Swimming has always been an important part of my physical activity, and lately, I’ve been thinking that some strength training was something my body was in need of. I wanted a more shredded-looking physique, and as the swimming was giving me lots of cardio, I started to look into how complementary swimming and weightlifting could be. Some time and research led me to the answer of how to combine weightlifting and swimming?
So how to combine weightlifting and swimming? By using swimming as your rest-activity between weightlifting workouts, the muscle’s ability to regenerate and regrow is enhanced. Not only does swimming facilitate that crucial post-workout muscle recovery, but it also works different muscles in a different way, so total muscle engagement is occurring.
As a crucial part of weightlifting is muscle recovery, swimming in-between workouts is an ideal way to heal those post-workout muscles while working different ones. Adjusting swimming intensity also can increase muscle stress and cardio activity for the perfect combination.
Physiology of Muscle Growth
There are different types of muscles in the body, but for our purposes, we are exploring skeletal muscles. To understand the benefits of swimming and weightlifting, the ways that muscles respond to stress need to be examined.
Thread-like myofibrils and sarcomeres make up skeletal muscles that form muscle fibers that contract. There are 650 skeletal muscles throughout the human body, and they contract when they get signals to do so from the motor neurons.
These neurons are engaged by the sarcoplasmic reticulum (part of the cell). It is the signal from the motor neurons that tell muscles to contract, and the more efficient a body is at passing those signals along, the stronger your muscles and body will get.
After a Weightlifting Workout
After a weightlifting workout, your body works on replacing or repairing muscle fibers that were damaged during the workout. It does this through a cellular process that fuses muscle fibers together so that new muscle protein strands (myofibrils) are formed.
These new myofibrils will be thicker and stronger. When the rate of muscle protein synthesis is higher than the muscle-protein breakdown rate, muscle growth occurs.
If you are starting to understand the physiology of muscle growth, you will begin to see how muscle growth doesn’t actually happen while lifting weights, but rather in the time that the muscles are resting and recovering in-between those workouts.
How Muscles Grow
Muscles grow through a process of cellular breakdown and growth. You put stress on your muscles, such as in weightlifting, and by gradually adjusting that stress and making your muscles adapt, your muscles will grow to handle the new stress threshold placed on your body.
This is why weight training involves continually increasing the weight amounts so that more total muscle fibers are being damaged and pushed to the point of fatigue. After the muscles have been pushed to that point, the next phase of muscle growth is the most important: rest.
That rest and period in-between workouts are how your body gets the fuel it needs to facilitate muscle regeneration and growth. People who overdo their weightlifting and don’t allow the necessary recovery time between workouts will likely end up with torn or strained muscles, and this can lead to serious injuries.
Combining Swimming and Weightlifting: How and Why it Works
Now that we’ve explored the science behind muscle growth, regeneration, and recovery, let’s focus on how swimming and weightlifting can complement each other.
When it comes to strength training, any good trainer will tell you to strength train one day and rest the next. Now, we already know why this is essential to muscle growth, but is there a healthy activity to engage in on those rest days that could further facilitate that growth and fitness level?
The answer is swimming, and on those rest days, swimming laps is an ideal go-to activity.
Your rest days allow your Type II muscles to recover; these are the muscle fibers involved in high-stress exercises like weightlifting. On the days’ in-between weightlifting workouts where you swim, your Type I muscle fibers are being worked.
These muscles are the ones that are used for longer periods of activity like standing, holding, walking, and swimming. Having a routine that engages both types of muscle fibers on alternating days allows for greater recovery of those muscle fibers while engaging the body’s total muscle mass in a positive and healthy manner.
Cardio and Swimming
We have all heard the word ‘cardio’ touted as the ultimate when it comes to physical health and fitness. What that means is engaging in physical activity that elevates the heart rate and gets the blood pumping.
If you are engaging in an activity that makes you sweat, speeds up your heart, and you can feel your pulse racing, you are engaging in the cardio activity. That cardio activity forces the heart to pump faster and transport blood throughout the body at a faster rate.
That increased blood flow finds its way throughout all parts of the body, including the skeletal muscle fibers. The increased blood flow also equates to increased transport of what is carried in the blood, such as oxygen and nutrients.
That increase provides more fuel for the muscle fibers which in turn enhances their ability to regrow and regenerate.
Swimming also uses your upper body a lot more than many aerobic exercises, so for lifters wanting to increase upper-body strength, swimming is an excellent activity to work into their regime.
Swimming carries numerous cardio benefits in addition to working the upper body: weight loss, stronger lungs, and heart, increased bone density, stress relief, reduced risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, relief from anxiety and depression, better sleep quality, and more overall confidence in how you look and feel.
What Kind of Workout Schedule is Best for Weightlifting and Swimming?
It is recommended that weightlifters wanting to integrate swimming into their fitness schedule alternate their weightlifting/swimming days. On days without weightlifting, swim.
Studies have also shown that having a full rest day with no kind of workout has positive results both on muscle regrowth and recovery as well as mental wellbeing.
Having a full day of rest can fuel the body and mind for the upcoming week and increase a person’s enjoyment of life and overall productivity. Those happy endorphins that are released through exercise have hugely positive effects on mood, but also giving yourself a day to fully rest and rejuvenate also positively impacts the flow of those endorphins.
So the ideal workout schedule to combine weightlifting with swimming is to swim on your non-workout days and have one day a week with neither to encourage full muscle recovery.
Does Swimming Aid in Injury Recovery for Athletes?
One of the biggest concerns and challenges facing athletes that need to recover from an injury is not just recovering, but also how to maintain that fitness level throughout their recovery.
Swimming is an ideal rehabilitation tool as it is low-impact, puts very little, if any, a strain on joints and muscles, is a non-weight-bearing exercise, involves active stretching, is a gentle cardio workout, and can actually promote nerve regeneration.
Swimming is considered as one of the best rehabilitation tools used by physiotherapists to help athletes recover from injuries while still maintaining their fitness level.
Does Weightlifting and Swimming on The Same Day Enhance Muscle Growth?
Swimming is seen as the ideal exercise. It doesn’t put the strain on muscles and joints while working all muscles in the body. While it wouldn’t hurt you to weightlift and swim on the same day, the likelihood that one will cause being tired out for the other is high.
Going into one workout being tired from another is never a good idea. Tiredness can result in poor form, and especially about weightlifting, that can result in injury.
Referring back to the section on the physiology of muscle growth, muscles benefit more by having periods of rest in-between workouts to facilitate muscle regrowth and regeneration.
The Final Verdict
When it comes to combining weightlifting and swimming, it is an excellent pairing. Strength training combined with the aerobic benefit of low-impact cardio exercise has positive results in terms of muscle growth and fitness level.
Swimming also has a lot of merit as a means of recovering from a sports-related injury; it puts very little strain on muscles and joints, does not require putting weight on the body, but still elevates the heart rate to cardio levels.
When it comes to maintaining a fitness level for athletes while they recover from an injury, swimming is the top-rated exercise choice for physiotherapists. Trainers recommend that when it comes to combining weightlifting and swimming, alternating days with one complete day of rest is ideal.
Strength train one day, and on the day after strength training, swim. The swimming days engage different muscles while facilitating the recovery of the muscles used in weightlifting that result in muscle fiber regrowth and regeneration.
When used properly together, swimming and weightlifting can produce impressive results regarding muscle growth and physical fitness levels.
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