The Benefits of Swimming: A Guide for Beginners
As a low-impact workout that torches calories and builds endurance, the benefits of swimming are hard to beat. Get tips to start your own swim exercise routine.
What Makes Swimming a Great Workout?
No matter what life throws at her, Jessica Stacy makes time for swimming as often as she can. A competitive swimmer throughout high school and college, she has no interest in “hanging up her suit.” Instead, she swims regularly as a member of her local US Masters Swimming club. While Stacy appreciates the health benefits of swimming as a low-impact workout, what really gets her back in the water day after day is the way it makes her feel: “For me, the nature of water is soothing. It feels instantly refreshing.”
But you don’t have to be an experienced athlete to enjoy swimming. Just like with any workout, talk to your physician first before you incorporate swimming into your fitness routine to see if it’s a good choice for you. Here are some of Stacy’s favorite benefits of swimming that keep her going back to the water:
Burn more calories with less impact. For a typical adult, a half hour of swimming laps can burn serious calories — much like any aerobic exercise. But unlike running and many other strenuous workouts, swimming is low-impact on your body. Since the water supports your weight, it minimizes pressure and stress on your joints and any tender areas. When Stacy needs a workout that’s highly efficient with low risk of injury, swimming is hard to top.
Get a full-body workout. From backstroke to freestyle, butterfly to dog paddle, swimming is a total-body workout that involves every major muscle group. The water adds resistance to your movements even as it supports some of your weight, which can help you build more muscle compared to other low-impact exercises. While your arms and legs work to keep you moving, swimming also works your back, shoulders and core muscles. What’s more, the low-impact nature of swimming can encourage people to swim longer and build good fitness habits more easily, which makes it a great choice for those who are just starting to exercise.
Build aerobic endurance. Sure, swimming keeps your muscles busy — but it’s a great workout for your cardiovascular system as well. A vigorous swim can get your heart rate up just like going for a brisk run, while the increased humidity around pools and bodies of water can also help alleviate symptoms for those with allergies or asthma. Over time, swimming for exercise may even lead to increased lung capacity and better overall aerobic performance.
Boost your healing, and even prevent injury. While it provides gentle resistance, water creates buoyancy that makes swimming and other water-based forms of exercise ideal for those who are coping with injury or pain. Some experts recommend swimming to help alleviate symptoms from arthritis and other chronic conditions, or for people recovering from injuries. As it helps to build muscle and increase flexibility with minimal pressure, regular swimming may even help protect you from strain or injury over time.
Stacy has experienced this first-hand, having incorporated swimming into her healing routine after an injury and even while recovering from surgery. Since swimming is easier on your joints and bones than other workouts, Stacy finds she can get back in the water sooner than she can return to other forms of exercise: “Swimming gives me access to movement, to getting my strength back, which helps me feel hopeful and stay motivated through the healing process. I was able to heal faster and return to form sooner.”
Relieve stress — and maybe even make new friends. Once she’s in the water, Stacy feels the stressors and distractions of everyday life float away: “You can zone in on your movement and your breathing, and zone out of everything else. It’s such a break because you’re entering a different element. It’s cold in the beginning so it wakes up my nervous system, gets my blood circulating and all my muscle groups working.”
From the outside looking in, going for a swim might look like a pretty solitary endeavor. But for Stacy and many others, the supportive community they find provides even more benefits to swimming. As a member of a swimming club, Stacy cherishes the friends and mentors she’s met who inspire her to do her best each time she gets in the water: “It’s so inspiring to go to these meets and see people in such a healthy enterprise. We’re all just so thankful to be able to still use our skills and make all these friends.”
Before You Dive In: Tips for Novice Swimmers
For beginners — or anyone who’s not accustomed to being in the water — swimming can seem intimidating at first. Stacy has some tips for those who are new to swimming, and some words of encouragement: “If you’re a swimmer, you’re a swimmer for life, because that skill doesn’t go away once you have the basics.”
Ready to Reap the Benefits of Lap Swimming Yourself? Your Questions, Answered.
How do I start exercising through swimming? If you’re an inexperienced swimmer, most experts strongly advise starting with some professional swim instruction for safety reasons. Says Stacy, “No matter what age you are, it’s good to seek instruction, because you’re putting yourself into a foreign element.” A swimming class, or a few lessons with a swim instructor, can help you learn water safety and basic swimming skills. Once you’re confident in the fundamentals of swimming, says Stacy, “you can build on that however you choose, whether you stick to the basics or go on to learn more advanced strokes.”
How can I find a place to swim, or a swim instructor, near me? It may take a little research, but most areas in the US will have some local resources for new swimmers — from kids to teens and even adults and seniors. Try searching online through portals like the [US Master’s Swimming website] [LINK: https://www.usms.org/alts/altsinstrsearch.php] or the [Red Cross] [LINK: https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/swimming] for pools, clubs and classes near you.
What should I bring to the pool?
Another benefit of swimming for exercise is that it doesn’t require a ton of equipment, clothes or tools. Of course, you’ll need a swimsuit that’s made for active swimming; it should fit close to the body to minimize drag from the water, and it shouldn’t slide around or bunch up.
In addition to a bathing suit and a towel, it’s a good idea to have:
• A swim cap: Stacy recommends a swim cap to protect your hair and minimize drag, whether your hair is long or short.
• Optional swimming accessories and tools: Some beginners like to use a kickboard, fins or other swim tools to build their confidence in the water.
How many laps is equal to one mile? One lap in a swimming pool is equal to two lengths of the pool, which means one trip across the length of the pool and then back again. If you’re swimming in a 50-meter pool, one mile is just over 16 laps — 16.1 laps to be exact, or 32.2 times the length of the pool.
Ready to get your feet wet? Browse adidas for swimsuits for men and women, plus swimming accessories to help you as you master the deep.
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