Tall. Long-limbed. Lean. And don’t forget; those lats and shoulders. If you haven’t already guessed who I might be describing, you probably haven’t spent much time around competitive swimmers. But, chances are, you knew exactly who I was talking about (and that’s why you’re here). Maybe you are hoping to soon be twinning with Michael Phelps. Or, perhaps, you are creating an exercise routine with an emphasis on swimming and you are wondering how your physique and appearance might change if you keep it up. There are definitely noticeable characteristics about a swimmer’s physique that go beyond being a stereotype. Curious yet about how your body might change as you embark on your swimming journey? Let’s dive in!

You are wondering, “What does a swimmer’s body look like?” A swimmer’s body is typically toned, but without too much bulky muscle. Broad shoulders with defined abs, lats, and triceps are the physical features earned by swimmers’ frequent time in the pool. Above-average height, a long torso and upper limbs are other noticeable characteristics of the best swimmers.

Many of these features can be acquired with a focused and dedicated swim regimen. The others are traits someone is born with that are almost impossible to change. 

So, if we could build an ideal swimmer’s body, what would it consist of? If you are someone who wants to get as close to building a swimmer’s physique as possible, keep reading to find out how!

Are They Born With A Swimmer’s Body?

Like many who dominate their sport, swimmers have a unique physical build. However, it is important to understand the swimmers you see competing at the international level are in a league of their own; they are at the apex of their sport. Because of this, the appearance of what you might think a swimmer’s body should look like, is probably skewed as well.

These are the swimmers who are spending countless hours training, and have basically made a career in the pool. Even when they aren’t training, these swimmers are following lifestyle habits that will benefit them the most when it’s time for competition. In addition to the necessity of following a strict regime, the tall height and long arm length that we often associate with swimmer traits are something they are naturally born with. As we discussed in the article about height, the swimmers you see on television went through a natural selection of the sport – not all swimmers are going to have the natural advantage of height. Although, it certainly helps.

Height and Longer Limbs Are Beneficial For Swimmers

Both men and women benefit as swimmers if they are on the taller end of the spectrum. When you hear the term, “swimmer’s body,” we are often referring to height. It is an obvious factor when watching the Olympics, for example, where it is not uncommon to see female swimmers at least 6 feet tall and male swimmers even taller than that. You might be wondering why height is helpful for swimmers. Here are some considerations:

  • Wave drag is kept to a minimum when a swimmer is longer. Think torpedo
  • A taller swimmer uses less strength and energy than a shorter swimmer, thus tiring out at a slower rate
  • Larger hands and longer arms (generally found on taller people) work like oars to allow the swimmer to pull more water with a higher velocity
  • A tall swimmer usually means they have bigger feet. They might as well have been born with fins!

This gives us a quick snapshot of why height is such a noticeable trait in many of the most recognizable swimming athletes. Height can play a significant role in a person’s ability to reach the top level in the sport, though it is certainly not a dealbreaker if you are not tall. Height isn’t the only characteristic of a typical “swimmer’s body;” many characteristics are ones you can achieve  if you are willing to put in the hard work.

Swimmers Build Body Over Time, And Here Is How

Let’s return to the understanding that swimmers we see on television are at the top of their sport. Although the height and long limbs are something they’re born with, most other noticeable characteristics are built with a dedication to workouts. Remember that elite swimmers train consistently at an intense level and high frequency over many years, and naturally are going to develop the large, defined muscles. A typical swimmer may not be training with the same amount of intensity, so it may take longer to develop those features. But, for anyone who routinely swims (including varying levels in different heart rate zones as well as dryland training), the shape of their body is bound to be transformed.

A Swimmer's Body Is Built In The Pool

It’s not a secret that a swimmer’s body is built in the pool. Michael Phelps, for example, was swimming 12 times per week and logging-in over 12 miles of swimming each day. With this kind of regimen, a uniquely powerful body, closely aligned with the full-body sport of swimming, is inevitable. Some of the qualities and what they are associated with include: 

  • Broad shoulders. Countless repetitions create hypertrophy in the shoulders of a swimmer. Either a one-arm stroke like freestyle or backstroke, or a two-arm stroke like butterfly creates this silhouette
  • The latissimus dorsi. The lats (as they are usually referred to) are the large muscles of the middle back. These are major powerhouse muscles used in all swimming strokes. Coupled with broad shoulders, lats create that V-shape body many swimmers have 
  • Triceps. The most volume in a swimmer’s arm consists of the tricep muscles. These muscles are used for a powerful propulsion phase in swimming. Almost all swimmers have massive triceps from repetitive stroke motions
  • A thin waist with defined abdominals. The caloric burn and fast metabolism results from an intense cardio exercise such as swimming. The core muscles are continuously used during swimming, resulting in a stronger core. Logging hours in the pool equates to low body fat and defined abs
  • Powerful legs. They are well-defined but not overly bulky. A swimmer needs strong legs for underwaters, starts, turns, and overall forward movement, but an excess of muscle also means increased drag and more weight to pull. With swimming being an intensely aerobic activity (requiring the use of the entire body), legs play an important role in a swimmer’s success.

Want to get a swimmer’s body? It starts in the pool! Soon, you will notice a defined upper body in the stereotypical V-shape you’ve come to associate with your favorite swimmers. Think that’s all it takes? It might be surprising, but the best swimmers don’t just swim.

Dryland Also Helps Swimmers Build Their Body

Dryland training, which includes strength training and Olympic weightlifting, is another essential component of a swimmer’s day-to-day regimen. Just like any other sport, a well-executed cross-training plan allows a swimmer to prevent injury and make the competitive gains they desire. Various strength exercises also help contribute to the look of a “swimmer’s body." Here are my favorite simple exercises that will do the trick:

  1. Planks – There are different variations of planks, and they all do a great job of stabilizing your core. Additionally, the defined ab muscles swimmers often have can occur when this exercise is performed alongside a dedicated swimming routine
  2. Lat Pulls – This exercise is excellent for strengthening and bringing out definitions of back muscles. Neck pulldowns, pulldowns to the chest, and pulldowns using a V-shaped bar all do a great job of activating the lat muscles. This enhances a swimmer’s look, as well as their ability to be a strong competitor
  3. Rowing Machine – Rowing is an excellent cross-training exercise for swimmers. It’s an aerobic activity that targets the back, arms, core, and legs. Want to look like a swimmer? This exercise will put you in the right direction!
  4. Crunch Press – Essentially, a typical crunch done in conjunction with a dumbbell press at the top of the exercise, this works both the core and shoulders at the same time

A3 Performance Tip: Add comprehensive strength training to your swimming routine to get defined upper and lower body muscles.

Defined muscles are a common characteristic of swimmers. Think that six-pack only comes from daily swimming and weight training? If you desire the low body fat that swimmers generally have, you’ll need to take a look at your diet.

Nutrition Is Essential For Building Swimmer's Body

I would be remiss to say you can have a swimmer’s body without proper nutrition. The most talented and dedicated swimmers burn an enormous amount of calories, but that doesn’t mean they can eat whatever they want. Creating a diet that balances macronutrients gives a swimmer the proper amount of nutrition they need to recover and maintain the body composition for top performance.  Let’s be honest – a swimmer’s body looks good. A balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats will keep a swimmer looking, feeling and performing top notch.

  • Carbohydrates – This will make up approximately half of a swimmer’s diet. Whole-grain toast, oatmeal or bananas are excellent options
  • Proteins – Protein is necessary for proper recovery as well as building strong bones and muscles. A swimmer needs to incorporate plenty of eggs, milk, and fish each day in order to get about 25% of their nutrition from protein
  • Fats – Nut butter, olive oil, and avocados are great choices for rounding out a swimmer’s diet with healthy fats

Looking to get that perfected V-shaped body that you often see on swimmers? It will only happen if you’re eating right, too!

A3 Performance Tip: Want a swimmer’s body? Keep body fat low through proper nutrition and regular exercise. 

Just like every sport, there are athletes of all shapes and sizes, ranging in all kinds of abilities. Just because someone was born with stereotypical, “swimmer’s body,” doesn’t mean they will automatically be great at swimming. Someone who isn’t gifted with height, long arms, and torso, may still turn pro. No matter the circumstances, anyone can achieve a look that will resemble the stereotypical, “swimmer’s body.” It will take time and dedication, but it is certainly possible!


Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to get a swimmer’s body? It is going to be different for everyone and depends a lot on a person’s starting level of fitness. Now is a good time to embrace the, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” mentality. If you’re looking to get a swimmer’s body, it’s going to take time. Those desirable broad shoulders and lean physique will become noticeable with daily swimming accompanied by strength training and proper nutrition over a period of months.

Can I get a swimmer’s body without even swimming? You might want the look of a swimmer’s body without ever actually getting in the pool. Though it’s possible to achieve a similar build, the outcome will probably not be an exact replica. Incorporating a proper diet alongside a program that includes full-body targeted weight lifting will be necessary. Finding a cardio exercise you enjoy that allows for a similar calorie burn to swimming will be important as well.


Be sure to look into our other articles On Deck too!

   A3 Performance Pinterest
October 23, 2020 — Roman Trussov


Dutch Allen said:

Actually, I thought the article fell kind of flat. No argument here that it is prudent to tell people that diet and cross training is/can be prudent, however it simply isn’t true or necessary to get a ‘swimmers’ body.

Granted, it takes a certain window of opportunity to get a swimmers body without nutrition and weight training – such as: starting at the age of 7, working out an hour before school and two hours after school plus Saturdays for about 7 years. By the time we were doing 16,000 meters a day around 14 – 15 years of age, I can tell you whole heartedly that it didn’t matter what we ate. We could metabolize a brick! But we ate a lot of baked potatoes, and sucked down plenty of honey at meets. We would also stroll into a 7-11 with a dollar and get 10 candy bars (.10 cents each) and would down them like a sheep to the slaughter!

LOL – Gawd, them’s were the days, eh?!

Also, I think your article could have given the folks a good workout to follow… at least for those who are are looking for real advice on how to get that ‘swimmers’ body. So, here is some advice which might be a tad outdated, yet… I think anyone who stuck with it would be wildly happy the results:

Warm up with a 800 or 1200
10 100’s on the 2 mins
10 25’s on the minute
5 200’s on the 4 mins
5 100 IM’s rest 30 sec’s each
10 50’s on the minute
200 relaxed – sloppy lazy
10 25’s kicking like you’re an insane person (flutter kick, on the minute, with a board, should sound like a choo – choo train)
kick a lazy 100 (with a board – take all the time you want)
10 50’s on the two minutes
warm down with a 400 or 800

Do that daily for a couple months and take before and after pictures.

Please follow up with your doctor before attempting this type of workout – and please… cut it up by shortening the tasks and/or extending the times and intervals if you need to.

Form will have a lot to do with it – make sure your flutter kick has exceptional form. Stretch out in your glide, get those arms out in front of you and keep your head down. Blow bubbles and remember to KICK at all times!

Other than that, great article for adults… we do need to watch what we eat :)

Safa said:

Hey, amazing post. This post was very informative and fascinating to read. I really enjoyed how you covered useful tips and workout to gain a swimmer’s body without swimming. When trying to achieve a certain body, it’s important to understand that though you may see results, you can never change your bone structure. Instead of spending years dancing or swimming to get the body you want, strengthen certain muscles in your body to see results faster. https://www.fitnesssolutionsplus.ca/blog/dancers-or-swimmers-body/ speaks more on this topic. Overall, I learned a lot from this post. I would recommend this post to a friend. Thanks for this post!

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.