Competitive Swimming: Physical Benefits

Written by Eric W., Making Waves Swim Instructor

Providing a safe and consistent means for physical exercise

There is a lot of required preparation for joining a competitive swim team and can certainly be overwhelming.  It begs the question “Is all the effort worth it?”  Yes, it most certainly is.  The benefits of competitive swimming can be categorized into three main subjects: physical health improvements, the psychological benefits of swimming itself, and the psychological and social benefits of participation in a team sport for children, and safety.

The physical benefits of swimming are many and varied.  Exercise is good for overall health, no surprises there.  Swim teams in particular offer a unique environment in which kids can meet their exercise requirements.  Benefits can include but are not limited to: weight reduction and management, improved pulmonary health and efficiency, improved musculoskeletal health, and improved neurological health.

Swimming on a swim team provides excellent aerobic exercise. In this day and age sedentary lifestyles are becoming an increasingly large problem for children.  The solution to this problem is to get out and exercise!  Benefits of consistent exercise for people of all ages are far too numerous and varied to list.  However, swimming on a team provides a safe and consistent way for your child to meet their exercise needs.

Studies show that fitness swimming improves pulmonary (lung and respiratory) health by both increasing lung capacity and the efficiency that the body absorbs and uses oxygen.  In other words, swimming will help to increase the strength at which kids breathe, the size of the breath, and how well their bodies use the oxygen they intake.

“Santos et al. (2012) conducted an observational study of healthy seven to eight year old boys who either played football twice a week (n=25), swam twice a week (n=25), or were sedentary (n=25). The swim group showed statistically significantly higher levels of maximal inspiratory and expiratory pressures (indicative of greater respiratory muscle strength) compared to both football and sedentary groups.” (Cumming, 2017)

Fitness swimming improves musculoskeletal health by causing the body to divert more cardiac output to the skin and muscle thereby improving muscle blood flow and potentially increasing oxygen delivery to active muscle.  Immersion and subsequent buoyancy in water is also very good at mitigating impact forces.  Think of running, your foot hits the ground at significant force over and over again.  Swimming has none of this effect thereby reducing the stress in the associated muscles and joints.

Studies detailing the improvement in neurological health are a bit harder to find and are also less comprehensive so the findings that do exist are not as definitive as other subjects.  However, the information I have been able to find shows that fitness swimming tends to produce improved results in the development of balance and motor skills.

Take note of the usage of the phrase “fitness swimming” in place of competitive swimming throughout the course of this blog.  That is because all of the benefits described throughout the course can be achieved simply by swimming for fitness instead of specifically swimming on a team.  “Safe and consistent” has also been mentioned. While it is certainly possible to achieve an adequate fitness level via swimming outside of a team, competitive swimming offers a consistent vehicle for exercise?  Does your child swim a lot during the summer?  That’s great!  However, it’s not enough for healthy living year round.  Most teams are year round which encompasses high time and commitment. The physical benefits are the reason why most teams practice so frequently.

In the realm of safety, unless you have experience as a swim coach or instructor, do not try to come up with workouts for your child.  At best the workout will be extremely inefficient and at worst you can actively endanger your child’s immediate health.  Most teams require their coaches to be certified through USA Swimming or YMCA swimming.  Both of these agencies provide very specific training that allows them to know what to practice (strokes, exercises, distances, etc.),  how to practice (watching for technique), how often to practice (when to practice and when rest is needed), and how hard to practice (workout intensity) for any child of a given age.  Coaches also receive frequent training and safety bulletins to keep their skills up to date with current knowledge.  Unless you plan to become to become a full swim coach yourself, swim coaching is safest when left to professionals.


Swim Safe.  Swim Fast.  Have Fun!

Mr. Eric W.

Making Waves Swim School Instructor


The Health and Wellbeing Benefits of Swimming.  Swim England’s Swimming and health Commission chaired by Professor Ian Cumming.  June 2017.