Though it’s sometimes overlooked in a world obsessed with the latest gym equipment, swimming is a stellar way to give your whole body an invigorating workout while building cardiovascular health and endurance. Whether it’s a power workout in an Olympic-size swimming pool, a refreshing dip in backyard above ground pools or a quick getaway to a lap pool, swimming is a great way to have fun, stay cool and get healthy.
Cardio Swimming Basics
The goal of a cardiovascular exercise regimen is to increase the strength and endurance of your heart. Aim for 3 to 5 cardio workouts per week, each lasting between 20 and 60 minutes. You can swim for all of your workouts or cross-train by swimming some days and using a different cardiovascular exercise, such as jogging, running or an elliptical trainer, on other days.
For maximum benefit, maintain a heart rate of 60% to 80% of your maximum heart rate, which you can find by subtracting your age from 220. You can then find your target heart rate by multiplying your maximum heart rate by 60% and 80%, and aiming for a heart rate in-between the two numbers.
Start each workout by swimming slowly for 5-10 minutes in order to warm up your muscles and gradually raise your heart rate to your target range. Swimming continuous slow freestyle laps is a great warm-up. When you reach the end of your workout, don’t stop suddenly, as a rapidly dropping heart rate can cause light-headedness or dizzy spells. Instead, cool down by spending about 5 minutes swimming slow laps to let your heart rate gradually drop below your target range.
There are a variety of swimming strokes you can use for an effective cardio workout. All of them will raise your heart rate and promote cardiovascular health, but varying your strokes can help you balance which muscle groups you’re exercising, as each stroke works a different set of muscles. Swimming freestyle or backstroke will work your quads and hamstrings, while the breaststroke is good for toning your inner thighs. The butterfly stroke provides an excellent ab workout, while also building lung capacity.
A basic swimming workout involves picking one stroke and swimming a certain number of laps continuously, such as 10 times back and forth. Switch strokes between sets to keep your exercise balanced. For a more interesting workout, you may want to try interval training. Alternate sets of fast laps with sets of slow laps, say five of each, then repeat with different strokes. Interval training raises your heart rate toward the top of your comfort zone during the fast laps, then gives you a chance to recover during the slow laps. This cycle builds your heart’s strength and improves recovery time.
Pool Types and Swimming Workout Equipment
Once you’ve got a pool, all you need for a good swimming workout is a swimsuit. That said, there are a few pieces of equipment that can improve your swimming experience or even help you focus your workout on different parts of your body.
A good mask or pair of goggles is helpful for keeping water out of your eyes. In a public pool, goggles will also help you keep an eye on your lane line so that you don’t veer aside and bump into other swimmers.
A kickboard is a flat piece of foam with a somewhat hydrodynamic shape. Stretch your arms out to full length and hold one end of the kickboard with both hands to keep your front afloat and practice swimming using only your legs. Using a kickboard will strengthen your legs as well as allowing you to focus on your kicking technique.
To put the focus on your arms and hands, you can use a piece of equipment called a pull buoy. A pull buoy is a piece of foam about a foot long whose ends are roughly shaped like a figure-eight. Hold the pull buoy in-between your thighs to keep your legs afloat in order to swim without kicking. Swimming with a pull buoy is a great workout for your arms.
Various styles of pool will also have an impact on how you swim. In-ground pools are usually divided into lanes marked with lines on the bottom of the pool. Lap pools are long, skinny pools that are usually only one lane wide. Swimming back and forth once is considered a lap, and public pools will usually have one or more lanes marked off for lap swimming.
Above groundpools are usually round and fairly shallow. Swim around the circumference a few times clockwise, then switch directions and swim a few times counterclockwise to keep your workout even.