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What You Need to Know About Swimming for Exercise

What You Need to Know About Swimming for Exercise

Swimmers know that this time of year, during the post-Olympic glow, is when the local lap lanes become a whole lot more crowded.

With a brand new swimsuit, goggles in hand, and stomach bursting with pride and motivation after watching the top swimmers in the world race over the course of a week, an intrepid wave of new and returning swimmers head to their local lap swims to take on the sport of swimming.

For some, watching the Olympics has gotten them excited to get back into the water, while for others, it’s their first foray into organized swimming.

You have a few different options for what to do:

  • Hit up the local lap swim. Almost every neighborhood pool has scheduled lap swims scattered over the course of the day. Late afternoon is typically one of the harder times to get pool time, as club teams, lessons, and other aquatic programs like synchro take advantage of the after-school hours to schedule programming. Swimming at your own pace is fun and safe in terms of the challenge. You can progress at your own pace, although the big limitation is that with no one to instruct you, there are some technical improvements to be missed out on.
  • Join a local club team. USA Swimming has nearly 3,000 club teams spread across the United States, so if you are a kid and you are looking to get competitive with the sport, you can start here by searching for a team in your area.
  • Sign up with a Masters team. There are heaps of benefits of swimming masters — they take everyone from newbies to former Olympians, meaning that whether you are dipping in for the first time or getting back into your age group hero days, there is a lane for you. You can learn more about whether there is a club near you here.

Building a Swim Workout

Assuming that you want to get a few sessions in on your own or you want to supplement the swimming workouts you are already getting, here is how to build your own swim workout.

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There are 4 parts to your typical swimming workout.

  1. The warm-up. If you have worked out in any capacity at any point in your life, you know the purpose behind this. Start with a low intensity to loosen up the arms and legs. How much you want to do varies with the workout at hand, but devote 20% of your total workout time. Throw in a bunch of kick work — it will really help increase your core temperature.
  2. Drill/Pre-set. Here is where we set the stage for the main set that is to come. Feeling loosey goosey, we escalate the intensity and attention to technique. Alternating efforts of moderate-intensity swimming with drill work is one of my favorite ways to go about this. For the drill work, pick those that reflect what you need to improve on the most in your stroke.
  3. The Main-set. The bread and butter! This is where the bulk of the hard work is done. What you end up doing here is unique to you and your goals in the water. For straight aerobic work, you could swim a series of 100’s with about 10 seconds rest in between, or unleash some high-end speed with a set of sprint 25’s and 50’s with a little bit more rest.
  4. The warm-down. Now that you have worked your butt off, it is time to kickstart the recovery process with a structured cool down. Depending on the intensity of your workout, the warm-down should last about 10-15% of your total workout (so 5-10 minutes for an hour workout). Remember to keep your technique intact and swim out the lactate and neuromuscular fatigue so that you can come back and take another healthy swing at tomorrow’s workout.

Breaking Down the Lingo of Competitive Swimming

If you’ve ever looked at the whiteboard at a swim practice, you might be forgiven for thinking you were staring at a Fourier equation. Heavy on abbreviations, short hand, and code that is recognizable only to that particular group of swimmers, it can be a lot to take in.

Here is a sample set and the explanation of how they are laid out:

8×50 freestyle swimming @1:00

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  • 8 = number of repetitions
  • 50 = distance covered per rep
  • @1:00 = the interval per rep

Here are some of the common terms you will see scrawled up on the whiteboard in addition to the sets:

Bilateral breathing: This means that swimmers breathe to both sides during freestyle. To breathe bilaterally, you would take a breath after every 3 strokes, for instance.

EZ: Shorthand for “easy.”

Negative split: Come back faster on the second half of the rep. If you swim :31 seconds for the first 50 of a 100, the goal would be to swim :30 seconds or faster on the second 50.

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Even Pace/Split: The goal here is to swim the first half and the second half of the repetition at the same speed.

Stroke: A majority of swim sets are performed in freestyle (or front crawl). When “stroke” is listed in the set, this means to do any of the other three strokes (butterfly, backstroke, or breaststroke).

Distance Per Stroke (DPS): The goal here is to maximize length with each stroke without over-gliding.

Kick (sometimes just “K”): This is when you use a kickboard (or in a streamline on your back for backstrokers) and perform kick with a board.

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Pull (or “P”): Know that pull buoy that coach had you grab from the equipment bin? Throw it between your legs (between your thighs — not your ankles) and let your arms and shoulders do all the work.

Getting Faster

Swimming is a highly technical sport. The importance of technique is hard to overstate. When we watch swimmers like Ledecky and Phelps, it’s not just their conditioning that allows them to overtake the rest of the world — it’s their ability to swim faster with less exertion than the competition.

Keep this in mind as you are improving and getting a better feel for the water. If you are serious about wanting to get faster in the pool, you need to pay equal attention to swimming better and faster.

Featured photo credit: Flickr via flickr.com

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Last Updated on January 5, 2021

15 Fitness Goals That Will Help You Live a Healthier Life This Year

15 Fitness Goals That Will Help You Live a Healthier Life This Year

Starting a journey with fitness goals is never easy, and you must remember this is not a crash diet; it is a lifestyle. Don’t panic and think you have to do it all at once, as this will most likely overwhelm you. You may also find yourself giving up because crash diets are not sustainable.

The best approach is to make simple changes to your daily habits, and over time, you will notice all your bad habits have turned into good ones.

Accordingly to a study by Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, on average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact.[1] And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances.

Here are 15 fitness goals to help you on your journey:

1. Drink More Water

W.H. Auden said it best when he said,

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

With any diet, the most important thing to remember is to stay hydrated. Drinking water will support your body with digestion, transporting nutrients to your bones and muscles, and even improving cognitive function.

Ideally, you want to drink about half your body weight in ounces per day, i.e. if you weight 150 pounds, you should drink 75 ounces of water a day.

2. Add Some Lemon and Apple Cider Vinegar to Your Water

It is recommended we sleep for about 8 hours a day, but this means we spend about 8 hours per day dehydrated. Therefore, hydrating your body first thing in the morning is absolutely necessary.

The best way to achieve hydration is by starting your day with a glass or even two of water. For that extra boost, add lemon juice and ½ teaspoons of apple cider vinegar. The lemon and apple cider vinegar will help your body with detoxifying, cleansing, and digestion.

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3. Stop Drinking Your Calories

Yes, keeping hydrated is important, but try to avoid high-calorie drinks, such as soft drinks, specialty coffee, and juices as they are full of fast-acting sugar.

Really push yourself to stop drinking such drinks, and before you know it, you will notice the benefits.

4. Start Stretching More Often

The benefits are vast and the repercussions of failing to stretch can be dramatic.

Do yourself a favor and always stretch before and after a workout. This will promote a healthy cool down, improve flexibility, and reduce next day aches. Failure to stretch can lead to injures and muscle damage.

Here’re some simple stretching exercises to get you started: 15 Static Stretching Exercises to Totally Enhance Your Workout Routine

5. Add in Some High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

You may have heard about HIIT training because it is the big thing right now, and believe me when I say that it works and should absolutely be included in your fitness goals.

The benefits include lower body fat, increased stamina, leaner muscles, and fantastic hormonal benefits.

HIIT is where you perform an intense exercise for a very short time frame (about 30 seconds), followed by a slower exercise for about 90 seconds.

Performing a HIIT routine for 1-3 times a week will lead to great results.

6. Focus on Your Breathing When You Work Out

For the most part, breathing is second nature, but when exercising, you may find yourself holding your breath, and this can have negative consequences.

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It is important to consciously take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, as this will fill your lungs with oxygen and give you the necessary energy to continue your workout.

7. Build More Lean Muscle

We all want to have lean muscles. Not only does it look good, but it also has great health benefits, including:

  • Improved posture
  • Reduced body fat
  • Improved metabolism
  • Strong bones
  • Protects and improves joint health
  • Improved stamina

You can build lean muscle by lifting weights or through other specific exercises. Learn more about building muscle in this guide: How Long Does it Take to Build Muscle and Increase Fat Loss?

8. Decrease Body Fat

This may seem like an obvious one, but it is one of the most important steps to a healthier you. Reducing your body fat has a lot of benefits such as:

  • Improved joints and tendons
  • Lowered risk of diabetes
  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Better performance and endurance
  • Improved appearance and confidence
  • Better hormonal profiles in your body

Remember, it is not a race to see how quickly you can decrease your body fat. Healthy weight loss is around 1-2 pounds a week for your fitness goals.[2]

Crash dieting or pushing yourself too much in the gym can lead to you achieving an unrealistic target, and you may find yourself gaining all the weight you have lost.

Think of it as a lifestyle, and take it slow and steady.

9. Eat More Greens

What you eat is the most important factor in a healthier living plan. It is important to ensure you are getting as many nutrients and vitamins from the food you are eating as possible.

Focus on dark, leafy greens, as they will provide you with a wide array of vitamins, minerals, nutrients and antioxidants—all of which you body needs!

Don’t forget to avoid processed and manufactured food. They are usually high in fat and have minimal vitamins.

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10. Start Eliminating Sugar

Another top goal you can start immediately is reducing the amount of sugar you consume. It also won’t cost you anything, and will save you money and improve your health in the long run.

There’s no surprise we eat too much sugar, and this should be one of your top fitness goals moving forward. Cutting out liquid calories is a great way to start. If you’re looking for something sweet, turn to fruits or even dark chocolate.

Be careful to eliminate sugar from your diet slowly. Cutting it out all at once can cause symptoms of sugar withdrawal, which can drive you back to sugary snacks[3].

Common symptoms of sugar withdrawal

    11. Allow Yourself to Rest and Recover

    The workout is where you go to break down muscle tissue, and it builds back through proper nutrition, rest, and recovery[4]. It might be tempting to go to the gym for two hours every day as hard as you can to achieve your goals, but that’s not the most effective approach.

    If you don’t allow for proper rest and recovery, it can set you back a few steps. Your body is more prone to injury and even illness as you can weaken your immune system from all the progressive intensity the body is facing.

    12. Get More Sleep

    When you are deprived of sleep, you make it next to impossible to achieve your health and fitness goals. Lack of sleep can increase stress hormones in your body, and over time these can lead to inflammation and chronic diseases.[5]

    Make sleep a priority to let your body heal and rejuvenate. A good approach is 7 to 8 hours. Also, allow yourself some wind-down time and a pre-bed routine to help get more consistent sleep every night.

    13. Focus on the Habit, Not the Result

    It’s easy to get caught up in trying to achieve a certain look or shed time off of your mile, but the more important focus is on the habit that will bring you closer to those fitness goals.

    Don’t look at the scale, the tape measurer, or the body fat percentage. Focus on the habits that will lead to those achievements.

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    Don’t compare yourself to where others are; you’re right where you need to be.

    14. Take Your Fitness Outside

    This may be hard depending on the weather you experience, but the more you can be outside exposed to fresh air and sunlight, the better.

    Being stuck in the gym doing cardio while staring at a wall won’t do much for your mental stimulation.

    Try to challenge your body more by getting outside. Hiking is great and also just running and walking. Give yourself more access to nature and a constantly changing environment. It also beats breathing in that recycled gym air.

    15. Do at Least One Pull Up

    This is a great last goal to focus on because it’s a great test of strength and to see how you are progressing with your fitness.

    If you haven’t been able to do one, you know what a challenge it can be. Having the goal of doing at least one pull up will not only show you how far you’ve progressed, but it is a great way to become dedicated and motivated.

    The Bottom Line

    These fitness goals will become more attainable through the year if you’re consistent with your fitness. Set yourself a concrete timeline for when you want to accomplish some or all of these in order to create realistic goals in the short term. In fact, start making one of these goals happen this month!

    More on Setting Fitness Goals

    Featured photo credit: Ivan Torres via unsplash.com

    Reference

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