People are constantly seeking ways to lose weight. There are billion-dollar corporations with programs to help. There are hacks and methodologies claiming to cut pounds with little or no effort. The truth of the matter is, however, that diet and exercise are – and will always be – the tried-and-true combination that results in burnt fat and reduced risk of obesity.
When considering specific weight-loss exercises, the pool might not immediately come to mind. Despite being under appreciated, however, swimming is an effective way to trim fat and tone up. It’s also an excellent supplement to other forms of exercise, for individuals who have already achieved a higher level of fitness. Here are some reasons to choose swimming over other workouts:
First, swimming is low impact on your joints. Moving in the water is fluid, eliminating the pounding that occurs when one runs, dances or jumps rope. Plus, when standing chest-deep in the water, the body is 80 percent weightless, leaving less weight to burden your hips, legs and feet. Swimming has little risk of injury, even if practiced on a consistent, daily basis.
Second, unlike other exercises, swimming utilizes all parts of the body. Arms, legs, torso – everything gets a workout. Water is about 800 times denser than air, and will resist every movement; your muscles will put forth extra effort with every push, pull and kick. Certain muscles will work more or less depending on the stroke being performed, but practicing all strokes – breaststroke, backstroke, freestyle and butterfly – will cover it all. Tighter arms, legs, glutes and abs – the pool alone can get you there.
Finally, when one goes to the pool, there are a number of different exercise possibilities. One can practice water aerobics, treading water, aqua jogging and more. These exercises torch calories – you’ll burn about 500 calories/hour swimming – and also provide a full range of motion for arms and legs, which is much harder to achieve on land.
How Do You Get Started?
People often shrug off swimming because gaining access to a pool can be harder than buying a gym membership. Start by finding a local facility.
Next, become familiar with the different strokes:
Freestyle: This is the traditional stroke, the one with which you’re likely most familiar. Face the bottom of the pool. Kick legs in a constant flutter – right, left, right, left. Reach forward with one arm, as if giving the water an above-the-head high five. Pull downward and back toward your body, so you’re propelled forward with your arm stopping to rest against your side. Do it with the other arm, and continue to switch arms. Breathe to the side when the corresponding arm is at rest along your side and the opposite arm is stretched forward.
Backstroke: This is basically inverted freestyle. Flip over and face the ceiling. Flutter kick. Send one arm up past your head, to look as if you’re raising your hand in class. Rotate hand and push downward, bringing your arm back along your side. Do with the other arm. Continue to switch arms.
Breaststroke: You may know this one as froggy style. Position stomach downward, just like freestyle. Your legs will be doing a frog kick – kicking outward in unison and then bringing them back together. Your arms will – also in unison – stretch out in front of you, ending in a streamline. Rotate palms outward and push out in opposite directions. Continue to propel forward by pushing arms almost completely down to your sides. Instead of bringing them to rest on your sides, however, finish the motion by bringing them together below your chin with shoulders up – this is where you take your breath. Restart stroke by forming the streamline once again. Kick when your arms are stretched forward.
Butterfly: Arguably the hardest stroke, butterfly is almost immediately tiresome, especially for beginners. Kick feet upward and downward except, unlike the flutter kick, send them up and down in unison. Meanwhile, take arms, which are at rest along your sides, and – in one tossing motion – bring them out of the water and throw them together in front of you. Propel yourself forward as you bring arms back to resting position at your sides.
Now that you have a better idea of what you’re doing, it’s time to get to it. Be warned: People often underestimate the difficulty of swimming. It’s not like land exercises in that you’re muscles will be working harder and you can’t just breathe whenever. Take it easy when you’re first starting out and don’t forget to bring a water bottle. Even the best on-land athletes can become exhausted quickly when working in the water.
Exercise 1: Get a kickboard and kick four entire lengths of the pool. Don’t stop to rest at the walls until four lengths are complete. While this may seem easy, it’s an effective way to adjust to the foreign feel of swimming. Cutting through water is different than cutting through air, and using a kickboard will allow you to breathe easy while getting used to it.
Exercise 2: Once you’re comfortable kicking, add your arms into the equation. Aim to swim four lengths of the pool with minimal rest at the walls. Rest one minute, then repeat five to 10 times. Don’t worry about adhering to specific strokes; do what is most comfortable. It will likely be uncomfortable at first, as oxygen is limited and coordinating arms and legs is strange. Before moving on to longer distances, faster speeds and more technical strokes, become acclimated to breathing while swimming.
Exercise 3: Aim to swim four laps freestyle, with minimal rest at the walls, in a predetermined amount of time. Set a challenging interval, one that will have you breathing heavily when finished. Rest one minute. Add 30 seconds to your interval and swim four more laps. Rest again and repeat once more, again adding 30 seconds.
As you advance, get creative with strokes, intervals and distance combinations. Before you know it, you’ll be a trim, lean, swimming machine.