I have never been a fan of working out. Between finding the right gym, making the time to actually go, and motivating myself to get off the sofa and out of my pajamas, I never got very far. Luckily, there was one activity that always managed to not only get me off the couch, but also exercised my entire body in a single hour-long session. That activity was swimming.
I swam competitively for 15 years on a variety of teams, like my high school swim league and a local year round league. To me swimming was just part of who I was. It was why chlorine was my natural scent and why I had a circle tan line on my back at the end of every summer. Now, however, I look back and I see the health benefits to swimming, and I wonder why I ever stopped.
Here are just a few of the reasons swimming is a great alternative, or addition, to your normal workout routine.
Swimming is an all-in-one workout. From the moment you jump into the pool to the moment you step out you are working your entire body. Let’s look at a couple of the strokes. Freestyle and backstroke not only require a significant amount of leg and arm strength, but abdominal and back strength as well. Without it, your butt will sink and you will not be able to stay afloat. Breaststroke works your chest and upper thigh muscles, and butterfly is an extreme abdominal and leg workout. Also, Women’s Health Magazine explains that because of the extreme density of water (roughly 800 times that of air), swimming is a gentle resistance workout for your entire body.
It’s a great exercise for asthmatics. Unfortunately, many people suffer from asthma and I am included in those numbers. I had tried many sports, but none helped me like swimming did. People with respiratory problems need moist, humid air to breath more comfortably. If you have ever been to a gym pool, the air is definitely humid and moist. Those conditions are ideal for opening the airways and they help asthma sufferers breathe better than they can in dry, cold air. Swimming also increases lung volume, which not only allows for better oxygen flow to the lungs but also teaches better breathing techniques. Sets where you only allow yourself to breathe every 3, 5, or 7 strokes are a great way to practice breath control.
You’ll burn a ton of calories. How fast and vigorous you swim is a large determining factor in how many calories you will burn. Someone who swims 3,000 to 5,000 meters in a day is bound to burn more calories than the leisurely swimmer at your local YMCA. For example, if you are 130 pounds and you swim the freestyle for one hour you can burn anywhere from 413 calories to 590 calories depending on the intensity of your workout. Adding different sets, strokes, and techniques can also increase your calorie loss, and the amount of calories you lose is different for each individual person. Additionally, swimming for 30 minutes at a fast pace burns more calories than walking, cycling, and running. Again, these results will vary depending on the person.
Bad joints or tricky injuries? No problem. There is a reason you see so many elderly people doing water aerobics at your local gym. Doing light to moderate exercise in a pool is a great, easy alternative for people with joint pain and arthritis. Exercising in water creates a surrounding area that is low impact on joints, which makes it easier to work out for longer periods of time. As well as being great for sore joints, the swimming pool is used for a variety of rehabilitation efforts for the knee, back, and shoulder. Spine Health explains that there are several reasons water exercise is best for injuries, including the elimination of gravitational forces and the ability to gently create friction that promotes muscle growth. These factors mean an injured individual can work to strengthen the injured area without risking further damage.
If you are new to the pool, it is important to remember that swimming takes a lot of muscle strength and endurance, so remember to start off slow and take it easy. Don’t be afraid to rest between laps or to stop when you feel tired. At your next gym visit, consider swimming some laps. Use this sample 400-meter workout to enhance your gym experience:
Warm-up: 4×25 meters freestyle
Main Set: Drill – 2×25 pull (freestyle), Ladder – 25, 50, 50, 25 (freestyle)
Cool-down: 2×25 meters freestyle
For a list of other great beginner workouts that range from 400 meters to 1200 meters, visit Beginner Triathlete.