Swimming is great for cardio fitness, good for breathing technique (eg asthma) and from a Physiotherapist perspective I find swimming is good for managing common types of back problems (like lumbar disc bulge)
From a strength training point of view, swimming is an extension based exercise program and works your bottom muscles which helps with core stability and pelvic stability.
What kind of person is it good for?
Swimming is the kind of exercise that is suitable for many people from all walks of life. The buoyancy of the water is good for rehabilitation of various forms of injuries including people with weight problems. For example, if you’re obese and have joint issues, the buoyancy of the water takes the pressure off the joints and will assist with easier movement. In addition, the heat from the water itself helps assists with joint stiffness which will make swimming easier and enjoyable.
What’s a good routine to start with?
A good routine is to not overdo it, walk up and down the pool, get used to the feeling of the water around you. The first time you swim, put a buoy between your legs and only use your arms to swim, This will give you support so it is not as much work the first time around. Start with one lap and see how your body feels. It doesn’t matter if that’s all you do that day, as you get better, you will become more comfortable and you can start increasing the number of laps over time.
How many laps should you aim for/how to build up?
If you haven’t done much swimming before or if this is your first time (aside from the swimming lessons) and also depending on your fitness level, start by walking up and down the pool just so you can get used to being in the water and the pressure of the water around you. Build up to swimming in the slow lane until you feel comfortable. Once you got the swimming technique right, you can start doing one lap slowly and continuously without struggling for breath. If you can do a lap without stopping and you’re not out of breath, start with another lap and see how you go. Listen to your body. Don’t go all out – less is more. Don’t shock your body, enjoy the motion and the breathing. Relax and just let your body dictate as to what’s comfortable.
How do you warm up properly for swimming?
To warm up properly for swimming, you need to activate the muscles that you use for swimming.
Below are the exercises I’d recommend before you jump in the pool.
Push up exercise against the wall – great shoulder blade control creates the base for your upper body movements and the power and speed phase of your swimming.
Single arm push ups against the wall.
Stand with one hands on the wall just below shoulder height.
Hold your shoulder blade back and up a little bit.
This activates the major stabilisers of the shoulders, the upper trapezius muscles.
Lower yourself down towards the wall, using the elbows only.
Hold for 3 sec, then rise back up again.
Repeat 8-10 times at least twice a week
Bridging – single leg bridging is important for activating the glutes which is used for when you kick.
Lie on your back, with both knees bent. Lift one leg up in the air.
Using the leg that remains on the ground, lift your bottom up and hold for 3 seconds, then lower the bottom down.
Repeat 10 times on each leg.
Do this at least two to three times per week.
Direct control of the lower back – having good control of the lower back not only reduces the risk of back injury, but also works together with pelvic stability to maintain the pelvis as the stable base around while you’re swimming.
Come onto all fours again.
Make a small arch in the back and squeeze your lower back muscles together. (This will activate the multifidus muscle).
Keeping this muscle contracted, lift one arm up, hold for 3 seconds, then lower the arm down.
Repeat 8 times on each side at least twice a week.
Squats– Quadriceps (the muscles at the front of the thighs) are extremely important muscles for walking, getting up and down off the ground and being able to walk up and down hill as well as for swimming.
Stand with your back to the wall, with your feet out away from the wall about 30 centimetres.
Lower your body down, until your knee are bend to about 45 deg, keeping your back against the wall.
Hold for 5 seconds and then return up.
Calf strength– The calf muscles are important for propulsion and one of the major stabilizing muscles of the foot. Weakness of these muscles means slower reactions to the change in surface on uneven ground, which can be trained.
Stand up next to the wall, hands up against the wall for balance.
Lift your heels up off the ground to come up onto your toes and hold for 5 seconds, then lower the heels down.
Make sure all these muscles are switched on before you start your swimming routine as these are all your propulsion muscles for swimming effectively and efficiently.
How often do you need to swim?
Like any exercise program 2-3 sessions per week is most ideal because resting is just as important as the activity itself. Allow your body and muscles to recover. A day or two of rest in between sessions would be most beneficial for long term enjoyment and better outcomes.
The most common problem I see when doing an assessment with women for the first time is that usually, most women are just not strong enough, especially in all the stabilising muscles, that keeps them up straight and are the base of all major movements in the body. Doing strength based work is usually not a very “girly” thing to do, and cardio is where women start, and lots of it.
The limiting factor that stops people achieving their results is almost always initially poor strength. Women usually have poor strength in their gluteus maximus (their buttock muscles), which is one of the major muscles that keeps you up straight and is the major propulsion muscle when walking, jumping and especially when running up and down hills.
Women usually have weakness in the major stabilisers of the lower back, the core stabilisers (transversus abdominus) and the direct stabilisers of the lumbar spine, the multifidus muscle, which means back pain and injury.
Women are weak in the small muscles of the feet, the calf muscles and the stabilisers of the feet and the direct support muscles of the arch of the foot, the tibialis posterior muscle, which mean they develop shin splints when starting a running program.
And weakness in the shoulders, in particular the stabilisers of the shoulder blades, the serratus anterior and upper trapezius muscles. These muscles control the posture of the upper half of the body and stop you from slouching and set the shoulders and arms to work in the best position possible, but women do not usually work on these muscles because they do not want to develop big, manly arms. But this won’t happen. Working on the stabilising muscles not only gives women the shapely arms and legs that they are after, which really stands out even more when your posture improves, but this is base that you need to develop first before you start your cardio program.
The ideal program should begin with working on the strength of your major stabilising muscles for at least 6 weeks. This gives you a good base of strength that protects your joints and muscles and allows you to begin your cardio program with a great foundation. Pilates is a great way of working on these muscles, but the program should always be tailored to your needs and monitored to be effective and achieve the results you are after, doing a large group class is not the same. 2 -3 times a week for strengthening is enough, more is not better.
The rest is just as important and the times you exercise. When you exercise, you put strain on the muscles and tendons, which is normal. You body then needs to repair this and make you stronger to allow you to cope with adapt the larger loads and this takes rest. Lack of rest between sessions means that you do not allow this process to occur and may even cause more damage. The in between days are then great days to do cardio work, because it is not the same type of training, it still allows this process to occur.
With patience, and consistently and not over doing it, the results will come. Although it always seems like forever, when you look back over a 3 month period, you’d be surprise how quickly the changes to occur and different you look at the end of the process, achieving your results. Over the years, I have seen many women start off the goal of losing weight in the short term, but continue for the long term, their body shape would change and they would achieve goals they could only dream of, such as starting to run half marathons or trekking through south America and much more.
Golf game, tennis or swimming not as good as it can be ? 5 Pilates moves you can do at home to boost your performance
Can’t hit your golf ball as far as you would like? Can’t hit the tennis ball over the net as fast as you need to ? Is swimming more of an effort than it needs to be ? As a senior physiotherapist having worked in Pilates for 13 years and seen many recreational and professional athletes, there are some simple and common physical weaknesses that you can easily work on at home that makes the difference between great performance and struggling to get through the game or training. These are my favourite 5 home based Pilates exercises you can do at home, to really get your best performance
Bridging – Pelvic or SIJ instability is one of the most common problems I see in both young and older athletes and players. Pelvic instability causes pain in the bottom due to weakness of the gluteus maximus muscle that supports holding the pelvis upright on the hip bones when walking, running and especially to keep the hips stable when swinging a golf club. Try the following exercise to get you started. Lie on your back, with both knees bent. Lift one leg up in the air only. Lift your bottom up using the leg that is on the ground only and hold for 3 sec, then lower the bottom down
Core stability training – Working on your core is not only important to protect your back, but is also important for keeping the back stable on the pelvis when swinging the golf club or when swimming freestyle. Lie on your back, with the knees bent. Draw your lower stomach below your belly button in gently only. Holding this contraction, lift one leg off the bed, then lower it down, then repeat on the other side
Calf strengthening – The calf muscles are important for propulsion and one of the major stabilizing muscles of the foot. Weakness of these muscles means slower reactions to the change in surface on uneven ground, which can be trained. Stand up next to the wall, hands up against the wall for balance. Lift one foot off the ground. With the foot that is on the ground, lift your heel up off the ground to come up onto your toes and hold for 5 seconds, then lower the heel down
Squats – Quadriceps (the muscles at the front of the thighs) are extremely important muscles for walking, getting up and down off the ground and being able to walk up and down hills. Weakness in these muscles not only leads to slower running, but increased risk of the most common knee injury, knee cap pain (patella-femoral joint irritation). Stand with your back to the wall, with your feet out away from the wall about 30 centimetres. Lower your body down, until your knee are bend to about 45 deg, keeping your back against the wall. Hold for 5 seconds and then return up
Standing on one leg – When you walk you spend 80% of your time standing on one leg and running requires standing on one leg 100% of the time, so it is a very important skill to have. Stand in a door frame and hold onto the door frame with your hands. This will give you support. Lift one leg off the ground, then let go of one hand, then the other hand (but keep them close to the door frame for support if needed). Start by maintaining this one legged stance for 5 sec, then 10 seconds, then up to 60 second when confident. You can also slowly take your hands further away from the door frame as you become more confident
These 5 simple Pilates exercises are a great start and foundation to a practical and targeted home exercise program that will translate into real results in your sport.
Dead lifts are a more direct, gym based exercise that aims to work the multifidus during movement. The multifidus muscle needs to stabilise the lower back so that the major gluteal muscle (gluteus maximus) allows you to bend and lift. These 2 muscles work hand in hand in many major movements, such as sitting to standing, doing squats and walking up stairs.
Come up next to the bar and grip onto the bar just past waist width apart.
To lift the bar up, begin by doing the following
Bring your shoulder blade back and up just a little bit (although this is mainly a back exercise, it is important to set your shoulders up properly before lifting)
Bend your knees so that the bar begins just above your knees
Before lifting, squeeze your back muscles together to switch on multifidus (as previously described). Make sure you keep your back straight, and lift the bar using your gluteals
Keeping multifidus on, by continuing to squeeze the back muscle, and your knees a little bit bent, allow the bar to slide down the thighs until you feel a pull in the back of your thighs (hamstrings).
Keeping your back straight, using your gluteals, tuck your bottom in and allow the bar to slide back up your thighs to the starting position.
If you feel this exercise in your back at any stage, either the weight is too heavy for your gluteals and multifidus or the technique is not correct. You should be able to maintain contraction of multifidus throughout this exercise. If you can not, don’t slide the bar down the thighs as much when performing the exercise or reduce the weight or both.
Triathlon, both the events, but especially the training, puts an enormous load on all the major joints of the upper and lower body. In particular, the lower back, pelvis and hips struggle to cope with the repeated, constant loads placed on these joints and can break down leading to both short term, but more commonly, long term injury.
As a physiotherapist, seeing a common range of injuries with triathletes for the last 17 years, the most common being lower back disc bulges, pelvic instability and tears to the lining of the hip joints. The best protection you can give your joints to prevent or at least minimise the injuries to these joints is to improve your ability to control your core and improve its endurance.
Pilates is a great tool to work on your core stability, especially reformer based Pilates, which I have been using for 13 years, however, the choice of exercises needs to be specific and targeted for the best results, just like any form of training. Tailored Pilates exercises are always the best, however, here are 3 Pilates exercises you can do at home to improve your core stabilisers to get you started.
Basic exercise for Transversus Abdominis
This is a great exercise for working on core stability that does not put excessive load on the lower back and is safe for most athletes.
Lie on your back with your knees bent
Draw you stomach muscles in, just below the belly button (This activates the transversus abdominis). The client should be able to maintain a small arch in their back (This is important, because flattening the back activates the power muscles, and actually inhibits the transversus abdominis muscle from working)
Lift your leg into the air, take it out straight and then out to the side, maintaining control of the transversus abdominis muscle.
When you feel the abdominal muscles bulge, instead of that drawing in action, the client has lost clomid control and that’s where you should limit the exercise for the client (eg if they lose control when taking the leg out to the side, stop at that point, don’t make the exercise any more complex)
To add complexity, lift the arms up into the air. As you take the leg out straight and out to the side, lift the arms over the head.
To make the exercise harder, place a weight into the hands. This increases the load on the transversus abdominis without adding too much strain on the lower back
Superman – Hip Extension in 4 point kneel
This is a more direct exercise for the multifidus muscle, the direct stabiliser of the lumbar spine. You will still use transversus abdominis during this exercise; however the main focus is multifidus
Start the exercise on your hands and knees in 4 point kneel
Make a small arch in the lower back, and squeeze the back muscles together in the lower back (This will be a sensation more than a movement and you should be able to feel these muscles become bigger and tighter) This is activation of the multifidus muscle.
Draw your stomach muscles in below your belly button to activate transversus abdominus and lift your leg straight up into the air. Hold for 5 secs, then bring it back down again.
To make the exercise harder, take the leg out to the side as well and hold for 5 seconds.
To further progress this exercise, lift the opposite arm straight up into the air at the same time.
If you feel that the client can not maintain activation of the multifidus muscle during any of these exercises, the exercise is too hard, so go back to the previous level of the exercise (eg if the client can not maintain activation of multifidus when lifting the arm in the air, stick to just using the leg only.
During pregnancy, most women develop a split in their abdominal muscles. Sit-ups increase the abdominal pressure and encourage the split between the abdominal muscles, making the recovery of these muscles after childbirth slower and problematic.
Sit ups do NOT strengthen the core stabilisers. It does NOT work the core stabilisers, the transversus abdominus and multifidus. These muscles need to be trained to help with the recovery of the split in the abdominal muscles.
Sit ups is a dynamic exercise, specifically training the prime movers which often inhibits the activity of the core stabilisers from working. Without the strong base of core stability, sit ups can cause back pain, as it puts extra pressure on the discs of the lower back. It also increases the risk of injuring the discs and causing long term lower back pain.