Swimming: the Perfect Cardiovascular Exercise
So you want to start a regular exercise program. You’re looking for something easy on the joints, easy to do.
C’mon — you’re all wet.
In a good way, that is.
Swimming as a form of cardiovascular exercise might not be your first idea for breaking a sweat, losing weight or working out those muscles, but guess what? It just so happens, it’s the perfect way to do just that.
All you need is a suit, a towel and a pool. You don’t even have to be a member of a health club, although it’s more economical if you are.
"I recommend swimming for anyone," said Drew Miller, a trainer at Gold’s Gym. "You can get some of the best workouts you can find in the pool."
Swimming is an excellent choice for people who haven’t done much exercise in awhile (the technical term is "de-conditioned"), or for pregnant women and seniors, Miller said. But don’t turn your back on swimming if you don’t fall into one of those categories.
"It’s not just for people who haven’t been in the gym for a long time. It’s for anyone."
Because the act of swimming isn’t one that most are used to doing, "you’re not conditioned to it," Miller says. "You don’t swim from your car to the gym — you walk. So, you’re going to burn more calories in the pool than on the treadmill."
Other benefits, Miller says, include learning how to breathe and how to control your breath. It’s also less stressful on your joints and muscles.
"It’s the most aerobic exercise you can do."
So, why don’t more folks dive in?
"People are very self-conscious of their body," Miller says. "They think, ‘I don’t want to get in the pool, not yet. Let me drop 10 to 15 pounds first.’ "
Jad Mahnken, director of aquatics at the Downtown YMCA , agrees that how-I-look-in-a-swimsuit is a big swimming deal breaker, although he’s seen an increase in high school swimmers.
Mahnken says water jogging — jogging in the water with a weight belt on — is taking off nationally in a big way. "But it hasn’t caught up locally, yet."
Swimming is especially good on joints, and respiration-wise, "you can’t get a better workout — you’re practicing breath control."
Mahnken says the very young and the older-than-30 crowd take to the water best. That includes kids in swimming lessons, women in water aerobics classes (although he sees more and more men in those classes) and triathletes in training.
"For the most part, once a child can swim across the pool and back, most parents take them out of swimming lessons, so after the age of 9, the numbers sink down," he said.
You can get your feet wet by starting with a water aerobics class. Ask your club or gym which one is best geared toward your current fitness level. You can start easy, but there are advanced, high-intensity classes and combo-classes, such as water Pilates, that are more challenging.
For some water aerobics class participants, getting wet together has built community.
"It has one of the most empowering community dynamics. What really defines a good class is a good instructor building a community of their class," Mahnken says.
Another swimming benefit: You can forget about no-pain-no-gain.
"With swimming you have none of the pain that running or lifting weights every day can bring you," says Megan Quann Jendrick. Jendrick, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and her husband, Nathan Jendrick, wrote "Get Well, Get Fit: The Complete Guide to Getting a Swimmer’s Body."
If you want to go it on your own with a basic swimming strategy, this book can get you there. It includes training regimens, workouts, drills, a diet plan and tips. The book focuses on perfecting each swimming stroke — freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly — and takes you from beginning to advanced for each stroke.
There also are tips and quotes from other swimming experts and these four essentials to getting started:
1. Understand what your goals are, what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the result you’re going for.
2. Think long-term.
3. Have the right tools. Have your water bottles, swimsuit, cap, goggles and whatever else you’ll need in hand and ready to go.
4. Ignore criticism.