Swimming. A Total Body Workout


Most men have a tendency to turn to the treadmill or the bike for their cardiovascular workout if they aren't already getting it from sports such as football or basketball. Since these machines are readily available in most gyms, it seems like an easy solution. However, if you take a trip to your local pool, you may find a workout that challenges you in a whole new way.

You've probably heard that swimming is great exercise, but you may have never really taken the time to learn how to use it to your advantage.

Here's what you need to know.

types of strokes
The main types of swimming strokes are freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly, and backstroke, with the butterfly being considered the most difficult by far.

Freestyle swimming, also known as the front crawl or Australian crawl, is basically what the name implies. There are no specific limitations on how your arms and legs must move; you just have to be sure to keep one body part above the water at all times (except for the first 15 meters at the beginning and after each turn). This is probably the most suitable style to use if you are just beginning and until you feel comfortable in the water. A 150- to 180-pound male swimming freestyle will burn between 500 calories an hour at a moderate intensity to 700 calories an hour at a high intensity.

The breaststroke, on the other hand, has a more defined pattern of movement. Your shoulders should be kept in line with the water, and your arm and leg movements should be coordinated to push together, performing the same actions. Your arms move out from your chest and around the sides of your body, and then back up along the center again to return to the start position (while your legs mimic the same movement). During the first stroke as well as after a turn, you are allowed one arm stroke and leg kick with your head in the water, but the remainder of the time, your head must stay above it. Swimming for an hour using this stroke will burn about 750 calories.

During the butterfly stroke, your arms move together from behind you, up and out of the water, ending above your head before once again entering the water, while your legs do a dolphin kick. This stroke particularly calls your shoulder muscles into play, so it is recommended for those who are quite developed in this area. Since this is probably the most difficult stroke, it demands the most energy output, and you will expend approximately 800 calories an hour performing it.

Finally, for the backstroke, perform the movement with your back facing the water, moving your arms and legs as you would if you were performing the freestyle stroke, and you will burn around 500 calories an hour. Keep in mind that you must have a fairly good awareness of the position of your body in the pool, as you will not be able to clearly see the wall approaching.

Mastering the technique of each stroke and the health benefits of swimming. Assuming you can perform each stroke for the same amount of time, the butterfly will be your best bet for both fat loss and muscle building. This is because you are burning the greatest number of calories per hour while performing it, making it an efficient way to create the caloric deficit needed for fat loss. It is also the stroke that takes the most muscular power, therefore giving your body the best total strength-training workout.

If building muscle is your primary goal, you may wish to perform this stroke at the highest intensity possible, but for a shorter period of time. That way, you won't expend as many calories (since you need to be in a surplus to build muscle), but you will push yourself hard enough to stimulate muscle growth.

important considerations

Since you are performing this workout in water, there are a few additional considerations. One of the most important aspects of swimming is learning to regulate your breathing; because your head is only above the water at certain moments, you must adapt your breathing to each stroke. Some people will need to practice this before jumping into a workout. If you haven't mastered your breathing rhythm, you will find it difficult to push yourself hard enough to derive benefits, as your muscles need oxygen to perform properly.

It is also critical for you to master the type of stroke you plan on using before trying to swim laps. If you aren't performing it correctly, you will be inefficient and will tire out much more quickly than if you were using the proper technique. If your body is moving in rhythm with a fluid series of actions, you will be able to focus on pushing yourself to get your heart rate up, thus improving your workout.
benefits of swimming

There are many reasons to take your next workout to the pool. First, it is a great cardiovascular exercise. If you push yourself hard enough, swimming can be comparable to -- if not more intense than -- running. Since you use both your upper and lower body to propel yourself through the water, you engage more muscles and burn more calories than with running (during which the upper body doesn't work that much).

In addition, swimming gives you a great strengthening workout. The day after your first serious session in the pool, your upper body will likely be very sore. You will be using muscles in ways you don't normally use them, which will serve to strengthen your whole shoulder girdle as well as your back muscles (particularly your Latissimus Dorsi muscle).

Finally, many people find swimming to be a very good way to relieve stress. It allows you to clear your head so you are not only getting physical benefits, but psychological ones as well.
the equipment

Another great thing about swimming is that it is relatively inexpensive and equipment maintenance is minimal. Obviously, you need a good pair of swimming trunks, preferably ones that don't have a lot of bulk, as this will slow you down in the water.

You may also wish to purchase some goggles to make seeing underwater easier, and earplugs if having water in your ears bothers you.

For those who are focused on speed, a swimming cap may also be desirable, as it will streamline your body and help you move through the water faster.

Find out how to add swimming to your workout, where to swim, and how swimming can help heal injuries

add swimming to your workout

Depending on what your fitness goals are, there are various ways to work swimming into your workout regime. If you are just looking for general fitness and are using swimming as a cardio option, go for a 30- to 45-minute swim at a comfortable pace three to four times a week.

If you are looking to improve your fitness, however, you may wish to perform two of these longer moderately-paced sessions, along with one or two sessions at a higher intensity with some interval work. Approach this in the same manner you would on the treadmill: Swim one lap or a few lengths of the pool at an easier pace, and then swim half a lap or one or two lengths at all-out intensity. This will push your body harder, which will increase your VO2 max and fat-burning efficiency, and help create an anabolic environment similar to strength training (for muscle building).

However, you should supplement your swimming with other forms of exercise or days off in between so you don't risk overtraining.

It is also a good idea to swim on days you aren't strength training, as swimming is quite taxing on the muscles and you may find yourself unable to put in a good session at the gym.

Finally, remember that you don't have to restrict yourself to just one stroke; in fact, a great way to prevent boredom is to mix it up. For example, during your interval workout, use a freestyle stroke for your easier intervals, and then do the butterfly stroke for the "sprint" intervals. This will also engage a greater variety of muscles, thus making your workout more productive.

Where to Swim

For most city dwellers, a pool is the most convenient option. Be sure to choose one that is big enough so you don't spend the majority of your workouts doing turns.

If it's possible for you to swim in an ocean or a lake, your workout will be even better since the waves and currents that are generated add extra resistance. For even more variety, you can swim for a portion of your workout, and then either run under the water or on the beach for the remainder of it. Your run will be more intense on the sand than on a treadmill, as it is an unstable surface that calls upon your balance and coordination to combat its resistance.

swimming to heal injuries

The great advantage swimming has over any other form of exercise is that it is very low impact; therefore, it is great for those who have joint problems, suffer from osteoporosis, or are overcoming an injury. This is great news for those who are heavily involved in sports and training, as one of the biggest concerns regarding injuries is the time it takes to rehabilitate and get back into shape.

Finally, if you participate in sports that are hard on the joints, such as tennis or long-distance running, swimming offers a great cross-training activity that can give your body a break and allow it to recover between your sport-specific training sessions.

swim your way to good shape

Next time you are feeling little motivation to hop on that treadmill for your cardio training, or if you are looking for a low-impact intense form of exercise to keep in shape, give swimming a try.

Provided you take the time to learn the strokes properly and are smart about your training, you will be more than happy with the benefits you reap from this activity.

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Hi dylan, Thanks for the

mallika's picture

Hi dylan,
Thanks for the post. I must say, it's a very creative attempt to turn our daily activity into a healthy outcome. However, I could not learn the swimming, though have given it a try for several times in Above Ground Pool in my friends house. As I enter into the pool, a strange type of fear catches me, I don't know why. Also, there is a thing, regarding going to the swimming pool. Once a while my sister use to go swimming pool, but every time she gets darker skin on the part which are exposed to the water.

And, I can't think of cycling or gym as well, as an alternative exercise, because of my doctor's precaution in my case.

So, I am thinking of going to yoga, as I guess, it doesn't need stressful effort to remain healthy.

Any suggestion will be cherished.

I really love the topic. I

NathanNorris's picture

I really love the topic. I agree with this article. Triathlete Swim Training is really a total body workout. It helps to develop our muscles and nerves. Thanks for sharing this article!

I agree, swimming is really

mervinst's picture

I agree, swimming is really good for the body.

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I'm a regular gym goer, and

mstrunk's picture

I'm a regular gym goer, and upon reading this one, it changed my mind.. Wanted to try swimming for my body workout. Your topic really interests me. Nice tips and guides. Gonna go to my friend's house later to start my swimming workout and his newly installed diving board. Thanks for this one, really! Smiling

Aw, this was a really nice

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