Fitness Basics: Swimming Is for Everyone
No pain, plenty of gain from water workouts
Fitness Benefits continued...
"It's cardiovascular and strengthening at the same time, and not many
workouts have that," says Stratton.
But can swimming help you lose weight?
There are some questions about how efficiently swimming burns calories, says
"Research done on swimming showed that weight loss seemed more difficult,"
he says. "The theory is that the water submersion initiates a complex [nerve
pathway] to lower metabolic rate." And with a lower metabolic rate, the body
uses fewer calories to maintain normal function.
While Robergs says these explanations need further research, Stratton says
swimming can be a boon for weight loss -- if you follow the same principles as
with any other exercise, and challenge yourself.
For weight loss, Stratton recommends interval training, in which you push
yourself hard for short spurts, and then drop back to a less-intense level of
"If you don't do interval training, it's just as if you're doing a slow
walk," Stratton says.
Sue Nelson, aquatic program specialist for USA Swimming in Colorado Springs,
Colo., has many success stories of obese clients who lost weight after they
began working out in the water.
One man was 500 pounds, had rheumatoid arthritis, and had to quit work
because he couldn't get around.
"He went from a wheelchair to a walker to crutches to a cane to nothing by
working out in the water," says Nelson. "He became one of my employees and lost
over 250 pounds."
How to Get Started
If you're ready to get started, experts recommend getting a swim coach or
joining a masters swimming group in your area. Don't be intimidated by the
name; 'masters' just means over age 20.
Masters swimming accommodates all levels, from beginners to advanced, and
you don't have to want to compete to join. This type of group supports
recreational swimming for fitness, and is a great way to learn technique --
which is everything in swimming.
Getting the rhythm of the strokes and the breath can be overwhelming at
first. Coaches break it down and take you there slowly, practicing one part at
If you're a beginner, start slowly. Try to swim for 10 minutes. Build up to
a 30-minute workout, three to five times a week. Include a warm-up and a
cool-down, and, in the middle, challenge yourself by working on endurance,
stroke efficiency, or speed.
"I really encourage [new swimmers] not to get frustrated," says Stratton.
"Swimming takes a long time. We're land-based; the water feels so foreign to
There's more than one way to tackle swimming. Before you feel comfortable
putting your face in the water, you can practice drills with a kickboard, or
even walk the length of the pool.
In fact, Nelson recommends that beginners start with vertical
strength-training exercises in the pool. That means things like walking or
jogging a length of the pool in waist-deep water, or doing some strengthening
by sinking in up to the neck.
"Instead of swimming with improper technique," says Nelson, "we want to get
them vertical to strengthen their core before they put their face in the
A comfortable swimsuit and a pair of goggles are all you need to start, say
experts. You can even wait on the goggles if you're not ready to put your face
in the water yet.