I’ve loved swimming since I can remember- it’s the smell of chlorine, the drive to beat my race times, the sense of community, the thrill of jumping in an icy pool. (Just kidding about the last one.) My competitive swimming days are over, but I still love hopping in the pool for a workout.
Lap swimming can be intimidating for beginners, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a fantastic workout – want to improve your cardio endurance as you strengthen your upper body and core? Coming off an injury or looking for a low impact, restorative workout? Looking to burn calories? Try swimming! Here’s why I love it – plus check out these tips for getting started in the pool. Your body (and mind!) will thank you.
I always make sure I have a swim cap and goggles, Body Glide or Vaseline (“swim hickeys” are a thing!), waterproof watch, and sunscreen, depending on the season. Don’t forget shower stuff! The quicker you rinse off the chlorine, the better.
The great news is, one-pieces are cool again! I swore I’d never wear one for *fun* after shoving myself into race suits for years, but here we are. You don’t have to squeeze into anything, but pick something that’s not going to ride up or fall down every time you push off the wall. Athleta, Speedo, REI, and Patagonia all have great, functional options.
Robyn LaLonde is the Owner of the Edge Athlete Lounge. She’s also a USAT Level-1 Coach, a Certified Level II Metabolic Efficiency Training Specialist, and a Head Coach for Nike+ Run Club. She stresses the importance of starting the right way.
“For beginners, I would always recommend getting an instructor,” LaLonde says. “A one-on-one or a two-on-one, just so that they can make small corrections quickly. As much as it sucks, frequency is what breeds efficiency, especially with swimming. If you ramp up running too fast, you might get injured, but swimming, it’s the technique before anything else.” Luckily, there are swim clubs, Masters Teams, and Adult Learn-to-Swim (ALTS) Programs around the country.
If you’re on your own, Active, Kiefer, Triathlete, and Pinterest have a variety of free workouts. I like to write my workouts on notebook paper, or mini dry erase boards. Start slow, and increase your distance gradually. Make it your own!
There are a lot of tricks and exercises that will help you become a faster, more efficient swimmer. LaLonde’s favorite drills include fingertip drag and a modified fist drill with tennis balls. For triathletes, she loves the catch-up drill.
I like to alternate between different strokes, sprint or endurance sets, and technique drills. Try kickboards, fins, pull buoys, or paddles – don’t be afraid to use equipment. Like any workout, if you always do the same thing, you’ll get bored and stop seeing results, so switch it up!
The physical benefits
Swimming is a full body workout – you’re strengthening and toning major muscle groups while improving cardiorespiratory fitness levels, lung capacity, mobility, and flexibility. Nic Ruley is a USAT Level-1 Coach, a USMS Level 2, an ALTS Instructor, and a Triathlon Coach with Team Brightside. He’s incredibly passionate about the benefits of swimming.
“It’s tremendous for fitness at absolutely all ages,” Ruley says. “It’s a really well-rounded sport. I can’t think of a fitness goal that swimming wouldn’t specifically target.”
Hope Roeser, an aSweatLife Ambassador, and triathlete, fell in love with swimming when she was training for her first triathlon and is now addicted.
“I love that during a swim, I don’t really notice how hard I’m working, but after I get out of the pool I feel amazing, strong, and STARVING because I just worked so hard!” says Hope. “So it feels pretty nice and relaxing during, but after you’re like ‘damn, I just worked super hard!'”
You’re also burning calories, and I swear I am never hungrier than after swimming. There are different factors, but I typically burn between 200-350 calories for every 30 minutes of moderately-paced swimming. (There’s a reason Michael Phelps ate so much.)
It’s also low impact and restorative, so it’s great for those recovering from injury or looking for a joint-friendly workout.
“It’s a fantastic recovery tool because you’re completely not weight bearing, and on top of that you’re laying down and only have so much oxygen,” LaLonde says. “So by nature, you can’t go hard, there’s no impact, and you can’t get your heart rate high enough where you’re really truly in a deficit, so it’s a perfect recovery tool.”
The mental benefits of swimming
More so than other workouts, there are less external distractions in swimming.
“It’s the most meditative of all sports, it’s such a gift to not swim with technology, so it forces people to really be present and regulate their mind over matter,” LaLonde says. “It’s the thing people usually fight me on, but then the thing that they end of loving the most.”
Christine Gaab, another aSweatLife Ambassador, agrees: “I like that you have to focus on times, technique, and counting laps while you’re working out. This helps to take my mind off other external stress factors in life and really get into my workout…It is great to jump in the pool and swim all your troubles away.”
“I hear it all the time it’s so funny, that people always say ‘I just feel so good getting out of the pool,’ well yeah, you’re relaxed!” LaLonde says.
Swimming also allows me to compete, even if it’s mostly against myself. If you love the thrill of racing, time yourself in certain distances and watch how fast you can get, or consider joining a Masters or Triathlon Team. Like everything, swimming is better with friends, and the swim community is so unique, passionate, and supportive. (I met my husband on our Park District swim team, so I might be a little biased.)
“Swimming is such a beautiful community, everybody wants everyone to succeed,” Ruley says. “Swimmers actually want you to do your best. They still want to beat you, but if you’re struggling they’re not going to laugh at you, they’re going to help you.”
Sometimes the hardest part is getting started.
“The thing is, people just gotta f***ing jump in,” LaLonde says. “I do it too, I hesitate like ‘oh god, I have to go swimming,’ because it just takes me effort, but I think that the benefits outweigh that effort. And that’s what we have to remember.”
“If anyone is on the fence about swimming, like swimming might be that thing they can’t do, or swimming might be the thing that’s a bridge too far…that little tiny bit of excitement, or drive or even fear, is reason enough to jump in the pool and really work to master that skill,” Ruley says.
So seriously, jump in. You’re going to love it.