A long time ago, I had a personal trainer friend tell me that swimming was the least effective cardiovascular exercise I could possibly choose. I mean, she thought it was more effective than my typical workout. That involved trying to sit up straight while I folded laundry and watched Grey’s Anatomy. Hey, I was working my arms AND my abs, that had to be worth something, right?
I still watch Grey’s Anatomy, but I no longer rely on one person’s opinion about what is or is not “good for me”. These days I am good friends with the internet. Google knows what I want to know, often even before I do. Today I want to know some great reasons why swimming is a fantastic exercise for men and women. I want validation that the time I spend in the quiet depths of my favorite pool does more than just let me ruminate on the number of cracks in the tile. I also want to know how to make my time in the water more efficient, comfortable, and fun.
1. Swimming is kind to your body. Experts agree that we can swim almost every single day without risking any injury. Can you say the same about any other sport? In fact, results shared at an American College of Sports Medicine Conference showed that when compared to people the same age, a habitual swimmer’s cholesterol levels, central nervous system, cognitive functioning, blood pressure, and cardiovascular performance all are better.
2. Water is 800 times denser than air. That means any movement done in water will work your body harder than that same movement on land. This is where my friend got confused. She assumed that swimming couldn’t be effective to lose weight and build muscle because it wasn’t a weight-bearing exercise. Those are things like running, mountain climbing, Zumba, or martial arts. None of which interest me at this stage of the game. I want the soothing weightlessness of the water, not the crashing sound of my knee popping when I squat down.
3. Swimming builds lean muscle. Because water is so dense, every stroke, kick, and turn meets with resistance. That means you are simultaneously working your core, back, arms, shoulders, butt, and hips. Every muscle in your body has to work together as a team to keep you afloat and moving. Therefore, in addition to burning 500-700 calories per hour while working out, you will also burn more calories once you get out of the pool and get on with your day.
4. Maximizing your workout is simple. Just think tall and smooth. Waves in the water mean you are wasting energy. Focus on quiet strokes and don’t splash the entire pool deck when you hit the turns. Imagine that there is a cable stretching from the top of your head to the opposite end of the pool. Do not let the cable move from the center of your head. Rotate your body along the imaginary line for the entire length of the pool. This will make your body more streamlined and quick.
5. Get good googles! Trust me on this one. Do not put up with leaky, foggy goggles. This one piece of equipment can make the difference between an enjoyable experience and an exercise in frustration. Choose a pair with tough rubber gaskets, and seals and straps made from silicone, not latex. While you are at it, invest in a chamois (also called a shammy or sammy). These super absorbent, quick drying, non-bulky towels are great for drying off quickly after your swim or shower, and then stowing in a small bag until you get home.
6. Lose the drag. Ladies, now is not the time to worry about who is looking at your cottage cheese thighs. Men, dare to bare that speedo! Working out in baggy swim trunks or bulky swim dresses creates drag, which can wear you out and cause you to get discouraged. If you’re shy, wear a cover up right up to the edge of the pool, then drop it and go. Soon you will be proud to show off the lean, muscled, gorgeous body of a swimmer.
7. The key to success is to mix it up. When you are first starting out go slow. Two or three lengths in you will be feeling it, trust me. Try four lengths of the pool and then rest for a minute. Repeat that five to ten times, two or three times a week for the first two weeks. Alternate your strokes. Freestyle is easy and burns mega calories, but using the same stroke quickly becomes boring. Add in backstroke and breaststroke to work alternate muscles in your body. Use a kickboard to put the focus on your legs. To concentrate on your core, sit in the water, hugging the kickboard flat against your chest. With your upper body still sitting up in the water, use a flutter kick to propel yourself backwards down the length of the pool. It won’t take long to feel that burn, I promise!
Wow, all this research has made me sweaty, who wants to go for a swim?