Gym Or Swimming? What should Go First

This question is asked by many fitness fanatics and truly there is no one answer that is correct or incorrect so let’s see what we should do.

Depending on your goals and fitness level (aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels), you will choose to either do swimming or weight training first. Another factor to consider is the types (intensity) of each and the duration you will be doing them for.

This article will cover aspects of swimming and weight training, relating them to one another and comparing them to specific forms of training. Understanding this will allow us to determine which exercise should be done first.

Considering swimming

Swimming is an aerobic exercise that works almost if all the major and minor muscles in the body, depending on what stroke you use. It can be great for getting fit or shedding those excess pounds that you just can’t seem to get rid of.

If you have been exercising for a while and hit a plateau, then swimming may just be the thing you need to shock your body into overcoming that hurdle to take you into the next level of your conditioning.

Many individuals think that swimmers don’t train with weights because body mass in terms of weight may as well be equivalent to stone in the water. The heavier you are (even with muscle), the more energy you will need to swim. This is the reason you don’t see many swimmers lifting weights.

However, there are many benefits to lifting weights (which we will discuss) that you may not have thought of if you are a swimmer and if you have, then that’s why you are reading this article.

What muscles does swimming use?

Depending on the swimming stroke involved, you will use your pecs, lats, quads, hamstring, calves, biceps, and triceps.

For the most part, every stroke will incorporate the use of your core, shoulders, glutes, back, and quads.

Considering weight training

We spoke about swimmers not wanting to train with weights for the fear that they might increase their muscle mass and become heavier, impacting their swimming ability. So let’s consider weight trainers now.

Individuals who lift weight often never give swimming a second thought because either they are not good at it or think it can’t help them achieve the body they want (it’s just cardio right?). Well, swimming in conjunction with weights can benefit a weight trainer the same way weight training can benefit a swimmer.

The advantages for both when compared will be different; however, there are beneficial reasons why each athlete should knuckle down and consider training the other.

What muscles does weight training use?

This will depend solely on the exercise that you are doing, and even then, you can specifically target the muscles associated with that muscle group.

For example, when training back, you can specifically do high rows to target your rhomboid, excluding your middle back muscles. The same concept can be done with the biceps. You can work your inner biceps with your hands being positioned on the inside of a barbell. Conversely, you can have a wide-open grip to work the outer biceps.

Going into detail about which exercises you need to do in order to work the various muscle groups is beyond the scope of this article but be sure to check out our other articles on fitness here.

What are your goals?

We can not just say that weight training should come first or perhaps that swimming should. Each form of exercise offers specific benefits that can and will help your body achieve the necessary goals you are looking to accomplish.

Hence, the first thing you need to ask yourself is your goals and how both swimming and weight training (gym) impact the end result. Furthermore, will the combination of both result in what you want, and how often can you do both? These are just a few questions you should be posing to yourself before determining which you should be doing first.

You should list your goals in order from most important to least important to better understand what you should be doing. For example, your list could look something like this;

  • Lose 10lbs
  • get fit
  • get toned
  • get stronger

Now the list could vary and be more specific and can include or exclude many variables. The most important thing is to list them down and then see which factors apply to which exercise.

For example, if you are looking to lose weight, then swimming is a great cardiovascular exercise that will help you burn calories to achieve this. On the other hand, lifting heavy weights will build muscle, giving you more strength and power. Some of the aspects of fitness will indeed overlap between both of these types of exercises, and you should consider that as well, but we will discuss them next. For the most part, you should first set out your goals and then determine which exercise is best for achieving those goals first.

Once you have your goals laid out and considered which exercise would be beneficial, you should typically do that one first. This is because you will expend the majority of your energy getting through the first exercise, and due to this, you won’t be able to push as hard on the second.

We’ll consider now some of the typical goals that person has in mind when beginning to exercise and layout which exercise is best suited for what goal

Swimming or gym for weight loss?

Typically, most individuals want to start to exercise because they would like to lose weight and do this. You should always be doing cardio or at least an exercise where you are working your heart at approximately 70% of its max while incorporating the use of your glutes and quads. Knowing these fundamentals about cardio and how to burn the proper calories (not muscle) will help you lose weight quickly.

Swimming will typically fall into the category of weight loss and cardio. However, one thing to note is that if you Do HIIT training with weights, you can also burn sufficient calories to lose weight, but some of it will most likely be muscle due to it being an anaerobic form of exercise.

Swimming or gym for fitness?

Again, fitness in terms of proper cardiovascular health will come down to aerobic exercise (which we will also discuss further). Swimming will be better suited for increasing fitness levels in terms of your heart and lung health overall. That’s not to say that weight training will not do this. It is just that swimming offers more in the way of traditional fitness.

Moreover, HIIT training will also make you super fit, but this is a different type of fitness.

Swimming or gym for body conditioning?

Due to the fact that swimming utilizes almost all your major and minor muscle groups continuously, this makes for a great conditioning exercise.

You will most work your entire body evenly, providing good all-round conditioning.

Individuals typically do weight training to achieve a specific type of conditioning. That is, they train for strength, endurance, or size. These three are separate from each other, and although endurance weight training will overlap with swimming, weight training will provide overall strength and increased muscle mass (something to consider depending on your goals).

Swimming or gym for strength training?

Although swimming will train all your muscles and train them from an endurance aspect giving them some strength, weight training will take 1st place for this factor.

Weight training offers more in the way of flexibility when it comes to strength training. You can isolate muscle groups, train with specific exercises and concentrate on achieving the overall strength you want.

Swimming or gym for muscle size?

Hands down, if you want to increase muscle size, you are going to have to do weight training. Swimming will indeed increase muscle size and tone. However, it is a conditioning exercise built around endurance, so you will only ever get to the size your body allows that requires you to be able to swim consistently and effectively.

Weight training, as you most probably know, will allow you to grow to the size of characters straight out of a comic book if you so choose to go down that road.

The sections we covered are typically what most people are looking to achieve when they start to exercise. If you are looking at both swimming and weight training (gym), you should consider the headings and choose the more relevant exercise to your goals and start off with that one first.

Let’s now consider the detailed aspects of what you should be looking at when considering which to do first (swimming or wights).

Anaerobic vs. Aerobic exercise

These two types of exercise are how your body produces energy so it can work (exercise) correctly. In short, aerobic energy uses oxygen, and your body is able to sustain it for long periods of time. Anaerobic exercise is where oxygen is not used to produce energy but rather the breakdown of glucose is used.

If we have to take an average swimmer, then the exercise of swimming will be classified as aerobic exercise. You would typically swim constantly for approximately 30 minutes for an average swim session; hence, as we said, aerobic.

Weight training, because of its short explosive force, will break down glucose quickly and not utilize oxygen, thus making this type of workout anaerobic.

Now, depending on how fit you are and what type of fit you are (are you fit in terms of anaerobic exercise or aerobic exercise), this will play a role in how hard you can train and how tired you will get.

These factors will vary significantly depending on your level of fitness, as we said and which exercise you do first.

Even if you choose to do one type of training first, for example, aerobic, you are unfit. More than likely, once you have completed that training session, you will be too exhausted even to consider training the next exercise (weight training). So what should you do?

Well, logic would state that you would train the “weaker” exercise first (but we said you’ll probably be too tired even to consider the follow-up exercise if you do this). You can try to up your level of fitness for the weaker exercise by training aspects of it through your stronger exercise. Hence you would train your stronger exercise first with aspects of the weaker one in it and then move onto the weaker one if you had the energy upping your level of fitness for that exercises incrementally till you were fit enough at both and could thus choose which one you wanted to do first.

Cross combining exercises till you are fit enough for both

Let’s say you were relatively fit with regards to anaerobic exercise (weight training). You could do exercises that could increase your fitness level for swimming by doing aspects of it in your weight training. Then once you completed your weight training, you could go do a few laps.

Check out this video where you can increase your swimming proficiency with these dry land exercises. Now, these exercises don’t incorporate weights (but move through a series of stretches and body-weighted exercises), they are done outside the pool, and thus you can implement them into your regiment for weights at the end.

Some exercises described in the video can even be made to utilize weights if you so wish, but lightweights should be used in this regard to increase your swimming ability and not for the sake of muscle gain.

Conversely, you can do resistance and strength training in the pool. Today’s technology allows you to almost do anything you wish, and most gone are the days that you have to conform to normality.

They now make a device called aqua paddles that will allow you to add resistance to the exercise movement you would normally do in the gym.

Watch the video below for a full scope of what exercises you will be able to do in the pool that can benefit your strength training in the gym.

Once you have reached a level of fitness that is sufficient for both, you will then be able to decide which you should be doing first. However, there is one more aspect that we have to consider.

Type and duration of exercise

Even though we have established what goal you would like to achieve and understood which exercise you should be doing in terms of your fitness level. You should also take into account the type and duration of each exercise.

For example, perhaps you are only ever planing to do 20 minutes of weights whenever you work out, and your swimming regiment is an hour. Furthermore, perhaps your weight training is light. Then instead of doing swimming first, you could use your weight training session as a warm-up and then hit the pool for your intense workout.

The same is true for the opposite; if you are only ever planning on swimming for twenty minutes, then you need to decide if you would like to use that type of exercise for a warm-up or a cool down when used in conjunction with weight training. It would help if you also considered the type (intensity) of your workout for each.

Changing routines

We’ll close off by saying that your body is a magnificent piece of equipment that can adjust and evolve in terms of exercise. This means that if you do not constantly “shock” your body, then you might hit plateaus, and you will not further progress in your training.

From understanding all that there is to know about how to decide which exercise you should be doing first, the factor arises that you should constantly change up your routine to shock your body into further fitness progression.

It would help if you aimed to keep the same routine until the results start to dwindle or for approximately 4 to 8 weeks. In some cases, up to 12 weeks, but this is typically related to sports-specific training, and if you are doing that, then you surely have a trainer and a solid regiment that you follow.


We discovered that many factors play a role in understanding which exercise should go to first, swimming or gym (weight training). The case of every individual will be different, and they have to determine for themselves what their goals are, what their level of fitness is, how long they want to train each exercise for, and the type or rather intensity of each exercise.

By understanding this, a person will be able to establish what they should be doing first to complement their end goals. Lastly, always remember to switch it up for the sake of further fitness and goal progression.

Source list

What should I do first, the gym or swimming?

Should I Lift Weights Before or After I Swim?

What muscle groups does swimming develop and its benefits

Resistance Training in the Pool

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