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Swimming for Fitness

  • Chris Woolston, M.S.
  • Posted March 11, 2013

What are the benefits of swimming?

Swimming is a gentle but challenging exercise that tones your body while giving your heart an excellent workout. Contrary to popular wisdom, recent studies suggest that swimming can be helpful for weight loss and at least as effective as a walking program. Because its not a weight-bearing exercise, its not likely to strengthen bones or prevent osteoporosis. By the same token, it's a good choice for people with arthritis or back problems because it wont stress the joints.

What equipment do I need?

If you're swimming for exercise instead of just splashing around for fun, you'll want a swimsuit that fits snugly and comfortably without a lot of fuss or readjustment. Ladies, there's a reason why you never see a bikini at an Olympic swimming event. For a real workout, a one-piece suit is best. Guys, you don't need to go all the way down to a skimpy Speedo unless that's your style, but you don't want baggy trunks that will drag you down, either. A good-fitting racing-style suit will be your best bet. You'll want a good pair of swim goggles too, especially if you're swimming in chlorinated pools. A bathing cap is a must if you have long hair.

Do I need swimming lessons?

You probably took swim lessons when you were a kid. And if you're planning to swim for fitness, you probably already know the basics of the free-style stroke, Still, it might be a good idea to sign up for adult swim lessons if you haven't had one in awhile. You can learn some new strokes, refine your current strokes, and generally take some of the frustration out of your workout.

What's a typical workout?

Ultimately, you'll get the most out of your workout if you can swim for at least 30 minutes without rest at least three times a week. That's a tall order for someone who's just starting out, so you should take it easy at first. Try swimming for just 30 seconds then resting for 30 seconds. Over time, you'll spend more time swimming and less time resting. Ideally, you'll use more than one stroke in your routine to spread the work out among different muscle groups.

Once you're up to speed, you might start your workout with five to 10 minutes of easy warm-up strokes followed followed by 20 to 40 minutes of more vigorous swimming.

What precautions should I take?

You may want to check with a doctor before beginning your swimming routine, especially if you have chronic back, joint, heart, or inner-ear problems or if you're pregnant. Obviously, you'll need to take extra precautions -- staying within your limits, checking weather reports, swimming with a friend, etc., if you're swimming in open bodies of water far from a lifeguard. Also, keep in mind that you'll sweat even though you're under water. As with any other serious workout, you'll want to hydrate before and after.

References

American Council on Exercise. Get into the swim of things. 2010.

Cox KL et al. A comparison of the effects of swimming and walking on body weight, fat distribution, lipids, glucose, and insulin in older women -- the sedentary women exercise adherence trial 2. Metabolism. 2010. 59(11): 1562-73

Georgia State University. Swimming. 1999.

Katz, Jane. The Aquatic Handbook for Lifetime Fitness. Allyn & Bacon: Boston. 1996.

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