Swimming 101

Swimming 101

An effective way to get fit that’s both easy and challenging

A while back, I spoke with Olympic swimmer Jack Conger, who took home a gold medal in Rio in ‘16 and is hoping to add to that in Tokyo this summer. He talked about the intensity needed to accomplish your fitness goals as an elite athlete. And that determination was put to the test when the pandemic hit. He was lucky enough to have access to his training facility for a while, but eventually he had to switch pools and make due. Never one to give up, he simply took it as an opportunity. “What other sport engages your whole body?” he asked. “From your core to the tips of your finger and toes.” Here’s what you need to to make the water work for your workouts. 

Why You Should:

Like Conger said, swimming works your whole body. So it’s not surprising that as a workout, it’s a serious calorie-burner. Swimming actually burns more calories than jogging. According to Harvard researchers, a 185-pound man would burn 420 calories swimming laps for 30 minutes, compared to the 336 calories you’d burn by jogging for the same amount of time.

What’s more, swimming is gentle enough on the body that you can push yourself in the pool everyday, without risking injury. There’s no joint stress like running or weight training. Need more convincing? One study found that people who regularly swam for their fitness not only lost weight but had reduced risk of heart disease thanks to lower blood pressure, stronger circulation and increased blood flow to the brain.

Looking for a benefit you can recognize immediately? A 2012 study found that 74% of participants had reduced stress after putting in some laps in the pool. 70% said swimming left them mentally refreshed. And anyone who’s jumped into the water knows the relief of being weightless - floating brings a natural sense of ease.

What to Know:

Form is important and will get better the more time you spend in the pool. But something Conger mentioned that often gets overlooked is that it’s best to remain relaxed in the pool. Tense muscles are known to sink in the water while relaxed muscles will help you float like buoys. As you relax, you’ll be able to maintain a neutral position that aligns your head and back and glutes. This not only keeps you parallel to the surface of the water, it also relieves the strain on your neck, helping you swim more gracefully.


Where to Swim:

While most pools may seem the same, there are some key differences that might affect your workout. First, you’ve got the size. Pools are typically short course (25 meters) or Olympic distance (50 meters). The smaller pools are ideal for sprints and interval training, according to Morgan Mabe, a swim coach at New York’s Asphalt Green in New York City. The Olympic-sized pools are better when prepping for longer, open-water swims or endurance races like triathlons.

While there’s not a big difference between indoor or outdoor pools (besides the need for SPF), the water is something that can make a difference. A saltwater pool is an alternative to a traditional chlorine pool, and typically contains 10 times less salt than the ocean. A lot swimmers find this type of pool less harsh on their hair, eyes and skin than the chlorinated pool. 

How to Boost Your Workout:

Just like when you’re working out on dry land, you’ll want to change up your exercises to accelerate results. In order to isolate different muscle groups, a kickboard comes in handy. You can hold it out in front of you to tighten your core while you flutter or dolphin kick. Want a serious ab workout? Switch to a butterfly kick to work both your internal and external obliques. Hold the kickboard tight to your chest so you’re able to really focus on the kick - strengthening the larger muscles of the legs and your glutes.

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