Why is swimming a good form of exercise?
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.