Swimming for fitness & health

Posted: 11th Aug 2016

Category: Swimming


Swimming or aquatic activities can offer so many benefits. This is because if you decide to opt for aquatic exercise, whether that’s from pure swimming to aqua aerobics you have to enter a totally different environment. Being submerged in water requires your heart and lungs to work harder before you have even begun to exercise as they have to overcome the additional pressure placed on the body by the water.

Despite this and the great benefits aquatic exercise brings I regularly get asked while it is that when people swim they don’t feel the benefit. People often tell me they find swimming hard but it doesn’t make them out of breath in same way other exercise does and it doesn’t make them feel like they have done a proper work out. This is normally down to one of two things:

  1. Swimming technique. If you have poor technique this will hold you back to some extent as it stops you from really pushing yourself. The main issue is normally around the breathing technique. Not being able to breathe can be particularly problematic as the need to take a breath interrupts the flow of the stroke and creates a series of pauses mid length. This means you never really get to point where your heart and lungs are working long enough for you to feel the benefit.
  2. Lack of muscular endurance. This is very unique to swimming, so even if you work out in the gym and generally have good muscular endurance you may still struggle in the swimming pool. A lack of muscular endurance will hold you back from the point where you are heart and lungs are working for you to fell the benefit. In past I have spoken to people that have found there arms and shoulders in particular ache after a swim session and it is for this very reason.

So what can you do about this and get to a point where you can reap the benefits of aquatic exercise?

Well if your technique is what is holding you back then why not book yourself some swimming lessons? Many people think that swimming lessons are just for people who can’t swim, but they aren’t. Many pools run adult group lessons for swimmers that simply want to improve and some swimmers that attend lessons are actually quite advanced swimmers. Improving your swimming in group lessons can be a great way to meet new people and stay motivated.

If building muscular endurance is something you need to do then the best way to build the specific muscular endurance associated with swimming is to stick with it and swim. After five to six weeks of regularly swimming you will start to build the muscles needed to push yourself and improve your cardio fitness. Bear in mind it will take several more weeks before you feel the cardio benefit but stick with it as there’s nothing quite like being swimming fit.

If you are one those people that find your arms and shoulders aching very quickly or soon into your swimming session, then don’t focus of trying to swim fast or to push yourself to the point where you get out of breath. If you do this, all that will happen is your arms and shoulders will tire very quickly and way before you really feel out of breath. Instead focus on swimming slow and steady the slower the better and focus on having good stroke technique and form. This will let your muscles get used to swimming and allow you to pace the session out so the muscles get the repetitiveness they need to build muscular endurance before they become too tired. Once your muscles start to become used to swimming you can then begin to push the speed and effort levels up over the weeks that follow.

Finally if you do choose to swim more, then don’t fall into the same trap that many other do. I often see swimmers come to pools day after day and week after week, and do exactly the same at every session taking exactly the same amount of time. You wouldn’t do this if you visited the gym, you would change it up so do the same when to exercise in the swimming pool. There are so many ways to mix up swimming for fitness and work different area’s of your body or different forms of fitness. Don’t just keep swimming length after length after length; here are a few ways to mix it up:

  • Why not break the number of lengths you want to down into smaller intervals with rest periods in between.
  • Add some equipment such as kick boards to isolate your legs, using fins/flippers to stress the legs, or hand paddles to stress the arms.
  • Don’t just plod along unless there is a reason to do so. Try to mix up the pace, some sessions can be short and intense or can be steady paced or you can do a mix of both.
  • If you do just want to count lengths then aim to do more each session or same but in less time.

 Let us know how you get on, we would love to hear about your achievements!