They’re cut. They’re shredded. They’re not Greek statues, they’re professional swimmers!

You know what we’re talking about: The “swimmer body.” The long torso, big shoulders and drool-worthy abs. 

Why do so many swimmers develop this unique body shape, and what does it really take to look super shredded? Let’s dive in.

What is a Swimmer Body?

The swimmer body is characterized by broad shoulders and a cut, v shaped torso. Swimmers take thousands of strokes every day, so their lats and back muscles are very strong.

Their arms and legs are toned and muscular, too, because swimming uses every single muscle to work against the water’s resistance and propel the body forward. From their fingertips to their toes, swimmers are putting their bodies to the test.

Ryan Murphy backstroke start
Ryan Murphy (photo: Mike Lewis)

Then there’s the six-pack, washboard abs. Swimmers use their cores to maintain a perfect, streamlined body position for hours at a time. It’s not easy, and over time they build rock solid abs.

Since swimming is an intense cardio workout that burns a lot of calories, pro swimmers often also have lower body fat percentages. When you have less body fat, your abs become visible.

Many elite swimmers are also very tall, which can be advantageous for a variety of reasons. Taller people usually have longer arms and legs and bigger hands and feet, all of which help them move more water and swim faster with less effort than a shorter person. 

Olympic swimmer Nathan Adrian is 6’6”, Michael Phelps is 6’4”, Caeleb Dressel is 6’3”, Katie Ledecky is 6 feet tall…you see the pattern.

So, in a nutshell, the ideal swimmer body is one that’s tall, lean, strong and muscular from head to toe. And this doesn’t only apply to men. Female swimmers are just as jacked. Just look at Katinka Hosszú, Sarah Sjöström or Katie Ledecky.

How to Get a Swimmer Body

But is the swimmer body really the perfect body? The question is: Can you get the swimmer physique just by swimming a little bit more? 

We wish we could tell you that it’s easy, but the answer is complicated.

Genetics & the Swimmer Body

Genetics certainly play a role in why some athletes develop a “swimmer body” faster than others.

There’s a reason why so many professional swimmers seem to have the stereotypical “swimmer body.”

It’s because people born with specific characteristics tend to be good at swimming. Swimmers with a “swimmer body” are tall and lean, with long limbs that can pull a lot of water. They might also be predisposed to gaining muscle in just the right places to achieve that v-shaped look everyone is after.

Many elite swimmers have been swimming since they were five or six years old, too, which adds another layer to how their physiques turned out when they got older.

But swimming only does so much to change how the body is destined to look at a genetic level. Nathan Adrian is 6’6” because he was born that way, not because he swims. 

Over decades of competition, the swimmers with this body type have risen to the top of the food chain, and the top of the podium. As a result, their physiques have become the face of the entire sport. 

But if you go to a regular public pool, you’ll see that the majority of swimmers don’t have that swimmer body aesthetic. Most of these swimmers swim casually for fitness, and are not dedicating hours to training both in and out of the water. 

People of all shapes and sizes swim, and you can swim pretty fast without having the stereotypical cut swimmer body. It’s not a requirement to have a certain body shape to be good at swimming!

Time-Consuming Training Schedule

The second way athletes get the “swimmer body” is by training. A lot.

Elite swimmers usually train for 20 hours a week or more, and in most cases, training is a full-time job!

They’re swimming every day, sometimes multiple times a day, with personalized programs designed to get them to the top of the podium. 

Lilly King (photo: Mike Lewis)

Related: Caeleb Dressel Shares His Training Schedule

But you might be surprised to learn that swimming alone isn’t what gets professional swimmers so shredded. Most pros are putting in 5-10 hours a week in the weight room lifting really heavy weights. 

Strength training out of the water is what transforms the body the most. Lifting builds more muscle than swimming by a long shot. 

The water only provides so much resistance and after a while, swimmers need to challenge their bodies with heavier weights on land. Regular gym sessions build strength for a faster, more powerful stroke and also help fix muscle imbalances to prevent injuries.

If you compare the physiques of Olympic swimmers 50 years ago to the Olympians of today, you’ll notice that modern-day swimmers are a lot more muscular. And that’s because of all that strength training. 

Swimmers half a century ago still had fit physiques, but they were much thinner, because swimming alone doesn’t build much muscle.

Michael Phelps, on the other hand, trained five to six hours a day, six or seven days a week. He often swam 80,000 meters in a single week. That’s almost 50 miles! But he was also in the gym at least three times a week, too.

Related: How Michael Phelps Became the Greatest Swimmer of All Time

When you train like that, you burn thousands of calories every workout, which keeps your body fat percentage lower to maintain a slim physique.

Plus, most pros, including Michael, follow strict nutrition plans designed for maximum gains and muscle recovery.

Reality Check

The reality is this: Most swimmers don’t have a cut “swimmer body,” and they never will. It’s hard to see dramatic transformations to your body when you swim only a few times per week. 

For professional swimmers, swimming is life. For most people, swimming is just one aspect of life. 

Most of us don’t have 20 to 30 hours a week to spend training. We have jobs, families, hobbies and other things that take up time, so we have to be more strategic about the time we spend working out.

You tell me: Is it worth having a perfect “swimmer body” if you have to skip social events or spend hours away from your loved ones to train all the time?

And while, yes, you can definitely get fit and change your body composition with just a few hours of training each week, it’s unrealistic to think you’ll look like an elite swimmer when you don’t train like one.

The Secret to Getting a Swimmer Body

When it comes down to it, the “swimmer body” ideal just isn’t as important as people make it seem. Anyone can swim, regardless of age, body type, background and ability. 

The truth is, getting a swimmer body takes just two steps:

Step 1. Have a body.

Step 2. Swim!

That’s it. It’s really that simple. 

Benefits of Swimming

Swimming isn’t all about aesthetics. In fact, for the majority of swimmers, how they look isn’t the focus at all. There are many other reasons to swim every day. 

First of all, swimming is really good for your brain health. Being in the water increases blood flow to the brain and can help you stay more focused during the day. Swimming also helps you sleep better and can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress. 

Related: 6 Reasons Swimming is Good For Your Brain

Plus, regular swim workouts can improve your heart health, reduce joint pain and build full-body strength.

And of course, it’s super motivating to work toward a performance goal, whether that’s a race or just beating your swim buddy during practice. 

Probably the most profound reason to swim, though, is that you can do it from cradle to grave. 

Swimming is truly a lifelong sport that can keep you healthy for decades, and it’s a great way to connect with others and build community. And to many people, those things are much more important than having a six pack. 

How to Lose Weight Swimming

If you do want to lose weight or change your body composition, swimming can be a great tool, as long as your nutrition is on point as well. 

If that’s something you want to do, we recommend following a progressive training program that uses interval training to vary your distance, strokes and intensity. The MySwimPro app gives you personalized workouts designed for your goals, from weight loss to 10k swim races – check it out if you’re ready to start training.

If you can hit the gym for two or three dryland training sessions per week as well, you’ll boost muscle growth and reduce your risk of injury. 

Related: The Truth About Swimming for Weight Loss

Train consistently and eat in a moderate calorie deficit, and you should lose some weight. 

All of that said, even if you follow a weight loss program and train hard, there’s no guarantee that you’ll end up looking like Caeleb Dressel, because you aren’t him. Everyone is different!

Reframing Your Relationship with Swimming

Getting a “swimmer body” doesn’t have to be your goal if you don’t want it to be. Sometimes shifting your focus away from changing your physique can actually help you show up to the pool more consistently.

To get the most out of swimming, try shifting your mindset!

Set Different Goals

Instead of setting a goal to change your body composition, try setting SMART goals related to performance or competition. 

Maybe you want to drop five seconds in your 100 freestyle, or you want to master butterfly. Or maybe there’s an open water race coming up that you want to train for. 

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. Set a goal, make a plan and get to work!

New goals will get you in the pool and help you expand your perception of swimming. It’s not just for weight loss – it’s a great way to push yourself out of your comfort zone!

Focus on the Feeling

It can also be helpful to notice how swimming makes you feel, not just how it makes you look. 

Do you notice that you’re more relaxed and focused when you swim regularly? What does it feel like to move through the water? Do you notice a difference in your mood before and after you swim? 

Those feelings are arguably more important than burning a ton of calories.

Practice Gratitude

Be grateful to your body for carrying you through life and lots of tough swim workouts. Be grateful that you GET to swim every day. That you GET to experience the benefits of this incredible sport.

Don’t compare your physique, swimming experience or speed to others. Your only competition is yourself.

Ultimately, focus on how swimming can help you become the best version of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. When you shift your mindset away from getting shredded and start using swimming to level up in all areas of your life, big changes will happen. 

Stay consistent, follow a plan that fits your goals, and watch yourself transform. 

In the end, the truth is this: The “swimmer body” isn’t what swimming is all about. There’s so much more to this sport than abs and muscles. 

Let us know your thoughts in the comments. And if you’re ready to take your swimmer body to the pool, download the MySwimPro app to find a personalized workout just for you!


1 Comment

  1. Mrs Kath Johnson-Jones on

    I’m a consistently overweight swimmer now aged 65. I’ve swam since childhood.
    Swimming has got me through a failing marriage, and then divorce….
    After a break due to Covid and an op, I’m now back 3 times a week, regularly, and feeling much more energised.
    I may not lose weight, I may not be fast, but I’m living and loving every minute.

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