Fitness Basics: Swimming Is for Everyone
No pain, plenty of gain from water workouts
Angela Lane has great memories of swimming during her childhood, spending
endless summer days at the pool to find refuge from the Arkansas heat. She
became a lifeguard as a teen, and she swam for fitness during high school and
Two years ago, things were different. At age 31, Lane weighed 200 pounds.
She hadn't been in a pool for more than 10 years.
She began a weight loss program, and started to think about exercising
"People would tell me, 'You need to run or walk,' but when I tried that, my
ankles and knees hurt," she says. "When I finally realized I needed to
exercise, I said, 'OK, what do I like?' because if you like it, you're going to
do it more."
She took to the pool. Her first goal was completing just one lap.
"Each week, I would get stronger and stronger," says Lane. "Swimming really
began to strengthen, condition, and tone my body without those harsh, jarring
effects of some of those other exercise programs."
Lane, a makeup artist in Little Rock, Ark., didn't realize how much swimming
was helping her until she took a business trip: "I was running through the
airport with my carry-on bag and I started to think, 'Wow, this is
Easy on the Body
Exercise physiologist Robert A. Robergs says swimming is a good fitness
choice for just about everyone, especially those who have physical limitations
or who find other forms of exercise painful.
"It is a good, whole-body exercise that has low impact for people with
arthritis, musculoskeletal, or weight limitations," says Robergs, director of
the exercise physiology laboratories at The University of New Mexico in
Water's buoyancy accommodates the unfit as well as the fit. Water cushions
stiff joints or fragile bones that might be injured by the impact of land
exercises. When immersed to the waist, your body bears just 50% of its weight;
immersed to the chest, it's 25%-35%; and to the neck, 10%.
Athletes use water to rehabilitate after injury or to cross-train. People
with arthritis or other disabilities use water to improve fitness and range of
motion and to relieve pain and stiffness.
"Swimming is also desirable for people with exercise-induced asthma," says
Robergs, "as the warm, humid air [around the pool] causes less irritation to
Not only is swimming easy on the body, it's a great way to get fit,
according to Tay Stratton, head swim coach at the Little Rock Athletic
Swimming recruits all the major muscle groups, including the shoulders,
back, abdominals, legs, hips, and glutes, she says. And because water affords
12 times the resistance as air in every direction, it really helps to build
strength, she says.