Why Swimming HIIT Should Be A Part Of Your Workout?

Forget long swimming sessions. A short and crisp swimming HIIT can do the work. Here’s how you can effectively nail a swimming workout…

Park your racing bike and ditch the hockey stick: Officially, swimming is the most common sport in the UK. 11 million of us use our local pool at least once a month, according to Swim England. While research carried out by Mintel shows that 31 percent of us swim daily, compared to 17 percent in 2014. Maybe it’s the influence of the Rio Olympics, maybe it’s the low-impact nature of swimming, or it could be a relaxing feeling of gliding through water – splashing around has never been more common, whatever the cause.

The thing is, it can get a bit, well, boring, particularly if you’re ploughing the lanes for hours, say splashing around, or bumbling along doing breaststroke. You need to HIIT the pool in a whole new way if you want to revitalize your swimming style and optimize outcomes. And if you’re more likely to prefer backstroke over boxing? We have a few watery stats and hacks that are going to persuade you to change it up and slip into your swimsuit. On blocks of yours.

Reduces Workout Time

According to researchers at Speedo, swimming for 30 minutes is as successful as an hour’s land-based exercise in terms of aerobic performance, muscle growth and calorie burning. Being a brand of swimwear, you would think they might claim that, of course, but water resistance combined with increased demand for heart and lungs provides the edge of successful swimming, particularly from a cardio point of view. Swimming Nature Swimming Instructor, Eri Coles, explains why, if you’re tight for time, speed swimming can be a good option:

“Throughout the workout, you will benefit from a reduction in training time due to using all muscle groups, so 20-30 minutes is more than enough.”

The hair-drying faff obviously blends in around that, but keeping a hairdryer adds to the full-body workout, right?

Swimming HIIT, more than just paddling?

Get ready to get the ante up – for nothing it’s not named HIIT. Eri discusses how HIIT swimming varies from more leisurely laps (of course, nothing wrong with them):

They think of continuous cardio when most people think of swimming, but swimming can be useful in different ways. HIIT swimming helps you to exercise in the pool in a different way-it allows you to function at a higher pace, for full aerobic effect in shorter blasts.

Swimming in HIIT will get you out of breath. A lot of people swim and it’s almost seen as the simple alternative or the workout for rehabilitation, when it can actually be as challenging as any other form of exercise. And, of course, it’s a full body workout, because, for example, if you go to a spinning class, you concentrate on only your lower body.

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You may HIIT yourself at the beach. Eri suggests “measuring your own perceived exercise rate, or you could perform intervals whereby you time your exercises.” If you have a heart rate monitor or exercise wearable, you can use this to monitor how easily you can recover over time after each interval. Do you want a standardized concept program? Try the HIIT swimming workouts below, designed by the swimming experts of Virgin Active:


  • Warm up for 5-10 minutes, slowly starting and picking up the pace every two lengths.


Sprint 1 length, active recovery 1 length, active recovery


Sprint 2 longitudes, active recovery 1 longitudinal period


Sprint 4 lengths, active recovery 2 lengths, successful recovery

3 minutes of recovery at a very slow pace.

Repeat both intervals an extra 1 to 2 times.

Cool down-slow for 5 minutes, reducing the rate every 2 lengths


Warm up 5-10 minutes slowly starting and rising speed for every length


Sprint 2 longitudes, active recovery 1 longitudinal period


Sprint just 1 length kick, restore 1 length

Sprint 1 arm length only, retrieve 1 arm length only,


Sprint 2 longitudes, active recovery 1 longitudinal period

3 minutes of regeneration at a very slow pace

Repeat both intervals an extra 1 to 2 times.

Cool down-slow for 5 minutes, reducing pace every 2 lengths

Feeling out of water like a fish? Virgin Active’s Hydro class will take you to develop stamina, agility, and muscle tone through high-intensity sprints, distance challenges, and resistance training. The aqua offering at boutique London gym Third Space is targeted at long-term hardcore swimmers and HIIT fans alike. Tri Swim is suitable for training for a triathlon, while Aqua Fit takes the philosophy of bootcamp to the pool, focusing on using resistance to improve muscles.

The Low Impact

In reality, water weightlessness means it’s basically zero impact, and Eri points out that this means you’re going to enjoy all the benefits of a high-intensity workout, without the possibility of joint strain or other typical HIIT-related injuries. In principle, this means that more HIIT swimming sessions per week than more high-impact training forms can be slotted in:

“It can be very kind to your joints to do an HIIT swimming session only once a week to give your body a break from high intensity workouts. Having said that, due to its low impact nature, you can do this type of exercise for optimal results three to four times a week or more.”

If people are looking for a vigorous workout, people often don’t think of going for a swim, but it can be just as successful as any other form of cardio. It can encourage you to train more frequently or for longer, on top of that. It’s also a perfect way of complementing other preparation. You should get into the pool if you’re sick, instead of skipping a workout. It will ensure that you have a well-rounded and holistic fitness routine by incorporating swimming to your weekly workouts.

Full Body Training Factor

Swimming is quite an all-rounder, as described above:

You work your whole body from top to toe while you swim. There are exercises that can be integrated into a swimming session that will concentrate primarily on your upper or lower body, but you don’t really need to target various places, since you work your whole body in the pool.

Although it’s mainly cardio-focused, there are also wide-ranging fitness benefits, particularly if you add training tools and equipment such as aqua dumbbells (really, they’re a thing), resistance paddles or other water weights, but you’ll build muscle even without them:

“Your strength will definitely be boosted by HIIT swimming. The water’s added resistance means you can see a significant improvement in your muscle strength over time, particularly if you have a good technique. In particular, it can also be great for shoulder flexibility.”

Different Strokes For Different People

In a HIIT swimming session, the strokes you use will depend on your ability level, although some appear to be quicker than others:

“In terms of the strokes you pick, technical skill plays a major part. You need to be able to rapidly execute the stroke, and so the stroke of choice will traditionally be front crawl. If you’re technically competent in other strokes, though, there’s no reason why you can’t use these as well. It will really help to hone your technique and thus improve your water quality and results by having a one-to-one session.”

Tempted by the deep end to dive in and thrash it out? Sadly, this doesn’t quite count as successful HIIT:

“A private lesson would ensure that you swim more effectively and that you use the energy in the right way, not waste it, whether you start from scratch or have no swimming experience. Swimming with poor technique is ineffective and can lead, especially in the neck area, to injuries.

“A one-to-one will also increase trust, so that you can give all of your mental and physical HIIT classes.”

You can use floats when and where you need to support you, just as you would make changes in any other HIIT class (although a complete armband/rubber ring combo is possibly cheating).

Baby Steps in the form of Strokes

If you are training for a triathlon like, or want to take HIIT swimming to the limit, outdoor swimming sessions will speed up your progress without end, but Eri warns against jumping into a lake before you’re good and ready:

The advantage of the pool is that in a regulated setting, you can practice all year round, where you can focus on your technique without thinking about waves and tides. Your fitness level and technique can benefit you immensely when you swim outdoors.

As long as your exercises and targets expand in variety as you progress, your fitness gains will also grow with increased pace, distance and interval challenges. Sure, you won’t get a sticker, but ribs, glutes, calves and pecs will be streamlined and improved, not to mention burning fat and feeling mentally refreshed once you emerge from the water (swimming has been shown to be one of the most beneficial sports for mental health).

See you in the fast lane…

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