Between kicking, pulling, and the overarm stroke, swimming uses nearly every muscle in the body, says Dan McCarthy, high performance consultant, USA Swimming National Team, Colorado Springs, Colo. It also elevates your heart rate and strengthens your muscles due to water’s resistance (it’s 12 times more resistant than air). The combination of great cardio workout and muscle-strengthening activity make swimming a bionic workout that burns lots of calories. Swimming is low impact, gentle on joints and a great option for maintaining fitness during injury or for cross-training, allowing you to improve fitness without added wear and tear.
To join the pool party of fitness benefits, McCarthy says the first thing you should do is find a Masters Swim Team or sign up for adult swim lessons. Masters swimming classes and coaches instruct all levels of swimmers and don’t require you to compete to join.
Refining your technique is the smartest thing to re-learn in swimming. “Even if you already know how to swim, a few tips from a professional coach will go a long way to make the experience more enjoyable,” says McCarthy.
Depending on your fitness level, begin with 15 to 20 minutes, others may swim for 30 to 60 minutes. Strive for two to three water workouts a week. Play around with the kickboard and pull-buoys to improve upper and lower body strength. Kickboards let you work your legs independently; pull-buoys allow you to relax your legs and concentrate on strengthening the arms.
Stronger muscles can help your swim faster and longer, which magnifies the calories burned and fitness gained. McCarthy recommends these three weight-lifting exercises to have you torpedoing in the pool.
Three Gym Exercises to Improve Your Water Workouts
Biceps and Tricep Curls. Strong arm muscles turn your arms into power levers to propel you through the water, says McCarthy. Find a dumbbell you can hold comfortably. Stand with your back straight, palms facing forward, elbows to your side. Lift you right hand to the top of the curl without moving the rest of your body. Hold and squeeze your arm. Release. Do 3 sets of 10 reps on both sides. Tricep Using Cable Press. With an overhang grip, bend the arms at the elbow, fully extend your arms to the side of your thighs and squeeze and hold. Return the arms to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 10 reps, right and left side.
Lat Pull Downs. “The back and shoulders (the latissimus dorsi and deltoids) propel you through the pool,” says McCarthy. For lat pull downs, grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, palms facing away from you. Extend arms fully. Focus on slowly pulling the bar down to mid-chest level in front of you. The rest of your body should be still. When the bar reaches mid-chest, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Release in a controlled manner back to fully extended arms. Repeat 10 times, for 3 sets.
Barbell Squats. To get from one end of the pool to the other, you need a strong lower body. “Hips, gluteals, quadriceps and hamstrings are crucial for any propulsions resulting from the kick,” says McCarthy. With feet shoulder-width apart, rest a barbell on your upper back. With your back straight and your head up, carefully squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Push up, driving through the heels. Avoid locking your legs once the set is complete. Do 3 sets of 10.