Swim into Shape
by Diana Price
If you’re looking for a refreshing, fun way to get and stay fit this summer, look no further than your neighborhood pool. Swimming is an excellent form of aerobic exercise that’s easy on the joints and full of splashy, outdoor fun for the summer.
Benefits of Swimming
Swimming is considered a whole-body form of exercise because it recruits all of the major muscle groups, including the shoulders, back, abdominal muscles, legs, hips, and gluteal muscles. It is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise, but many consider it a form of strength exercise too because the water provides 12 times more resistance than air. In other words, each time you pull your arm through the water, you’re working 12 times harder than you would be out of the pool.
Swimming is easy on the joints because the water provides buoyancy—in fact, when a swimmer is completely immersed in the water up to the neck, the body only bears 10 percent of its weight. This makes it a wonderful form of low-impact exercise for people with injuries, arthritis, extra weight, or women who are pregnant. Swimming can help increase range of motion and relive joint pain and swelling. Furthermore, swimming is an ideal form of exercise for people with exercise-induced asthma because it results in less irritation to the airways.
Of course, it’s important to note that swimming is not considered weight-bearing exercise, which means it won’t help strengthen bones.
Building Fitness with Swimming
Contrary to popular belief, swimming can be an excellent weight loss tool. Swimming at a moderate pace for 30 minutes will burn about 250-350 calories, the equivalent of a one-hour brisk walk. Swimming is also great for toning because the water provides multi-directional resistance.
If you want to add swimming to your fitness regimen, it’s easy to get started. All you need is a comfortable swimsuit, a pair of goggles, and a swim cap—and a good attitude. Most pools will have any other accessories you may want to use during your workout. A few basics will get you started:
- Ease into it: Swimming is surprisingly aerobic. Start with small goals and build from there. The first week, you may swim 10 lengths of the pool, while resting for 30 seconds between each length. The second week, you may swim 5 laps (the equivalent of 10 lengths) while resting between each lap. Find a system that works for you and build slowly.
- Build slowly: As with any new activity, it’s important to start slowly and build over time. Most experts recommend that you avoid increasing your weekly distance by more than 10 percent over the previous week (just like in running).
- Pay attention to technique: Technique matters in swimming. Consider enlisting the help of a coach, instructor, or friend to check your form. Making improvements in your form will make you a more efficient swimmer—which will enable you to swim farther and faster.
- Add variety: Perhaps the biggest complaint about swimming is the inevitable sense of boredom that comes with swimming lap after lap. Add variety to your routine by changing strokes; using kick boards, pull-buoys, fins, or hand paddles; or varying your workout plan.
- Swim with a friend or group: Face it—any exercise is more fun with the motivation factor of a partner or group. Schedule swim time with a friend or consider joining a master’s swim group or class to maximize your fitness and fun.