What is the best crawl that helps to broaden your shoulders?

Is is possible to tell that theres a crawl, according to the specific movements, better than the others for this aim?


I have broken down the main strokes into their activated muscle groups. Note, you will have to do a lot (and I mean a lot) of swimming to see a big increase in your shoulders. It would be more efficient to follow a bodybuilding/powerlifting programme.

Freestyle and Backstroke

  • Core abdominal and obliques are important in rotating the torso for a longer stroke.
  • Hip flexors are used to maintain a compact and steady kick.


  • Core abdominal and lower back muscles lift the body out of the water when breathing.
  • Glutes ensure the legs move as one like a dolphin or mermaid.

Breaststroke - Pectoral and Latissimus dorsi muscles are used to sweep the arms inwards against the water. - Glutes and Quadriceps muscles power the breaststroke kick.

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TL;DR Butterfly.



The shoulder muscles that contribue to the broad shape are primarily the deltoid muscles. This is the muscle that forms the bulk of the shoulder muscle mass, with three heads (Anterior, medial and posterior) that inserts on the humerus.

This muscle is primarily involved with shoulder abduction, or moving the upper arm out away from the body. So for swimming, all the traditional racing strokes (front/Australian crawl, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfy) will work the shoulders.

There are some differences, and things to consider however.

  • Front crawl - Will mostly work the anterior (front) and medial (middle) portions of the deltoid, and the biggest portion of the stroke where the muscle is used is while the arm is in the air, so minimal resistance and lots and lots of repetitions.
  • Butterfly - One of two strokes with the longest range of motion for the front and middle deltoid, with some involvement of the posterior (rear) deltoid at the beginning of the arm recovery (As the arms are coming out of the water). This stroke tends to be a bit more explosive than the others as both arms are out of the water at the same time and needing to recover to the front very quickly.
  • Backstroke - The other stroke with the longest ROM, and the stroke that will (arguably) work the rear deltoids the most, as all of the motion is up and backwards.
  • Breaststroke - This stroke alongside the butterfly will work the front/middle portions of the shoulders quite heavily as the stroke recovery is underwater, and hence against resistance. It's a toss up as to whether this will work the delts more than the butterfly.

As JJosaur points out, however, while swimming will give you fairly defined shoulders, it's not going to layer slabs of muscle over the shoulder area. Part of the reason that swimmers appear to have such huge shoulders is because of the large lats and extreme taper into the waist. Additionally, given the emphasis on the front/middle delts, many swimmers appear to be slump shouldered because the front portion of the muscle overpowers the rear and pulls the shoulders forward. If you do a lot of swimming, you should supplement with dry land training as well.

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