You haven’t swum in years. There’s a swimming pool at the gym you go to, but you’re afraid of being embarrassed. It’s not that your physique is subpar. In fact, you’re in great shape. The problem is that you aren’t a good swimmer and you don’t know if the exercise is for you.
No exercise is for everyone, but swimming can be an excellent exercise for many reasons. “Swimming exercises the whole body — the legs, arms, and back — without straining most joints and muscles,” reports “Choosing the Right Exercise,” an article in The Merck Manual Home Edition. “Often, swimming is recommended for people who have muscle and joint problems.”
The Merck Manual also reports that swimming, stationary bicycling and walking are the three exercises that cause the fewest injuries. Running causes several times more injuries than swimming. Of course, you can avoid injuries by not exercising very vigorously but renowned expert Kenneth Cooper wrote in a few of his books that swimming is one of the best exercises for fitness along with bicycling, walking, cross country skiing, and running.
Swimming can also be a great weight loss exercise. Only fast running, fast bicycling, and handball burn more calories among about 80 training and sports activities than swimming the butterfly stroke and the freestyle stroke, which is also known as the crawl, according to “Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights.” A 185-pound person will burn 976 calories per hour swimming these two strokes. The same person will burn 888 calories per hour vigorously swimming laps or swimming the breaststroke and 710 calories per hour swimming the backstroke.
All those statistics make you think about another reason swimming can be an excellent reason — it can give you variety. Are there four completely different ways to ride a bike? Walk? Run? No there aren’t, but swimming has four major strokes. When you’re bored with one, you can switch to another. Switching strokes also gives you an opportunity to exercise different muscles.
Here are some swimming tips that might help you swim better and prepare for future swimming workouts:
- Start Slowly: If you have been sedentary for a while, you should begin your swimming workouts by swimming 300 yards four times per weeks, wrote Cooper in “Controlling Cholesterol The Natural Way.” If these workouts don’t leave you fatigued, you should gradually increase the yardage of your workouts. Cooper’s suggestion is 400-yard workouts by Week No. 3, 500-yard workouts by Week No. 5, and 900-yard workouts by Week No. 10.
- Swim Often: If your workouts aren’t very vigorous, you can eventually swim every day. The American College of Sports Medicine notes that you can exercise your heart muscle every day via cardiovascular exercises, but you should rest about 48 hours between strength training exercises. Swimming is always a cardiovascular exercise, but it can be a strength training exercise too if you swim so vigorously that your muscles become sore.
- Monitor Your Heart Rate: Your heart rate when you swim is significantly lower than when you exercise outside of water. When you’re in water, your body temperature drops. Lower body temperatures slow your heart rate and metabolism. The University of Maryland Medical Center “Exercise” report says that your target heart rate should be 12 heartbeats per minute more on land. A 20-year-old swimmer should have a target rate of 108 to 158 heartbeats per minute. At age 30, the target rate should be 102 to 150 heartbeats per minute. At age 40, it should be 96 to 141 heartbeats per minute.
- Know Which Stroke To Use: Which stroke should you use? The backstroke is the most relaxing stroke, but it is also an excellent exercise for strengthening your shoulders. The breaststroke is the slowest stroke, but it can strengthen your legs and hips. The butterfly stroke is the most strenuous so it is the choice when you’re focusing on improving your endurance and cardiovascular condition. The freestyle stroke is the most common stroke and also the fastest. The sidestroke isn’t considered a major stroke and is probably too easy if you want to improve your fitness.
- Improve Your Technique: There are innumerable sources for improving each of the major strokes. The article “10 Tips to Improve your Technique” is a good source for improving your freestyle stroke. The tips include “don’t lift your head just before breathing,” “roll from side to side with each arm stroke,” and “save energy by using a relaxed two-beat kick for middle and long distance swimming.”
- Decrease Your Yardage: This might be too early in your exercise routine to mention, but if you reach the stage where you’re preparing for a major event, you should know when to “taper” — decrease the yardage of your workout. Basically, you swim better when your muscles have been under less strain for a period of time before an event. Thus, if your swim workout is typically 2,000 yards, you should reduce your yardage workout before an event. “Time to Chill Out: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Swim Tapering” recommends a two-week taper consisting of swimming 75 percent of your typical workout distance two weeks before an event (1,500 yards in this case) and swimming 50 percent of your typical workout distance, or 1,000 yards, in the week before the event.