Want to burn mega calories and tone up your whole body? Vitality partner Virgin Active’s personal trainer Emily Cole has these must-try swimming exercises to recharge your routine.

Unlike running and cycling, swimming targets every muscle group, giving you a full body workout. It tones muscle, burns fat and has helped to craft the bodies of recent medal winners Adam Peaty and Jazz Carlin.

If weight loss is your goal, you can burn a whopping 500 calories for just one hour of moderate swimming. That’s because your muscles are under constant tension in the water, which is 12 times as dense as air. Plus, swimming is ideal if you’re injured or want to take it easy. You’re weightless in the pool, meaning there’s no pressure on your joints.

Whether you’re new to the sport and not sure where to start or you’re more advanced wanting to improve your technique, follow my power-up exercises for an amazing workout.

Tip: 25m is one length in an average-sized pool, so you may need to adjust your lengths if you’re in a smaller/larger pool.

Warm up:

8 lengths (8 x 25m) front crawl – 15 seconds’ rest between each set

Drill 1: Front crawl single arm


Main muscle group targeted: Arms

How to: Keep one arm reached out in front of you as the other arm performs the stroke for the whole length. Switch arms when you begin a new length.

Sets: 8 lengths

Rest: 10 seconds between each set

Drill 2: Leg kick


Main muscle group targeted: Legs

How to: Holding a kickboard or keeping your arms stretched out in a streamline position above your head, kick from the hips (not the knees), just breaking the surface of the water with small, fast kicks. The same can be done with a breaststroke or butterfly kick.

Sets: 8 lengths

Rest: 15 seconds between each set

Drill 3: Finger drags


Main muscle group targeted: Abs

How to: As you swim front crawl, instead of lifting your hand out of the water fully during the recovery phase of the stroke, drag your fingers over the surface of the water while keeping your hand as close to your body as possible.

Sets: 8 lengths

Rest: 10 seconds between each set

Drill 4: Pull


Main muscle group targeted: Arms

How to: Place a float between your legs and focus on the arm movement of your chosen stroke. Don’t be tempted to kick!

Sets: 8 lengths

Rest: 15 seconds between each set

Drill 5: Backstroke catch up


Main muscle group targeted: Arms, back and chest

How to: Your normal backstroke, with a catch! You can’t begin the underwater pull phase of the stroke until your other hand has performed the overwater recovery phase and tapped the hand that is lengthened behind you. Be sure to kick hard.

Sets: 8 lengths

Rest: 15 seconds between each set

Cool down:

4 lengths easy front crawl or backstroke.

Make it work for you:

Aim to complete this routine two or three times per week.

Like with any workout, it’s important to continually challenge the body in order to see improvements, so regularly modify your swim routine as you begin to adapt to the sessions.

  • To reduce the intensity: Increase rest time between sets, decrease the number of lengths you complete without rest or decrease the number of sets you perform.
  • To increase the intensity: Reduce rest time between sets, reduce the number of lengths you complete without rest, increase the number of sets you perform and vary strokes.

Click here to download the workout.

Struggling to make time for your workout? Read our morning exercise ideas you can do before leaving the house.


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