How to Start Swimming for Exercise

If Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, or good old Michael Phelps inspired you to take another look at the pool in your area, probably the biggest thing holding you back is the question: what am I actually doing when I’m there ? Here’s how to turn a day at the pool into a fun workout.

This guide is intended for people who already know how to swim, regardless of whether you think you are good at it. If you need a larger ramp than ours, check your local pool for adult beginner classes. You can also find a local team of masters , which may sound intimidating, but it is really just a swimming club for adults of all skill levels.

Prepare before leaving

Find the pool first and collect your gear. Most large public pools will have at least a few lap-laps, and now that the kids are heading back to school, you’re much more likely to find a seat for yourself if you swim slowly. Be sure to check the pool schedule in case you need to plan activities for children or water aerobics.

You can swim in any suit, but you will be most comfortable in something that does not drag in the water and is unlikely to slip when moving. This is why men on swim teams wear tight-fitting bottoms rather than shorts, and women tend to prefer one- piece suits with a back .

You will also probably need a pair of glasses. They should fit snugly against your eyes and you can check this in the store by applying them to your dry face. If they fit, you should be able to create enough suction to adhere to your face momentarily. You can swim without goggles, but you are more likely to run into the side of the road as you cannot always see where you are going.

A swim cap is optional, but it’s a good idea if you want long hair to not fall on your face or if you want to protect your hair from the greenish tinge that can appear after many swimming in the pool.

Be sure to lock your belongings in the locker room and prepare a healthy snack when you’re dry and starving . It’s also a good idea to have a bottle of water at the end of the treadmill because you will feel thirsty just like with other types of exercise.

Find out how swimmers train

Look up and down the lanes of your local pool and you will see mostly freestyle people. Freestyle, also known as front crawl, is popular because it is the fastest and most efficient stroke we have. It became known as freestyle because it is the obvious choice for swimming competitions, which are labeled “freestyle,” where you can swim with whatever stroke you like.

Some people in the pool can swim at a slow, steady pace throughout their workout, but most serious swimmers structure their workouts as interval workouts, meaning they work hard for a few minutes and then take a break before doing it all over again. Intervals work well because the pools are short (compared to the miles of road a runner or cyclist can walk) and because intervals are just great for improving your fitness . They also add variety to what might otherwise be a boring workout.

To find out what it takes to get a good swimming practice, we asked Koki Lepinski, head coach of the Swymnut Masters swimming team . “Great question! It’s not easy to build a workout from scratch, ”she said. When she designs a workout for her group, it has four components:

  • The warm-up takes the first ten minutes or so. During this time, you remind your body what it means to swim. You will find your breathing rhythm and you can easily start training. “Be sure to breathe out every time your face is in the water, and don’t hold your breath. Start lightly and lightly with your arms and legs and gradually increase your speed as you warm up, ”she says.
  • The preset allows you to practice the skills that you will use for the rest of your workout. Some workouts combine this with either a warm-up or the following set. A preset can include exercises in which you focus on specific hand movements or complete whole circles simply by kicking. This is the best time to learn a new skill or fix a flaw in your technique because you’re warmed up enough to work hard but not tired yet.
  • The basic set is what it looks like. This is the longest part of your workout and is where you will work the most. If you have practiced a skill in the pre-installed set, you will have many chances to test it in the main set.
  • Recovery is the last segment, usually five to ten minutes of easy swimming.

The workout can be as long or short as you like. Relax the first time and just try to have some fun reminding your body how swimming works.

Learn the jargon and swim in your first workout

If you don’t have a coach to put together a workout for you, many swimming websites list workouts that you can do. Some of my favorite workouts are triathlon workouts, as many triathletes started out as cyclists or runners and are relatively new to swimming. Their workouts, like Active.com’s plan , are usually simple but effective.

For more traditional swimming workouts, master clubs usually share daily or weekly workouts with their members. If you don’t have access to the club, Florida -based head coach Sarah McLarty has posted a treasure trove of free workouts on her blog . Each has options for three different levels: if you are a super swimmer, you will do “A” workouts, and if you are not quite at that level, you will do “B” workouts. Beginners should start with the C-level options. Here’s an example of a Level C workout:

400 warm-up 3×150 with 30 seconds rest (50 free / 50 not free / 50 free) 3×150 swimming with 20 seconds rest (downhill 1-3) 50 light pull-ups 3×150 with rest 20 (downhill 1-3) 50 light exercises 3×150 with: 30 rest (optional fins) (50 strokes / 100 swims) 100 hitch * 2400 Total *

With the help of a glossary of swimming terms, we can decipher what this means:

  • The warm-up is 400 yards (or meters, depending on your pool), which means you will walk either eight sections of a 50-meter pool or sixteen sections of a 25-yard pool. Most swimmers will do freestyle if no stroke is specified in the workout.
  • Then you do three intervals in which you swim 150 yards and then rest for 30 seconds. The first 50 yards are freestyle, the next 50 are any non-freestyle shots you like, and then the last 50 are freestyle again.
  • After that, you do three more intervals, this time with only 20 seconds of rest. A note about descending order means that you complete each interval in less time than the previous one: fast, faster, fastest.
  • “50 easy” means 50 yards of easy float.
  • The next segment is another descending set of intervals, but this time we are “pulling”, not “floating”. This means that you will only be doing this set with your hands. You can place a foam buoy between your legs so your legs float without having to kick them.
  • In the next set of intervals, some of them are labeled as “hit”. This is the opposite of pulling: you will be doing circles by simply kicking with your feet, without moving your arms. Even though a kickboard is traditionally used for kicks, Lepinski recommends doing without it, as the kickboard puts your back in an unnatural position. Instead, simply dip your face in the water and place your hands at your sides. The tube can help you focus on the kick without turning your head to breathe.
  • The cooldown is 100 yards, which allows you to swim as you please.

In some workouts, rest between intervals is handled slightly differently. Rather than asking you to walk a certain distance and then rest, your coach may tell you to walk the interval AND the rest within a certain number of minutes. For example, another McLarty workout includes a line that says “5×100 @ 3:00”. This means that you start a new 100-meter interval every three minutes. The faster you swim, the more you rest.

But the strategy here is not to just swim super fast, as this will make breathing even more difficult for you. Instead, you aim to move as quickly as possible while remaining relaxed enough to breathe. It’s hard to get it right, and it’s perfectly okay for a beginner to choose a workout that allows you to rest as much as you see fit. However, these types of intervals are common in swimming workouts, so it is helpful to know how to read them.

Get better

Once you start swimming training, you will probably start to notice that you have room to improve. If you get tired quickly, your stamina isn’t necessarily the problem. Good technique is important in swimming so that you don’t struggle with the water more than you need to.

The swimming lessons and golf clubs we mentioned earlier are great ways to practice freestyle or other strokes. They are also a good starting point for learning competition-focused skills like how to dive at the start of a race and how to dosomersaults in turns to save time when you need to turn around.

If you are interested in competition, the expert teams organize swimming competitions and you do not need to be an experienced swimmer to participate and have fun. Or for another purpose, you can turn to triathlon training or endurance swim-only competition where swimmers go about their business in open water, such as a lake. (Even so, they usually spend most of their workouts in the pool.)

As with any type of exercise, you can choose the swimming goals you like, develop a training plan to meet those goals, and improve the skills and fitness you need to keep working towards your goal and having fun. But first, you start by jumping into the pool.

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