Why Should You Swim On Rest Days If You Work Out?
May 7th 2019
Is swimming on your rest days a good idea if you lift weights? What is the general consensus of doing swimming and lifting weights? A lot of athletes already fall on one of two sides of the spectrum of cardio. On the negative side, we have lifters who hate cardio and never do them. All they do is lift weights. On the far end of the other side, you have your cardio junkies. After every gym session, they will squeeze in some cardio. They even do some cardio on their off days too. This usually involves running, jogging or HIIT. But the question for today is if you should swim on your rest days or not if you strength train?
Swimming on rest days
It ultimately depends on your fitness goals and what you like to do for fun. Swimming and lifting weights are two separate sports that can be mutually beneficial to each other, only with an effective program.
In general, swimming is another form of cardio. If you are doing any form of resistance training, you will often see that many strength coaches will tell you to rest. But no one really talks about what you should do on a rest day. Here are several reasons why you should not go swimming on your rest days:
Working too hard
If you are a very competitive person, there is a good chance you want to push yourself even on your off days. As an athlete, this would make sense. The more discomfort you put your body through, the strong you will get, no? Life does not work like this.
Your body needs time to rest and rebuild itself after any hard sessions at the gym. After lifting weights, you need some time to rest. If you do too much too soon, this can even backfire since your body is not efficient enough to handle all the stress. You are better off slowly incrementing your work capacity so that you can improve. Keep in mind that progress will not always be linear.
Not building muscles
If your primary goal is to get bigger and stronger, swimming on your rest days will not help you get stronger. Lift heavy weights. Eat high-quality food. Sleep a lot.
I just gave you the three-step formula for free in order to continuously make gains. You just need to execute.
On a side note, there are lifters who are very aesthetic and claim to do cardio. From a very minimalistic point of view, you want to do the things that will help you achieve your goal. Swimming, on its own, will not help you build muscle. Swimming, on its own, will not help you gain significant amounts of strength. If you want either one of these goals or both, you will need to understand that lifting weights is in another category of its own.
Another complexity in programming
What will be your goal for swimming? Are you trying to improve your swimming lap times? Are you trying to try out for the Olympics? Are you working on your form? Are you just having fun?
Everything you do in life will create the end product many decades from now. In terms of exercise, you will need to balance out your strength training and swimming. There is no other way around it. Do you want to be average at both? Or do you want to excel in one of these sports?
However, if you are marathon runner, powerlifter and Crossfiter Alex Viada, you may use him as an exception to the rule. But he is very technical about his programming because he knows it is the key to competing competitively in more than one sport. If you do not find a way to balance out swimming and lifting weights, it is very easy for them to conflict with each other and cause you to decline in performance.
I have noticed that in addition to programming changes, your diet will be adjusted accordingly as well. People tend to just eat the same way or make minor changes to better accommodate their new exercise lifestyle, with lifting weights and swimming. The truth is this - if you to be the best at both your sports, you will need to do something differently. Your body will require a lot of energy and your diet should reflect that. But this is an entirely different topic for another time.
Now that we got all the disadvantages out of the way, here are some of the advantages of swimming on your rest days:
It is fun
You just love swimming. It is a hobby you grew to love. Your entire family does it. It comes naturally to you. By all means, go do what you love. As an online resource, it is my duty to provide you with the best information in order for you to live a life you want to live.
We give specific advice because it tailors to people who need some direction in their lives. Some people are just not aware that they are not on a path that will lead them to a fulfilling life. So, do the things you love. At the same time, be aware that your body does have a finite amount of energy per day so you should make sure your programming is spot on as well if you are lifting weights.
Improving your cardiovascular health
Some lifters have certain diseases or conditions that require them to keep on moving. I believe that as a human population, we all need some sort of exercise in order to combat the effects of aging. However, there is a small percentage of people who can live a “decent” life without lifting weights but to each their own.
If you are lacking conditioning or work capacity in your life or in workouts, doing cardio or swimming on your rest days is not a bad option. If you get winded climbing up stairs, an easy way to improve your work capacity for climbing stairs is to keep on doing it. Similarly, with swimming, you can improve your general lung capacity and improve your conditioning.
If you want to improve your conditioning while lifting weights, it would make more sense to perform sets with fewer rest breaks so that you can perform the exercises more efficiently.
Here is an article that has some detail about the number of calories burned during a swimming session. Depending on your weight (the heavier you weigh, the more calories you burn), you can burn anywhere between 400-900 calories per hour using a freestyle stroke.
For some people looking to lose weight, it may be easier just to swim than to slowly try to cut down their calories. In one hour, this is a respectable amount of calories burned and can be taken advantage of by anyone looking to shed a few pounds over the course of a couple of months. Always remember that the slower you lose weight, the more likely it is to stay off permanently.
In reality, it really does not matter what you do unless you achieve these two criteria - are you getting closer to your goals and are you having fun. Anything else really does not matter. Most people will sacrifice their fun to getting closer to their goals but any truly sane person will know that almost all of their fun should come from the process of reaching their goals. While these two criteria can be separated, life is much more enjoyable if athletes and lifters can combine the two into a harmonious relationship.