Being a swimmer has nothing to do with your level of swimming proficiency and everything to do with simply exercising in the water. Just about everyone benefits from working out in the pool. Let’s explore why, and how to benefit from a swim workout.
The Health Benefits of Swimming
The more of your body that’s underwater, the more buoyancy helps relieve pressure on your joints, bones, and muscles. You weigh less in water than on solid ground because while gravity pulls down, water pushes the body up. As a consequence, you can more easily move your limbs and joints through their range of motion, which helps improve your flexibility.
When you move in water, the gentle resistance from pushing against water also engages your muscles and helps make them stronger. Swimming also increases lung volume, strengthens your heart, burns calories, and provides a host of additional physical benefits.
Getting in the pool can positively impact your mental health, too. Exercise releases endorphins, which can give you a sense of happiness, positivity, and well-being. When you swim, you focus on your form, your breathing, and where you are in the water, leaving little room to focus on worries. And swimming can serve as a method of controlled breathing, which research suggests may help calm the mind and body.
Swimming and exercising in the water are clearly good for you. So where should a beginner start?
Tools of the Trade
First, you may need to gather some accessories. These tools are the most common and useful items for swimmers.
To get a good fit in a woman’s swimsuit, measure your bust, waist, and hips with a measuring tape. Look for a suit with approximately 80 percent nylon and 20 percent Lycra or elastane for the most comfort and longevity. To make sure your suit stays in place while you work out, opt for a higher neckline and leg openings that don’t slip. You’ll know the swimsuit fits properly when it’s a workout in and of itself just to put the suit on.
If possible, try goggles on before purchasing them to make sure they fit well. If you can’t, ask if the retailer offers refunds if the fit isn’t right. Pay close attention to the seal around the lenses to make sure it will keep water out.
- Swim cap
A swim cap keeps your hair out of the way and helps you cut through the water more smoothly. It can also help protect your scalp from chlorine, even though caps don’t keep your hair or scalp completely dry. You have a choice of different types of materials, including latex and silicone. Most swimmers pay no more than $10 per cap.
Your pool likely has a kickboard you can borrow, but if you prefer your own, you can get one for around $20. Traditional rounded, rectangular kickboards are the most affordable option, and they work well for most people. Ergonomic kickboards are slightly more expensive, but they may put less strain on the shoulders because they’re made out of lighter foam and have a more triangular, hydrodynamic shape.
Body Basics for Swimming Beginners
As you get comfortable in the water and try different strokes and kicks, keep these tips in mind.
- Focus on alignment
Your natural stance may give you an arch in your back, which is called a pelvic tilt. In the water, you want to be as streamlined as possible, so strive for a neutral pelvis. Also called a neutral spine, this generally means “your ears, shoulders, and hips are in a straight line,” and your pelvis isn’t tilted forward or backward. Bonus: correcting pelvic tilt issues can help with lower back pain, tight hips and hamstrings, and weak abs or glutes.
- Pay attention to your knees
If you have any knee concerns, discuss the frog kick (used with breaststroke) with your doctor or physical therapist. This kick may cause or worsen knee injuries.
- Practice your flutter kick
Kick using your entire leg, not just the knee down. It’s similar to how you walk; your legs should be at roughly a 120-degree angle when kicking.
- Keep your entire body in motion
Your arms pull you through the water, your legs propel you forward, and your core twists or rolls to help make the entire movement more efficient.
8 Simple Swim Workouts
Now that you’re ready to swim, let’s discuss some workouts. For each of these workouts, choose your stroke, whether it’s the front crawl (also known as freestyle) or another one. If it’s too difficult, slow down. Too easy? Go faster!
- Swim one length, then rest for 15 seconds. Repeat until you’ve swum eight lengths, or four laps.
- Swim two lengths (one lap) slowly, then use a kickboard to kick a fast lap. Repeat for a total of eight laps.
- Swim one lap slowly, then immediately swim a second lap quickly. Rest 30 seconds. Repeat eight times.
- For the first full lap, use your kickboard to do a dolphin (aka mermaid) kick. For the second lap, swim backstroke. For the third, swim breaststroke — arms only if the kick bothers your knees. For the last lap, swim freestyle. Repeat the entire medley four times.
- Time one lap of any stroke. Rest 15 seconds. Repeat eight times, swimming each lap fast enough to beat the previous lap’s time. Stop if you need more than one minute of rest.
- Start swimming a lap at the top of the minute, or :00. Check the clock once you finish. Start the next lap at the top of the next minute. If you finish one lap at :45, you have 15 seconds of rest. If you end a lap at :58, you have two seconds of rest. If you finish just after a minute starts, start your next lap at the bottom of the minute, or :30. Repeat for eight laps.
- Hold a kickboard in the water perpendicularly with your hands on either side. Push the bottom of the kickboard down into the water — just an inch, halfway, or almost all the way. Walk one length, pushing the kickboard in front of you as you go. Rest 20 seconds. Repeat four times.
- To add spice to a swim, swim one lap, then do jumping lunges or high knees in the water. Do the number that works best for your body, then swim a second lap. Do four spicy laps.
For Full-Body Health, Hop in the Pool
Working out boosts your mental and physical health, and swim-based exercises can be some of the most effective workouts. Listen to your body as you move, build your fitness, and reap the rewards.