5 Swim Workouts for Beginners (Trainer Approved Plan)

Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Published by Christiana Mikesch, CPT | Senior Coach
Last updated: January 16, 2024
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Swimming is one of the best forms of cardio that gives a full-body workout that is both low-impact and effective.

As a fitness trainer, I wanted to create a workout routine that would help clients who had recently begun learning how to swim.

So, after consulting with a professional swimmer, I’ve put together a beginner swimming routine.

So, whether you’re a newbie or looking to improve your swimming skills, these five beginner swim workouts are perfect for building strength, endurance, and technique.

Quick Summary

  • Swim workouts for beginners include interval training, practicing strokes, using swim toys, underwater running, and tabata.
  • Swimming is an excellent workout option for those with obesity because it places no strain on your joints.
  • Add other structured workouts in addition to your swim routine to build strength and endurance in the pool.
  • Before focusing on your swimming speed, work on your form and breathing technique.

Top 5 Best Beginner Swimming Workouts

Man doing breast stroke

Here are five structured workouts any beginner swimmer can do.

1. Interval Training

Interval training is how I started my swimming journey.

It involves alternating between high-intensity swimming and rest periods. According to a study I found in the World Journal of Cardiology, this allows you to improve your cardiovascular fitness and endurance [1].

Here’s a sample of an interval workout:

  • Warm-up: 200 meters of easy swimming
  • Main set: 5 x 100 meters (swimming at a challenging pace with 30-second rest intervals between each set)
  • Cool-down: 200 meters of easy swimming

As you get better, you can increase the number of intervals or decrease the rest time between sets to improve results.

2. Working the Stroke

Woman swimming under water

I've found that one of the best swimming workouts involves practicing specific movements to improve your technique.

Choose a stroke to work on during your session and break it down into its key components.

For example, if you’re focusing on freestyle swimming, you can structure your workout as follows:

  • Warm-up: 200 meters of easy swimming
  • Drill set: 4 x 50 meters, focusing on the catch phase of the stroke
  • Main set: 6 x 100 one-arm stroke (keep stroke count consistent for both arms)
  • Cool-down: 200 meters of easy swimming

3. Swim Toy Routine

Swim toys like pull buoys add variety to your workout and help develop your swimming technique, and I highly recommend them for absolute beginners.

Pull buoys are particularly useful for isolating the upper body, improving your pulling power, and refining your body position in the water.

Here’s what a beginner swim workout with a pull buoy will look like:

  • Warm-up: 200 meters of easy swimming
  • Pull buoy set: 4 x 100 meters with a pull buoy, focusing on maintaining a good body position
  • Kick set: 4 x 50 meters using a kickboard, concentrating on a strong, steady kick
  • Cool-down: 200 meters of easy swimming

4. Underwater Run

Man running under water

Underwater running is an excellent cross-training exercise that I recommend to my intermediate and elite clients.

It offers the benefit of running without impacting your joints.

In the shallow end of the pool, run as you would on land, pushing off the bottom of the pool with your toes with each step.

Here’s a sample underwater running workout:

  • Start with jumping jacks or anything that gets your calves warmed up
  • Underwater running: 10 x one-minute intervals, with 30 seconds rest between each interval
  • Cool down with 200 meters of easy swimming

5. Swim Tabata

Tabata is a form of high-intensity interval training that you can easily adapt to your swimming fitness routine.

It involves 20 seconds of all-out effort followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times for a total of four minutes.

A swim tabata workout could look like this:

  • Start off with 200 meters of easy swimming
  • Tabata set: 8 x 20 seconds of sprint swimming, with 10 seconds rest between each interval
  • Cool down with 200 meters of easy swimming

What Are Some of the Health Benefits of Swimming?

Joint pain image

Some of the health benefits of swimming include improved cardiovascular fitness, increased muscle strength and endurance, and enhanced flexibility.

Additionally, the buoyancy of the water can support your body, reducing joint pain and minimizing the risk of injury.

If you’re obese, we highly recommend starting out your cardio weight loss routine with swim workouts.

“Water neutralizes the force of gravity, allowing free movement of joints and muscles. This makes swimming the activity of choice for anyone with musculoskeletal problems, such as arthritis or traumatic injury.”

- Dr. Andrew Weil, MD, Integrative Medicine Specialist

Safety Precautions

Woman drinking water

I've put together some safety precautions for beginners to keep in mind before their swim workout:

  • If you’re a complete beginner, do these drills in the shallow end of the pool. You can start swimming in the deep end only once you’ve improved your swim time.
  • We highly recommend doing these routines under the guidance of a certified personal trainer.
  • Stop swimming if you experience fatigue, discomfort, or pain.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout to stay hydrated [2].
  • Ensure you’re familiar with the pool’s depth and any potential hazards, such as diving boards or slides.

Maximizing Your Workout Results

Here are a few tips I've found that'll help maximize your swim workout results:

  • Based on your fitness level, you can incorporate strength training (compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, and bench press) and other workouts to supplement your swim workouts.
  • Focus on your form and breathing technique before you swim faster. Beginners should practice breathing rhythmically, turning the head to the side to breathe in, and exhaling underwater. Exercises like blowing bubbles in the water and practicing breathing on land can help develop this essential skill.
  • Avoid swimming with the same stroke every workout. You can mix and match using other strokes (like the backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly).
  • Swimmers come in all shapes and sizes; it's important to adapt swimming techniques to fit different body types. For instance, individuals with a larger build might focus on buoyancy and balance in the water, while those with a leaner physique might concentrate on stroke efficiency and agility.

Related Swimming Article: CrossFit Swimming Workout


What Is the Best Form of Exercise Swimming?

The butterfly stroke is the best form of exercise swimming. It tones and strengthens your chest, triceps, abs, and back.

How Many Laps Should I Swim for a Good Workout?

You should swim 20–30 laps for a good workout. This will be around 1,000–1,500 yards of swimming and should take about half an hour.

Can You Get Ripped Swimming?

Yes, you can get ripped swimming. Swimming burns calories and helps you reduce fat, which will help you develop a ripped-looking physique.

How Many Times a Week Should I Swim to Tone Up?

You should swim four to five days a week to tone up. This goes for all other forms of cardiovascular exercise.

Can Swimming Be My Only Workout?

Yes, swimming can be your only workout. However, our experience shows that adding variety to your workout routine can help you achieve your fitness goals faster.


  1. https://www.wjgnet.com/1949-8462/full/v11/i7/171.htm
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8336541/
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About The Author

Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Senior Coach
Christiana Mikesch, CPT is a personal trainer and author with contributions to publications like the Chicago Tribune and Yahoo. She emphasizes a holistic approach to weight loss, combining an energy-fueling diet, goal-oriented workouts, and daily habits. Her approach avoids short-term goals and fosters a lifelong commitment to health and well-being.
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Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
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Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
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