Can’t decide between strength training and a cardio workout? Try swimming and get both.
There are few fitness routines that manage to incorporate full-body muscle development and cardio simultaneously. Plus, it’s a low-impact exercise, so you won’t ruin your joints.
Included below is a beginner’s training plan to help get you started. Swimming is a fun and effective way to stay or get in shape, with a host of benefits. But before hopping in the pool, read over the following tips and tricks to effectively start an aquatic fitness routine for the first time.
Keep in mind
Swimming is different than most sports. Aside from the fact that it can be both an aerobic (think moderate-intensity cardio) and anaerobic exercise (think the most intense part of high-intensity interval training), the most obvious difference is being suspended in water. Your whole body must work together to decrease drag (resistance) in order to move forward.
Practice floating to help find your balance. Keep your head back and spread your arms and legs out. The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be for you to float. Stay at the surface for as long as you can. When this becomes easy, gradually bring your arms and legs towards your body until you can float with your legs together and arms by your sides.
The other main difference between swimming and other fitness regimens is breath control. Because your face is in the water (except for backstroke), there are specific moments and ways to breathe that prevent you from throwing your stroke off balance. In freestyle, start by breathing every third stroke. At first this will feel difficult, but with practice, it will become easier.
Perfect your form
Consistent trips to the pool will increase your strength and cardio. But bear in mind that swimming is a hugely technical sport. You need to reduce drag in the water while using the same water to propel yourself forward. Here are some quick tips to remember when swimming, specifically freestyle.
Head: Your head determines whether your body stays at the surface of the water, or whether it sinks. When swimming, you want to keep your head in a neutral position, as if you were standing on dry land.
Body: You want your body to stay close to the surface of the water, in a straight line.
Arms: Stretch your arms as far ahead of you as possible before beginning to pull back. A good rule of thumb is to line up your hand, elbow and shoulder before you begin pulling yourself forward.
Shoulders: Your shoulders should be rocking back and forth in coordination with the movement of your arms. This gives you extra arm length, and allows you to reach further, maximising each stroke.
Legs: You’ll want to start your kick at the hips, not the knees. Kicking from the hips is more powerful as you get the glutes and quadriceps to help propel you forward, instead of relying on the smaller muscles and tendons in the knee. Keep your legs stretched out behind you, and push the water both up and down in your flutter kick.
This workout regimen is a good way to build your strength, speed and technique in the pool. If you are not 100 percent comfortable in the water, this fitness option is not for you. This was designed for those who might have taken lessons when they were younger or know the basic swimming styles, but wish to get started again. Here is the practice that you should be aiming to complete (using the freestyle stroke).
- One lap is 25 meters, so a 100m distance translates to swimming four consecutive laps.
- Progressive means you gradually increase your speed every lap, so your final lap is done as fast as you can.
- Kick is done with with the help of a kick board.
Warm-up: 3 X 100m, 1 swim, 1 kick, 1 swim
Set 1: 2x | 4 X 50m 1-4 progressive
Set 2: 8 X 25m 1 fast, 1 easy
Cool-down: 200m choice, stay long in the water
Total: 1100 meters
- If this practice is too easy for you, do set 1 and 2 twice.
- If it is too hard, take it one set at a time. Do the warm-up, set 1 and cool-down. Once you are more comfortable swimming, add in set 2.
- If this is still too much for you, do the warm-up, followed by a 6 X 50m swim and a cool-down. Eventually, you will build up your endurance and be able to do a whole set.
It’s important to remember that if you are not a regular swimmer, any variation of this practice will make you tired. Swimming is a whole other beast that uses muscles and movements that you don’t normally use by training on land. Just remember to take it one lap at a time, and to drink lots of water. You won’t realise it, but you will be sweating profusely during your workout.
Check out this video to see how to properly enter the water with your hands and arms.
Check out MySwimPro’s other videos as well for tips on kicking, streamline, and the swimming basics.
(All photos courtesy of Simply Swim UK)