If you want a workout that builds muscle strength and cardiovascular endurance without putting high-impact strain on your joints, swimming is the way to go, says Tory Hale, the director of Gold’s Gym fitness operations, who swam competitively for 15 years.
“Swimming puts you in new positions and loosens you up,” Hale says. “Most knee pain is caused by tight hips and ankles. Swimming gets them moving.
“It’s low impact compared to resistance training with weights, so the risk for injury is substantially lower,” he says. “Get in the water as often as possible to get used to the feel.”
This beginner swimming workout can complement any fitness program and be done on the same day as other workouts, Hale says. However, if you want to space them out, aim for at least two to three swimming workouts per week.
Before diving in
Hale recommends everyone — especially those who are uncomfortable in the water — take lessons to learn safety basics.
“I’ve had some clients who had a big fear of getting their head wet,” he says. “Start by getting used to that feeling, and practice breathing out through your nose and mouth underwater. When you’re swimming, you should be slightly blowing out air at all times.”
Breathing in short bursts, like you do while swimming, causes your heart rate to elevate and your body to burn more calories. As your lungs become more efficient in processing the oxygen you take in, your cardiovascular capacity increases.
As you progress into this beginner swimming workout, find a Gold’s Gym personal trainer who has a swimming background to help you out.
At least two hours before swimming, eat a well-balanced meal, and be sure to hydrate the same as you would before and after any other type of exercise.
“You can get fatigued quickly and start to cramp if you’re not fueled,” Hale says. “And what you don’t realize is how much you’re sweating.”
Beginners will need:
- A kickboard— a flat foam board about the width of your shoulders and the length of your forearm from fingertips to elbows
- A pull buoy— a figure-eight-shaped foam block about 9 inches long, 4 inches wide and 6 inches deep
These beginner exercises should be done in a pool rather than a natural body of water. Be sure to swim with a partner or where there’s a lifeguard on duty.
Wall kick drill
Gripping the edge of the pool, point your toes and kick your legs behind you. Create a big splash behind you by breaking the surface at the top of the kick.
“You want to get used to that kick,” Hale says. “The kick drives everything in swimming. Legs weigh a lot. If you’re not kicking, you’re going to sink.”
The goal:Four to eight sets of 50 kicks.
The wall kick drill is stationary, but the remainder of these moves involve traveling through the water. The goal for each is four to eight sets of 25 to 50 meters (one or two lengths of the pool).
Hold the kickboard out in front of you and kick your legs behind you, breaking the surface at the top of the kick. Start the drill with your head above water. When you get comfortable with the movement, practice putting your face in the water and breathing out through your mouth and nose before lifting your head to inhale, all without breaking the kick.
Pull buoy drill
“Sit” on the buoy like a bicycle seat, holding it between your thighs, then tilt forward so that your stomach is in the water and your legs float to the surface behind you. Keep your legs still and propel yourself forward using only your upper body. Reach forward with one arm, then submerge that arm and pull it toward your side underwater while simultaneously reaching with the opposite arm.
Start the drill with your face above water. As you get comfortable with the movement, practice breathing out while your face is in the water and lifting your head to inhale without breaking the arm rotations.
You can do the same drill facing upward with your back on the surface of the water (a basic floating position, but with the help of the pull buoy). To move through the water, rotate one arm up and reach back over your head. As you submerge that arm and pull it toward your side underwater, simultaneously rotate and reach with the other arm.
Since your face is above water in this position, you can breathe freely.
This adds upper body movement to the kick drill. As you’re kicking, alternate letting go of the kickboard on each side and use your free arm to reach forward and pull underwater as you did in the pull buoy drill. Keep your face submerged and practice breathing to the side, away from the arm reaching forward.
“It doesn’t matter which side you choose, but you’ll notice you have a dominant side,” Hale says. “Don’t breathe with every stroke — it will make you very dizzy. Just breathe to your favorite side on every other stroke.”
This is the kick-and-pull drill without the board. As you feel comfortable, progress your breathing pattern to take a breath on every third stroke.
Add kicks to the upward-facing pull buoy drill (without using the pull buoy itself).
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