Swimming For Boxing – 10 Benefits For Cardio, Endurance, Active Recovery And Conditioning

Amir Khan Swimming

Boxing is one of the toughest and most skilled sports in the world. Competing against another person to see who is superior with their fists has been around for thousands of years and probably since man first appeared on the planet.

Boxing is a dynamic sport in that it requires a dynamic range of movements incorporating every muscle in the body. Boxing can also go from slow to medium to fast pace at the blink of an eye and we need to be ready for whatever our opponent throws at us.

Swimming is great for boxing because it allows us to work every muscle in our body and to build our aerobic and anaerobic conditioning systems without any impact on our knees like running. Since boxing requires such good conditioning, hitting the energy systems in as many different ways as possible is a good idea and swimming is an excellent exercise to incorporate along with our other forms of cardio as it also helps us to control our breathing, relax more, build our arm endurance, lung capacity and get a great workout without putting any pressure on our joints. It’s also works wonders for Active Recovery.


Recap On The Energy Systems

Boxing requires all 3 of energy systems (Aerobic, Anaerobic, Alactic) to be in peak condition. We need to have the stamina to last 12 rounds, we need the power and technique to land blows on our opponent and control the action and we need the explosive power to get the knockout when the time comes.

Aerobic Conditioning: This is your base fitness and it allows you to stay fresh for the full 12 rounds of a fight. Aerobic exercises are fuelled by oxygen like jogging or cycling. Boxers run everyday to improve their aerobic conditioning and this is the system that can allow a solid anaerobic system to be built upon it.

Anaerobic Conditioning: Is when the body performs the exercise without the muscles being restored by oxygen. It is like throwing punches as fast as you can against the bag for 30 seconds. You fell the lactic acid building up in your arms, forcing you to stop. Anaerobic conditioning includes bag drills, pad drills, sprints and strength work.

Alactic System: The Alactic system builds on your anaerobic system and it represents your bodies maximum output in under 5 seconds. The Alactic system is like throwing your hardest punch looking for the knockout. The Alactic system tires very quickly and it is in our best interests to develop all three systems as much as possible because boxing depends on all three systems almost equally.


Benefits Of Swimming For Boxers

Swimming allows us to build the aerobic and anaerobic conditioning systems along with arm endurance and it is a total body workout with plenty of other great benefits.

1. Perfect Replacement For Running

Loma Swimming

If you want to be a boxer, you are going to need to train 5 or 6 days a week and this can break the body down, leaving us feeling sore and worn down. Boxing depends heavily on the legs for movement and this puts a lot of pressure on the knees. Add this to running everyday and you will see why boxers are turning towards other methods of cardio like swimming and cycling as an alternative that will allow their joints some much needed recovery.


2. Builds Our Aerobic Conditioning In A Different Way

Klitshcko Swimming

Boxing is like a game of chess. When you spar a new person, you have to get used to their style which takes time and if you are in a fight you need to adapt to a new opponent’s style very quickly.

We want variety in our workouts so we are used to seeing new things and we want our body to be able to be responsive to new challenges and workouts. If we run everyday, our body quickly gets used to it and we need to run faster and longer distances to keep improving or we can try different forms of cardio that can be equally effective.

By swimming 20+ laps, slowly and without stopping, we are giving the body a cardio workout just like running but it is working different muscles in a different way and developing our cardio at a different angle from running.


3. Good For Anaerobic Conditioning

By swimming 1 lap as fast as we can and then taking a little break and doing another fast lap for a total of 10 laps, we can easily tap into our anaerobic system which is what allows us to throw punches and combos throughout the fight and recover quickly.

When we are talking about the anaerobic system, this means swimming as fast as we can for 10-40 seconds, taking a little break and going again.


4. Builds Arm Endurance

Strong Swimmer

While running is cardio that relies heavily on the legs, swimming is heavily dependent on the arms and shoulders.

When you are new to boxing the shoulders are what gets tired most quickly so having a cardio workout that builds your overall fitness engine while primarily building the endurance in the arms and shoulders is a huge plus.

Slow pace steady swimming without a break for 20-30 minutes will be an excellent way to improve your cardio and endurance within the ring.


5. Swimming Builds The Legs

Water is 700% denser than air so it is the perfect environment for building the legs. Kicking consistently for 20 or 30 minutes with a training aid to isolate the legs can be excellent for increasing overall conditioning in the lower body that has no impact on the knees.


6. Swimming Is Perfect For High Intensity Interval Training

High Intensity Interval Training involves mixing intervals of high intensity work (Anaerobic) with an active rest period where we keep working but at a lower pace (Aerobic).

This allows to really hit those two conditioning systems in an effective way without taking a full break.

In a swimming pool this would equate to swimming 1 length as fast as you can and then swimming 1 length at a slow pace to recover but without stopping.

Do 10 rounds of 1 fast length and 1 slow length for a very effective workout.

High Intensity Interval Training is great for fat loss and highly effective for developing our aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, you knees will be thankful for it also, afterwards.


7. Swimming Requires You To Relax And Control Your Breathing

Breathing correctly in the ring really increase your fuel economy and efficiency. Relaxing in the ring also conserves energy. Being frigid and stiff will require a lot more energy on your part so if you can learn to get comfortable and focus on your breathing it will be a big advantage.

Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth is the correct way to do this and if you get it right in the swimming pool, you will easily be able to get it right in the gym.

Swimming also release a different set of endorphins from running and boxing so it can get your feeling good and reduce anxiety.


8. Swimming Is Great For Active Recovery And Relaxation

Swimming For Boxing

If you had a hard session of sparring, training or running, you could take a day off or you could go down the pool and do a few easy lengths for active recovery.

DOMS or delayed onset muscles soreness is the feeling you get when your muscles fill with water after intense exercise causing them to feel sore to move and heavy.

Recent studies have shown that Active recovery on you rest day can actually increase the performance of athletes the following.

Getting down the pool doing 5 or 10 easy laps can be a perfect alternative to sitting at home watching the sport.

Recover with a protein shake in the jacuzzi or the sauna for a real day of relaxation, enjoyment and active recovery.


9. Shadowboxing Underwater Can Improve Hand Speed


Boxers can utilise the density of water (700 times denser than air) to work on their hand speed underwater.

The resistance provided by the water is an alternative to shadowboxing with dumbbells and it is the perfect way to build punching endurance, speed and even power.

Your hands get used to pushing against the water and when you are back in the air you will notice how your hands move quicker and more easily.

It’s not only good for shadow boxing but you can also do drills like straight punches as fast as you can under water for a minute etc.

Consistency is the key with all training and you will need to do this exercise once a week to keep getting the full benefits.


10. Increases Lung Capacity More Than Running

Swimmer Boxing

Swimming is such a great workout for the upper and lower body, giving you a tough workout and as you also have to control your breathing, many fighter find that swimming is better for their overall cardio and good for expanded lung capacity more than just running on it’s own.


11. Adds Variety To Your Workout Schedule

As touch on, now two opponents in the ring will make you move in the same way and no two rounds in the boxing ring will make you move in the same way. It makes sense then that our cardio should also be varied.

While running may be your primary method of cardio we would certainly recommend adding in a day of swimming and or cycling, to hit the muscles that running doesn’t hit and engage the aerobic and anaerobic conditioning systems in different ways.

We want to become a better all around athlete and that will certainly help us in the ring.


Many Great Fighters Swim So You’ll be in good company:


Wladamir Klitschko Prefers Swimming Over Running

Wlad Swimming

We can see this is certainly the case in his later career when he incorporated much more swimming than running into his routines for cardio and endurance work stating:

“I run, but boxing conditioning is different, so you have to get used to running in the ring. Boxing movements are very different. Swimming is one of the best because every single muscle is working. I swim a lot. I train very hard at things that mimic boxing. I have to do mostly sport-specific training, such as lots of sparring.”

Wlad trained at Stranglwurtz in Germany which had a state of the art fitness centre and many swimming pools which Wlad frequented a lot.

Wlad last opponent is also a big fan of swimming and that is Anthony Joshua

Anthony Joshua Is A Big Fan Of Swimming

Joshua And Phelps

Joshua uses swimming for cardiovascular endurance and building strength. He uses HIIT training, 1 fast length followed by or 2 slow and he is particularly fond of the breast stroke.

“Swimming is great, it actually builds muscle and also keeps your muscles very active. It’s great for cardio and is not as heavy on the joints and muscles as running.”

We are not sure why building muscle would be a goal and Anthony has actually trimmed off a lot of muscle since his first loss to Andy Ruiz.

Anthony also loves the pool for recovery and relaxing. Life can be quite lonely and boring at the top and getting out of the house to do some active recovery has been shown to be more effective for rest than remaining still. AJ was seen just days after his win to Wladamir Klitschko using the swimming pool for recovery.


Floyd Mayweather Jnr Trains In The Swimming Pool

Floyd Mayweather Jnr employed swimming in the build up to his mega fight with Manny Pacquiao, a fight which Mayweather won comfortably.

The champ uses a Sunday for some active recovery in the swimming pool, swimming laps and shadow boxing under the water after a long hard week in the gym.

If the best fighter of this era sees the benefits of swimming, you can be sure it is effective for the sport.


Lomachenko Takes His Swimming Very Seriously

Lomachenko Swimming Pool

Lomachenko is another super fighter who prefers the water over running. He’s swimming training include 10k open waters swims as well as shadowboxing in the pool, doing interval training in the pool and bizarrely holding his breath under which he once held for over 4 minutes leading up to his Olympic effort.



Should I Do Swimming Instead Of Running

Manny Pacquiao Running

If you are boxing, you should be swimming and running every week but running is so fundamental for overall conditioning and building an aerobic base that we would say that you should use long runs 3 or 4 days a week and swimming 2 days a week.

That is placing a heavy emphasis on swimming but we feel it is granted. Swimming works cardio and the arms and running works cardio and the legs. There are also all the other benefits of swimming we have touched and many of the top pros nowadays are swimming including Terence Crawford, Manny Pacquiao, Errol Spence and the list goes on and on.


Is Swimming Better Than Running For Boxing

It’s hard to say which is better but we wouldn’t be deviating from the norms and would be placing heavy emphasis on running and sprinting as well as using the pool for cardio work as well as recovery once or twice a week.


If you haven’t been to the swimming pool in a while, it might be time to dust the swimming gear off and jump back in.


Aidan Lehane has been involved in the fight game for well over 10 and has trained in some of the leading boxing gyms around the world including Sinbi Muay Thai and MTK Global Marbella. He wants to offer as much advice to beginners and pros as possible.

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