Winter workouts got you down? Bored of the treadmill? Need a change? Why not add a splash of chlorine into your routine? Swimming is not just for Olympians and the old-folk set at your gym. It's an amazing strength and conditioning workout for anyone. Well, knowing how to swim helps. Or tread water at the very least (sources say moderate to vigorous intensity treading burns between 200-600 calories an hour!). If you can execute a basic crawl (or freestyle, as the pros call it), you are ready to hit the pool for a total-body training session.
Of course there is one tiny, insignificant detail we have to deal with head on: the swimsuit. It's the only equipment you need (besides goggles and a cap, if you are so inclined). I can't think of a single regular person who is psyched to yank themselves into some spandex-blend one-piece and parade around on a pool deck. But here's the deal: don't let temporary vanity stand in the way of longer-term wellness. Unless you are training for a photo shoot, just get in your kit and hop in the water. And if you are still dragging your flippers, let's talk about the benefits of swimming to help you over the hump.
1. Swimming Burns Serious Calories
Even if you are just treading water, you could be burning as many as or more calories than a typical treadmill workout. And if you dial up the intensity with intervals or overall sustained speed efforts, you significantly increase your energy output. That being said, here's another chance for us to be honest with each other. Unless you have a strong history of swimming (and if you do, this article is just reminding you of what you already know), just getting from one side of the pool to the other may be a challenge. And that is absolutely fine.
When I was in college and decided I wanted to try out for the water polo team (side note: what was I thinking?), I could barely complete 50 yards (that's one lap back and forth in a standard 25-yard pool) without feeling like I was going to die. But I kept at it, and even though I was the slowest person out there, I built up to the point I could complete the workouts (and made the team. And sat on the bench. Happily). And that's all you need as your goal: completing the workout. Not for time or making a team, but for your own sense of accomplishment. Start small, take breaks, use floats. Just keep at it and you'll surprise yourself. When you are ready, try this workout to build up to a mile swim. You can do it!
2. Swimming Is Low Impact
Swimming is a great fitness option for people who want or need to minimize the sometimes jarring impact of land-based workout options. The water is a natural cushion, and the fluid motion of your legs and arms prevents any significant joint trauma. If you have preexisting injuries or sensitivities (such as shoulder or knee issues), make sure you talk to a personal trainer or doctor before jumping into a new aquatic program. Low impact doesn't mean no impact, so pay attention to your body. If you start feeling persistent pain or discomfort, you may benefit from a swim coach to work on form.
3. Swimming Tones Your Body
Swimming uses the natural resistance of the water to develop muscular strength and endurance. The faster you swim, the more you develop fast-twitch muscle fibers and increase explosive power. The longer you swim, the more you develop slow-twitch fibers, which improve cardio endurance. Swimming laps is a great workout in and of itself, but if you add in some swim accessories, you'll be able to isolate muscle groups for strength development.
For instance, using a buoy float between your legs means you won't be kicking to propel yourself forward; you will rely on your upper-body strength to pull you along. The flip side would be using a kickboard to remove the arms from your forward motion and concentrate the effort in your hips, glutes, and leg muscles. Water polo players use a leg motion called the "egg beater" to stay afloat, and you can use it too to work on your lateral movements and core. Want to increase your neck and shoulder strength? Try swimming with your head out of the water — the key is keeping your gaze AND your strokes straight ahead the entire time. Once you start twisting from side to side, you lose forward motion and tire faster. Find a point on the opposite side of the pool to stare at and that will help you stay on track.
4. Swimming Is Meditation Time
There is something womb-like about being wrapped in water. The repetitive strokes create a pattern that allows you to focus on the sensation of your movement and the quality of your breath. This is a kind of moving meditation and is a great tool for stress relief. You won't have a TV screen to zone out into or music blaring in your ear to push you along. Swimming is a peaceful practice that allows you to work on your mind/body connection, which will help you both in and out of the pool.
Now that you know all the great ways that swimming can help you on your fitness journey, why not dive in and give it a try? Like any new workout endeavor, give yourself and your body time to adjust to the different movements and muscular demands. Start with twice a week for at least 30 minutes total, and build both your frequency and length of workout as you go. You'll be beach ready before you know it!