Many of us have locked ourselves in the gym all winter, cycling away in spin class and chaining ourselves to the treadmill. Now that spring is approaching, so is swim season! Swimming is the perfect way to burn fat and build lean muscle while protecting your bones and joints, enjoying the outdoors and working on your tan.
Whether you are a fan of the indoor lap pool at your local health center, or favor your own above-ground swimming pool, cranking out an effective workout is a cinch, requiring little (if any) equipment other than yourself and the water.
Traditional Lap Swimming
A 150-pound swimmer can burn about 500 calories by swimming freestyle laps at a fast pace for 45 minutes. The same swimmer would burn about 355 calories swimming the same stroke for the same amount of time at a moderate or light level. So, it’s easy to see that you control your own workout and therefore, the results you’ll achieve.
One of the factors that make swimming so great is its efficiency. Whether you choose freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly, the body will benefit greatly, as each one works virtually everything from the feet, legs and arms to the back, shoulders and neck. This, combined with the resistance provided by the water builds flexible and lean muscle.
So, you might look or feel a little silly; but who hasn’t had a trainer or coach that’s said, “The more ridiculous you look, the better it’s working?” Aerobic water activities have been unfairly lumped into senior-only workouts, but at a high intensity, water jogging can actually burn more calories than jogging out of water.
Water jogging can be done in deeper water for a completely no-impact workout or in shallow water – perfect for an at-home above ground pool – with little impact on the body. For deep-water jogging, be sure to use a flotation belt and exaggerate the running motions. The water should be deep enough that you will not make any contact with the swimming pool floor. Shallow-water jogging puts very minimal strain on the body. During shallow-water jogging, you should replicate your normal running style.
When it comes to resistance training in the pool, you can really get creative. Invest in simple water dumbbells to do your usual free weight training routine. Grab a beach ball or noodle to do balance and core drills. Do lunges and squats in the shallow end. Also, be sure to integrate the pool (use the ledge) to do exercises such as arm dips and abdominal work.
Any of the above-mentioned workouts can easily integrate interval training, also called high intensity training. What this means is that the intensity level of the activity should change in intervals. For example, when swimming laps swim at full effort for two minutes (or a little less, depending on fitness level). When the two minutes are up, decrease intensity and swim at about 40 percent effort for 60 seconds. The same strategy is also easily applied to water jogging.
Interval intensity will depend on the athlete’s ability level, but can be integrated into any workout – in the swimming pool or out – with the same beneficial results. A McMaster University study showed that those who participated in interval training for 20 minutes saw better results than those who did the same routine without interval intensity for more than double the time.
Jumping into the pool two or three times a week will have you seeing results in no time at all – from inches lost to muscle gained, as well as increased energy. But just because these water workouts are easier on your muscles, bones and joints doesn’t mean you should skip integral components of out-of-water workouts, like warming up, cooling down and stretching.