Michael Phelps can swim a 50-meter butterfly in 24.7 seconds. That’s more than half of a football field at a pace of over two meters per second!

And because he makes swimming look so easy, regular people think they can just hop in the pool and swim fast without any real training.

But when it comes time to actually swim, most people can barely keep their heads above water.  

Swimming is one of the hardest sports in the world. It’s more difficult than football, baseball, hockey, you name it! But before you disagree, let us show you why.

Why Swimming is Harder Than Other Sports

1. Limited Breathing

First of all, you can’t breathe! When you go for a run, ride your bike, or lift weights in the gym, you can breathe whenever you want, as much as you want. All that air must be nice, but swimmers don’t have that luxury!

Doing cardio is hard enough, but when you take away the oxygen? That’s brutal, maybe even inhumane!

When you swim, your face is submerged underwater most of the time. You only get to breathe every few strokes, and maintaining that breath control gets really tough when you’re exhausted. 

The majority of new swimmers have a hard time figuring out when to breathe and how to do it without inhaling water. 

This is a big source of anxiety for some people, and can cause them to panic while they’re swimming, which isn’t great if they’re trying to get a workout in.

But the good news is that breathing does get easier with time and lots of practice. 

Related: 5 Swim Drills to Immediately Improve Your Breathing

The key is finding a breathing pattern. In freestyle, many swimmers breathe every two or three strokes. This pattern gives the body enough oxygen to keep going for longer distances and can actually help you build a rhythm in your stroke so you stay on pace! 

Don’t try to hold your breath as long as possible between strokes. That won’t end well!

After a while, your body will get used to the lack of oxygen and your breath control will improve. It doesn’t necessarily get easier, but you get stronger! Just give it time. 

2. You Have to Learn Four Strokes

Another reason why swimming is so hard? You have to master four different strokes. 

Most people start with freestyle, or front crawl. But that’s just the beginning. After that there’s backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly.  

For a lot of swimmers, swimming perfect freestyle is challenging enough. Adding three more strokes to the lineup is borderline ridiculous. 

Each stroke is so different and takes a different type of skill and finesse to do well.

Freestyle is all about rotational momentum, timing and a streamlined body position. 

Backstroke completely flips the script, literally. You have to swim on your back without being able to see where you’re going, which is easier said than done.

Breaststroke, on the other hand, slows things down big time. You need to understand how to reduce drag and maximize your power to move through the water as quickly as possible. 

And butterfly…don’t even get us started! Fly is the most difficult stroke by far. It uses every single muscle in the body, and requires perfect rhythm and great technique to swim fast. 

Even some experienced swimmers still have a tough time swimming butterfly after years of training. It’s like a never-ending project – there’s always something to improve. 

In running or cycling, you have to get really good at just one thing. It can take years to achieve perfect running or biking form, so multiply that by four, and that’s swimming.

Imagine finally feeling like you have a handle on something only for your coach to say, “ok, now we’re back to square one.” Time to learn a new stroke!

And to be clear, running and cycling are challenging and require lots of specialized technique and training too! Swimmers have a lot more to learn.

3. Swimming Uses All Your Muscles

If anything, swimmers who train all four strokes end up getting super strong and fit, because they’re challenging their bodies in different ways and hitting every muscle group consistently. All that hard work is definitely worth it!

And that brings us to the third reason why swimming is harder than it looks. Swimming is a full-body workout that you can’t get anywhere else. It works every single muscle, even the ones you didn’t know you had. 

If you swim, you know that how you feel after a swim is completely different from how you feel after any other workout. You’re exhausted from head to toe. You’ve worked your upper body, your lower body, your core and even your cardiovascular system. 

Related: What Happens to Your Body When You Swim?

With each stroke, you’re working against the water’s resistance, which can help you build muscle while you get a heart-pumping cardio session in at the same time.

After a few months of consistent swimming, you’ll start to notice stronger shoulders and back muscles, a more toned core, and stronger legs. Swimming is a great bang for your buck if you’re short on time and need a full-body workout!

But, there are so many incredible brain benefits to swimming beyond the physical workout. When you submerge your body in the water, blood circulation to your brain increases, which can get rid of brain fog, improve your sleep, and give you an energy boost! 

4. Challenging Technique

Now that we know swimming uses all your muscles, we can take a look at why that is: Swimming is a super technical sport. And that’s the fourth reason swimming is harder than it looks.

If you want to swim fast, you have to understand how to move through the water by creating as little resistance as possible. And to do that, you need to be able to keep your arms, legs, hips and head in the right position for every stroke, for the whole workout. 

It’s not easy! You can’t just hop in and swim. Well, you can, but swimming with improper technique won’t be very fun. You need to know how to move your body efficiently so you actually make it to the other end of the pool.

Related: 2 Drills to Improve Your Swimming Streamline & Body Position

There’s so much to think about when you swim, that it can be overwhelming. 

How are your hands entering the water? Are you pulling with a high elbow? Where are your eyes looking? Are you rotating enough? Are you kicking too much? Are your hips sinking? When should you breathe?

You get the idea…

We see so many swimmers trying to muscle their way through the water, and while they might be working hard, they aren’t swimming efficiently.

Swimming is about so much more than being strong. You have to find the balance between your strength and your technique to swim fast. And that’s easier said than done! 

Because there are so many intricacies with each stroke, improving your technique can feel like a never ending battle. But trust us, with time, consistency and the right plan, you will start seeing results! 

5. It’s Time Intensive

Of course, after years of experience, the best swimmers can just turn their brains off and swim. They don’t have to think about their technique every second, and they make swimming look graceful and easy. But it takes a long time to get there.

The fifth reason swimming is harder than it looks? Training takes a TON of time. 

The best swimmers train for thousands of hours, swimming back and forth staring at the bottom of the pool, just to drop half a second or less in a race. 

Many professional swimmers devote so much of their lives to swimming that it’s hard to find time for anything else. Training is a full-time job. 

When he was preparing for the Olympics, Michael Phelps trained five to six hours a day, sometimes up to seven days a week. That’s just not sustainable for the majority of the population.

But you don’t have to train for 20-plus hours a week to see results. It’s all about maximizing your time in the water and making swimming fit into your life. And that’s why we created the MySwimPro app

You’ll get daily, personalized workouts and Training Plans designed to fit your schedule and help you reach your goals, whether that’s weight loss, an upcoming competition, general fitness or something else!

Every workout has drills and instructional videos built in so you get a great workout every time without having to write it yourself.

If you’re serious about swimming faster and improving your technique, download MySwimPro on your iPhone or Android and start training!

6. Bonus: Water is 800 Times More Dense Than Air

You thought we were done, didn’t you? Here’s the ultimate reason why swimming is harder than it looks: Water is 800 times more dense than air! 

Do you seriously think anything can be more difficult than moving through a medium that’s as dense as water? It makes other land sports look like amateur hour.

Water’s density plays a massive role in why swimming is so hard. Good swimmers have to learn how to work with the water, instead of pushing against it. 

If your technique isn’t on point, you’ll create a lot of drag, which will slow you down and tire you out very quickly. 

It’s all about efficiency: Swimming faster with as little effort as possible. Very often, making just a couple small tweaks to your stroke is a game changer for your efficiency, and you’ll notice a difference almost immediately!

Once you realize that you don’t need to muscle through the water and use every ounce of energy you have to get through a couple laps, swimming becomes easy, and you’re flying through the water like a torpedo. 

After reading this, we hope you have a new respect for the elite swimmers who make swimming look easy. Because it’s not! It takes thousands of hours of work and lots of blood, sweat and tears to effortlessly glide from one end of the pool to the other. 

Sound off in the comments with your thoughts, and any tips you have to make swimming easier. Download the MySwimPro app to get your personalized Training Plan and start swimming faster.



  1. I’ve been a competitive swimmer since I was about 7 and now I swim with the Masters. This is simply the best and most fun sport around. My health thanks me for it everyday especially since I have MS.

    • I swam in high school in NYC. We won the City Championshipk in Freshman an Junior year. We placed second in our Sophmore and Senior year. The practices were brutal. After a 1 1/2 hour subway to school, 6 hours of school, another 45 minutes to the pool, and 2 1/2 hour practice, we ended with 15 minutes of wind sprints. I swam the butterfly and individual medley. As a kid I played all the sports: baseball, football, basketball, street hockey. I have said many times that I could survive any practice, no matter the sport, better than anyone else could survive one of our swim practices. The article is spot on!

    • I suffer from osteoarthritis of the AC joint (I think that’s the joint; it’s the space between the shoulder and collar bone) from years of back stroking in elementary and middle school. I am recently diagnosed, though I have been in pain for decades. I wonder if I’ll ever get back in the water as my pain extentends up through the neck and makes breathing with free impossible. Thoughts and suggestions welcome!

  2. Swimming is a beautifully difficult sport. That’s great for mental health. My Swim Pro got a lot of videos that teach stroke techniques. You guys are great thanks for all the stroke improvement lessons. Set your own pace and put a smile on your face.

  3. I have been a competitive swimmer in all four strokes since I was 13. I competed in college and got my Varsity letter in my freshman year but took time out for my career. I started back back in competitive swimming after I retired and swam 2 miles of different strokes in my 70s.

  4. I swam competitively when I was young for 7 years then but then partying drew me away. Sad but true.. However it has always been a joy for me to swim so when I retired I started swimming laps at our local YMCA. My breathing is sloppy when doing free so I mainly swim back and breast while I’m improving my other strokes. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do fly again but I’m excited about your videos and will check them out! Thank you!

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