Can You Swim While Bulking? (The Perfect Bulking Cardio)

Swimming is a great form of cardio regardless of whether you are bulking, cutting or simply looking to maintain your physique. It’s a low impact form of cardio meaning it has minimal impact on your joints and is a great supplement to a weight training routine. 

When bulking however, a common question always comes about as to whether you can do any form of cardio when bulking and therefore A frequent question becomes whether you can swim while bulking. 

Can you swim while bulking? Swimming in a great, low impact form of cardio and therefore you should look to include this in your routine while bulking. The important things to monitor when swimming and bulking are your calorie intake and daily weight to ensure that your swimming is not impacting your muscle growth. 

It first needs to be stated that ‘can’ you swim and ‘should’ you swim while bulking are two very different terms and while you can of course swim while on a bulk I’m going to cover whether you actually should swim while bulking. 

When it comes to cardio, swimming is quite possibly the best option for most people regardless of whether you are bulking or cutting and hopefully this article will give you knowledge to go out and add it into your routine.

Can You Swim While Bulking

If I could only pick one form of cardio to do during any physique development phase (bulking, cutting or maintenance) then it would be swimming every time.

If you are currently in a bulking phase then it means your main aim is to build muscle mass and therefore weightlifting will be your priority. Your entire focus should be on getting stronger in the gym, consuming a calorie surplus and most importantly, resting and recovering from each workout. 

As a bulk is a mass gaining phase, cardio is often either left out of a routine completely by people who  hate doing cardio when cutting or because they don’t want to burn the extra calories and risk impacting their growth potential. 

There are also those that enjoy doing cardio both from a mental perspective (endorphin release and generally feeling good afterwards) and also because they still want to maintain cardiovascular health and fitness, even on a bulk.  

Therefore it’s important to select your cardio options carefully when bulking so that you don’t detract from your muscle building efforts.

Should You Do Cardio When Bulking

When bulking you lift heavy weights and do minimal cardio and when cutting you do significantly more cardio and reduce the heavy lifting. 

This is a basic cycle that hundreds of thousands of people have followed since the late 1960’s, in recent years however our understanding of ‘physique transformations’ has increased dramatically and old training methods like low weight and high reps to ‘tone’ the muscle have started to become irrelevant. 

There’s now flexible dieting, powerbuilding (a combination of powerlifting and bodybuilding) and even daily step targets, this new flexible approach to training and dieting alongside technology advancements like Myfitnesspal and Fitbit has seen people engage in physique development with a much more balanced and sustainable approach. 

When it comes to cardio however, there are still question marks about the best way to approach it during different training/body composition phases and cardio when bulking is still a debated subject with a small amount of research to back it up. 

The most important point to make is that if you want to do cardio when bulking then you absolutely should, regardless of what type. Unless you are a professional bodybuilder who’s career means that they need to focus on the most optimal results then any drawbacks of doing cardio when bulking for the average person should be taken with a pinch of salt. 

Cardio will mean you will expend more energy which will burn more calories. When bulking you need to be in a calorie surplus so the solution is to track your weight daily/weekly and if you are not seeing the scale go up then it means you need to increase your calorie intake to cover the cardio requirements.

This is something that even the skinniest hardgainer can account for however it’s the choice of cardio that will have the greatest influence when bulking. Cardio will increase energy expenditure and burn more calories but it’s the impact that it has on muscle fatigue and recovery that you need to consider. 

HIIT style cardio for example is very demanding on the muscle and nervous system, it recruits the fast twitch, high threshold muscle fibres which are most susceptible to muscle growth and the ones that you will look to target with your weight training routine. 

Therefore HIIT style cardio will not only mean that you are working your muscles hard during two different sessions (weight training and cardio) but you also increase the amount of rest and recovery you will need whilst simultaneously reducing the period of time in which you actually have to recover. 

This is the real issue with cardio when bulking and I’ve produced an article that covers HIIT cardio on a bulk here

Long distance running might be seen as an alternative however this is an eccentric style of training which fatigues the slow twitch muscle fibres and the eccentric portion is likely to cause muscle DOMS and increase the time needed to recover. 

All of these factors are counterproductive to muscle growth when bulking and this is where swimming comes in, I’ve used the term low impact to describe swimming and I’ll now cover some of the benefits as to why swimming is the ideal cardio choice when bulking and a great way to complement your weight training sessions. 

Benefits of Swimming While on a Bulk

I’ve been throwing around the term “low impact” when I refer to swimming as a form of cardio and what I mean by this is that swimming is basically joint friendly. Running or sprinting is considered high impact because with each step you are making contact with the floor or treadmill and this means that your joints need to work to absorb this impact. 

Weight lifting is also a high impact form of exercise because your joints need to act against an external load that is likely going to be a heavy weight. The more stress you put your body under during a bulk the harder it will be to recover and make progress and therefore, swimming is a way to maintain your cardiovascular health and fitness without putting additional strain on your body.

The fact that it’s easy on the joints is the key benefit to using swimming as a form of cardio for me personally but that is coming from someone who has small joints that take a beating from any sort of heavy lifting. 

Therefore, I can admit that my opinion on this is slightly biased but joint health is not the only benefit of swimming while bulking.

Another benefit is that swimming burns a lot of calories, a 30 minute swim can burn 255 calories for a 154lb individual whereas the equivalent time spent walking would only burn 140 calories. If you are tracking your calories and weight on a daily basis then this is a great way to minimize excess fat gain and allow yourself some dieting flexibility when bulking. 

It’s worth noting however that if you aren’t tracking these factors then 255 calories can be the difference between being in a calorie surplus and growing or placing yourself into maintenance mode and significantly slowing down your progress which is why it’s so important to track key indicators!

Another benefit that comes from swimming is that it’s primarily upper body dominant with the legs requiring much less involvement. As it is many people actually hate leg day and even skip it with no remorse but for those that take leg day seriously then muscle soreness can last for a number of days. 

This usually means that running or cycling are either too difficult to do or by doing them you significantly over work your leg muscles and make it very difficult to recover optimally. 

As swimming uses multiple muscle groups of the upper body like the shoulders, lats and triceps it means that you have time to recover from a grueling leg sessions and it will actually act as a form of active recovery pushing nutrient rich blood into the legs with fatiguing muscle fibres in the process. 

Drawbacks of Swimming While on a Bulk

Unfortunately it is not all upside if you decide to use swimming as a form of cardio on a bulk, there are certainly a few things that you will need to take into consideration. 

Firstly, while swimming is not a high impact form of exercise when it comes to the joints it’s important to note that instead of acting against gravity and wind resistance like when running or cycling you are now acting against a more solid state in the form of water. 

That isn’t supposed to be an ironic statement as I know what is a liquid and not a solid state, what I do mean though is that your muscles now need to work harder as water provides more external resistance (better choice of wording) than gravity or air from a cardio viewpoint. 

Therefore even though swimming is seen as low impact, you still need to produce muscular force which will have a negative impact on your muscle recovery rates, especially if you are choosing to swim 3-4 times a week. 

One way to combat this is to go for a lower intensity approach and utilize different swimming strokes in order to work different muscle groups and provide an overall cardio related workout rather than a muscular one. 

By this you could dedicate 10 lengths to the back stroke at a steady pace, 10 lengths to a breast stroke and 10 lengths to a front crawl to ensure that less emphasis is placed on one specific muscle group. 

I mentioned this earlier but another drawback of swimming is that it is a high calorie burner, particularly if you are not a disciplined person and do HIIT style sessions while on a bulk. 

The purpose of a bulk is to be in a calorie surplus to support muscle growth and therefore you want to minimize any activities that can increase your energy expenditure. Physically demanding jobs and excess cardio are things that can certainly make a bulk very difficult and many people don’t realize this. 

Therefore I’d usually recommend walking as a primary source of cardio on a bulk because a step target is very easy to manage the intensity and ultimately the energy expenditure. With swimming you’ll find that it requires much more energy output even when approaching it with a leisurely pace. 

Summary

Cardio in general is perfectly fine to include in your routine when bulking and for most people, the upside of including cardio far outweighs any downsides. This is because most people are not looking for the most optimal results and willing to make every sacrifice possible in order to build an extra 1lb of lean muscle mass. 

If you do want to do cardio on a bulk then swimming is a great choice, it’ll burn some calories to make sure your surplus is not too high, it’s low impact and joint friendly and as long as you monitor your calorie intake and scale weight and make necessary changes then you’ll have no problem continuing to build muscle on your bulk.

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