When it comes to exercising, you may want to go for a run or ride a bike, but one of the best exercises is swimming. Swimming uses nearly every part of your body and muscle, so it is one of the best overall workouts for all ages. Going back and forth in a pool not only works the muscle but also relaxes the mind and releases any stress.
- 1 Swimming for fitness – Before you begin
- 2 Advantages of swimming over land based exercises
- 3 Health benefits of swimming
- 4 Swimming workout safety tips
- 5 Basic skills for swimming
- 6 Basic swimming techniques
- 7 Swimming for fitness – Basic swim strokes
Swimming for fitness – Before you begin
If you are going to try to swim for fitness, first set yourself a goal, as to what you want to achieve in the next few weeks or months. It should be something you are going to work towards and will help you stay motivated. Give your body an ultimatum, whether it is improving your racing ability, increasing speed or improving strength. Make sure you choose a pool that is convenient to you, i.e. close to your home or where you go for work. Choose a time that fits your current routine. Some people enjoy swimming in the morning while others enjoy a relaxing swim after a busy day at work. It also helps to have someone else there to support and you during your training sessions. Asking your friends to accompany you can provide that that motivating edge.
Before swimming, you always purchase your basic swim gear. Some things you will need are comfortable pair of goggles, two to three competitive styles of suits, a swim cap and a waterproof wristwatch. You may also use an activity tracker along with a heart rate monitor to track improvements in your workouts, calories burned and heart rate.
Advantages of swimming over land based exercises
As swimming is performed in water, its exercise medium is very different. You are surrounded by hydrostatic pressure and the exercise is performed in either supine position or prone position. Since swimming is not performed in an upright position, its cardiovascular response is completely different.
- Swimming is a non-weight bearing activity and it has buoyancy effect in water. Because of these two factors, there is a reduced incidence of orthopedic injury.
- Since water has a higher thermal conductivity than air, swimmers are less likely to experience heat exhaustion.
- Due to the added water resistance to the movement, swimming helps build more muscle mass.
- You are likely to burn more calories during and after an aquatic workout. Swimming burns more calories than walking, running and even cycling.
Health benefits of swimming
Swimming offers so many benefits. Besides the fun factor, swimming for exercise has lots of health benefits. Here are a few of them.
- Swimming is low impact and provides high cardio respiratory benefits.
- It also improves your lung capacity, your oxygen carrying ability, lowers your blood pressure and your resting heart rate.
- Swimming gives you a workout without the harsh impact to your bones and muscle. Therefore, you can swim even if you are overweight, if you have sore muscles, if you feel stiff or if you have arthritis.
- Swimming firms and tones the body faster as you propel through a medium, which is around 800 times denser than air.
- Regular swimmers of all ages have more lean muscle mass, trimmer waists and hips than non-swimmers.
- Swimming delays signs of aging in terms of blood pressure, muscle mass and pulmonary function.
Swimming workout safety tips
- Before beginning any exercise program, it is a good idea to get checked out by your physician.
- Make sure your health is appropriate for fitness swimming.
- If you are a novice swimmer, make sure to select a pool that has a lifeguard. You should initially stay at the shallow end of the pool.
- Make sure you warm-up before a swimming workout. Warm-up will ensure that your body is ready for workout and will help you avoid injuries, as the muscles will be better prepared.
Basic skills for swimming
Learning a motor skill like swimming involves change in behavior that result from practice or experience.
Proper breath control and rhythmic breathing are essential for learning how to swim. It is important to breathe in and out rhythmically when performing strokes such as front crawl, breaststroke and butterfly stroke.
Floating on the front
To swim on the front you need to learn how to achieve, maintain and recover from a float position. A person’s body composition affects how each person floats. Some people may not be able to float motionless but this should not affect your progress. The next stage is to learn and recover from a front glide. After you are comfortable with the front glide, you can begin to learn different leg and arm actions.
Floating on the back
You may be uncomfortable when first learning this skill as your lower body may sink as you raise your head. You may use different support techniques until you learn to float on your back without any support. The key is to float unsupported with your face clear of the water. You may use certain hand motions such as finning or sculling to help keep yourself more horizontal in the water.
Basic swimming techniques
The Flutter kick
Kicking is important because it helps propel us through the water while swimming. During fluttering, make sure not to bend your knees and keep your toes pointed. Kick your legs by keeping your feet in the water near the surface. The flutter kick is used for both freestyle and backstroke swimming styles of competitive swimming.
Treading water is a great skill to use whether you are in a pool or ocean or a lake, to keep yourself afloat. Treading is also an amazing upper and lower body workout. To tread water you would need to keep yourself afloat in a vertical position. There are different variations of kicks that you can use when you are treading water. Choose the one with which you are most comfortable. The eggbeater kick is the easiest to learn and requires kicking your legs towards the side in a circular, eggbeater motion. The basic flutter kick is an alternating foot motion using one leg at a time. You can also use the whip kick or the rotary kick, which are more difficult to learn. Sculling motion or your hand movements are also essential in keeping you above water. This kicking and sculling action when done simultaneously will help you keep your head above the water.
Sculling is a skill that is used throughout the strokes and helps in developing speed and comfort in water. Basic sculling is just moving the water back and forth with your hand. It is a sideward motion and when done fast enough, it will generate a force that provides a constant propulsion similar to a fan propeller. As you sweep out,your thumbs should be angled slightly down and as you sweep in, your thumbs should be angled slightly up.
Swimming for fitness – Basic swim strokes
The breaststroke is the oldest known swimming stroke and the slowest of the four competitive strokes. It is the only competitive stroke where the arms recover under water. The stroke begins with the body in the streamlined position and arms extended to the front just below the surface with palms down and your head in between your arms. The body is nearly horizontal with your hips and legs just below the surface. The stroke uses an alternating pull-and-kick action. As you pull your arms back, your upper body naturally rises. When your arms recover, kick your legs. The arms stroke in a circular fashion – sweep out, pull around and push forward. The breathing comes right after the pull and right before you kick.
The elementary backstroke is used for recreational or survival swimming and for exercising muscle groups not used in other strokes. Like the breaststroke, it uses symmetrical motions. Both sides of the body move the same way at the same time. Beginning in the glide position, your back should be straight, legs together and arms at your sides. Your palms should face the thighs. The water line usually covers the ears but your face should always be out of the water. The arm stroke begins with the recovery phase and ends with the power phase. The arms remain just below the surface of the water throughout the arm stroke. For the kick in elementary backstroke, both legs bend at the knee, push out and back around in a circular pushing motion. Because your face is always out of the water, breathing is easy. You should develop a rhythmic pattern of breathing during each stroke. Inhale as your arms recover and exhale during the power phase. Both arms and legs finish their thrust at the same time in elementary backstroke.
To master the powerful butterfly stroke, the key is to relax and use your whole body in a smooth flowing motion. The wave like motion is achieved by driving the arms forward together powered by the fluid motion of the hips and the legs. The arm stroke is similar to the front crawl, but both arms move together. The power phase begins with the catch phase, progresses to mid pull phase and ends with the finish phase. The recovery starts as soon as your hands leave the water. The dolphin kick is used in the butterfly stroke. The motion is very similar to the flutter kick but both legs move together and your upper abdominal along with the hips move up and down. The timing of this stroke depends on the coordination of the kicks on the entry and the finish of the arm stroke. There are two kicks for each arm stroke. During the arm stroke, thrust your chin forward until your face clears the surface. Inhale as you start your arm recovery and do not lift your head too high, as this will cause your hips to sink.
When swimming freestyle, it is important to keep your body aligned. Keep your eyes focused on the bottom line of the pool; keep your head down to allow your hips to float to the top providing a hydrodynamic flow through the water. When taking each stroke, let your body twist or rotate while keeping your head focused on the bottom until it is time to breathe. It is best to breathe after every three strokes. The components of the arm stroke include the reach, the catch, the pull, the push and the recovery. It’s a five-step process that can be mastered by regular practice. The kick provides a lot of power and helps balance your body as you go through the water.