Swimming is a spectacular cardio workout that builds endurance, flexibility, and strength. Water provides constant resistance -- about 12% to 14% more than you get on land -- so your muscles get a major workout. It also keeps you cool, so you can exercise longer without getting tired or overheated. Buoyancy means no pounding or jarring.
Most strokes target multiple muscles at once. Kicking fires up your legs. “Even the push off the wall is a strengthening exercise. It works the lower legs really well,” says competitive swimmer and certified trainer Kim Evans. Want a stronger core? Focus on the breaststroke or butterfly. Looking for upper body strength? Try freestyle or the backstroke.
To score big gains, try to swim at least twice a week and follow these tips from Evans:
Think turtle, not hare. Swimming is hard, especially in the beginning. “Going slow is fine,” Evans says. It’s better to nail down your form before bumping up your speed or distance.
Try to swim one length of the pool (with good form). Then work up to two, three, and so on, Evans says. “When you can do about 200 meters or eight lengths without stopping, then you can move on to different speeds.”
Try work-rest intervals. Swim for a few minutes or a few laps, then rest and repeat. Shoot for a total workout of 45 to 60 minutes or 1,500 to 2,000 meters.
Perfect your form. The better your form, the easier it is to swim. The happy result: You’ll last longer.
Try to relax your body. If you tighten up, you’ll sink too low in the water. Keep your hips up near the surface. Streamline your stroke and be efficient in the water. Focus on lengthening each stroke. Reach out and grab the water, then pull it past you.
For freestyle and the backstroke, rotate your body as you stretch out your arm. For the breaststroke and butterfly, use a fluid motion and engage your core.
Get the right gear. Here are some accessories you might find handy for your swim workout:
Goggles They protect your eyes and make seeing underwater easier. They don’t have to be expensive. Just be sure they fit snugly and don’t leak.
Swimsuit Save the bikini or swim trunks for the beach. When swimming for fitness, wear a suit that’s comfortable and designed for swimming.
Kickboard Try a kickboard to stay afloat as you focus on your legs or your breathing.
Pull buoy Place a pull buoy between your legs to stay afloat while targeting your upper body.
Fins Wearing fins can help you perfect the flick at the end of your kick and work your legs harder.
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