercise, but over time the body will respond to your improved heart health, and the chemical released from exercise in your body.

If you do sleep about the same number it hours, those hours will likely be more restful. See this article for more information.

Healthy Blood Pressure

Exercise has been known to reduce stress and release endorphins. Blood pressure can be influenced by stress and diet.

If your heart is working too hard, but you’re not exercising, then you may have high blood pressure. Consistent cardio can help your heart get healthier over time.

Better Blood Sugar

If you love ice cream as much as I do, then you might benefit from a cardio workout. Exercise helps control the level of sugar in the blood because the muscles help use some of it. 

“Insulin resistance, which is when the body requires more insulin to process glucose, is a problem. Exercise combats this by increasing insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake by muscles. Muscles are better able to absorb glucose when contracted.” (Credit – kdisimone.github.io/)

Prevent Heart Disease

When blood vessels narrow or get blocked, you have heart disease. Along with diet exercise can prevent this blockage from occurring. 

Improved Metabolism 

Your body burns calories at a certain rate, and when exercising regularly you can increase the calories your body burns. 

Improves Brain Health

You can have more good feeling chemicals produced on a more consistent basis as you do cardio regularly. You will feel better in general in the short term, although long-term mental health benefits may take time to achieve. (See article for more information – Exercise for Stress and Anxiety)

Next Steps for Improved Cardio for Swimmers

Underwater shot of young woman swimming in the pool. Female swimmer inside swimming pool.

I notice that when I haven’t gone swimming for a while it takes some time for me to get back into the rhythm of swimming and breathing properly. Once I get into a steady pace, it’s becoming much easier to maintain a swimming routine for up to 30 minutes of cardio. 

Sometimes I find that I am out of breath when I try to switch up my stroke and add variety to my swim. That’s when I have to decide what I am going to focus on, just swimming freestyle or changing things up. 

If you have waterproof earphones to listen to music, this might be one option to help you keep a steady pace when you feel you need some variety to make your exercise a bit more fun. 

Swimmers need variety, just like anyone who does exercise regularly. Too much repetition can lead to injury and boredom. 

A trip to the lake, river, or ocean would be a fun change from regular pool use. What cardio exercises do you want to try next?  

Some cardio exercises to try are: 

  • Treading water. 
  • Swimming laps.
  • Water volleyball.
  • Use a kickboard to focus on legs.
  •  Use your arms only to swim across the pool.
  • Walk in the shallow end several laps.
  • Jog in the shallow end.
  • Go underwater and burst out of the water several times.
  • Use a water noodle for various exercises.

Some of the exercises in this video can work to help you get in some good cardio as well. 


Swimming is a great idea to help you get in a cardio workout. You will have all the benefits of fun in the water and gain the benefits that a low-impact cardio workout environment can offer.

If you’re not too interested in swimming laps, try one of the many other ways to get a cardio workout while in the water. Cardio for swimmers will bring a healthy heart and with it a healthier body and mind. 

Thanks for visiting Helpshoe.com


I enjoy many types of outdoor activities including running, hiking, and walking. I was a former elementary school teacher for 17 years and now enjoy writing and sharing my love of the outdoors.

Recent Posts