Starting a Swim Training Program to Improve Fitness

Swimming is a low impact activity that can improve cardiovascular fitness, has been shown to increase muscular strength and endurance, helps to maintain muscle mass, burns significant calories (caloric expenditure varies greatly based on skill level), is a form of rehabilitation and can be performed at all ages.

Before starting a program make sure you do not have a contraindicated medical condition that would prove dangerous in the water environment.

Environment

For beginner swimmers it is important to master the appropriate skills, be familiar with water safety and be knowledgeable of the swimming environment. Indoor swimming is usually performed in pools of various lengths. Check to see what options are available in your community. For indoor pools, it is vital that the appropriate temperature and water environment be maintained. There are a number of water related illnesses or conditions that can occur even in properly maintained pools.

Never swim alone. Wherever you swim, there should be appropriately trained personnel to handle any emergency situations. It is not recommended that beginners swim in open water. Open water swims can be dangerous. Rip currents, tide changes, surf, water temperature, marine animals, water cleanliness and boats are just a few of the conditions that can make open water swimming hazardous.

Technique

There are many different swimming strokes and techniques that can be used. Each stroke has unique characteristics and requires different form and skills. Practicing proper stroke technique will improve swimming efficiency. If you are a non-swimmer or have limited experience, swimming lessons can be very helpful. Lap swimming or endurance swimming is quite different than playing in the water. Taking lessons from a qualified teacher or coach can provide the basic skills necessary to start swim training or a conditioning program. Proper mechanics are very important in order to swim effectively and improve performance.

Training

It is recommended that the training session start with a warm-up, followed by the training session, and conclude with a cool down. During the training session the swimmer can work on technique, perform a variety of drills, and work on fitness. The cool-down is an important component of the training session. For the cool-down, avoid going from a hard training session to a hot environment such as a hot tub. This could put individuals who are pregnant or have specific medical conditions at potential risk for dangerous consequences.

It is very common for swimmers to train using work rest intervals. An example would be swim a minute or a few laps then rest and repeat. The work rest intervals can be varied. There are endless numbers of available training programs, find a program that is suited for your personal goals and your level of fitness and training. During the training session the swimmer can work on specific skills (i.e. kick, stroke, breathing, body position).

The intensity of the workout can be monitored by watching the clock or by monitoring heart rate. When using a heart rate monitor, it is important to know that heart rate in the water may be lower than on land. Swimming places the body in a prone position which allows the heart to work more efficiently. Heart rates for conditioned swimmers tend to be lower during swimming compared to other forms of aerobic activity, however heart rates can vary based on skill and technique. In addition to heart rate monitors, there are devices available that assist the swimmer by monitoring swim time, number of laps, distance, and swim efficiency.

Equipment

When starting a swimming program there are two major pieces of equipment that are essential, swimsuit and goggles. Select an appropriate swimsuit that is comfortable and is designed specifically for swimming. Manufacturers have developed a number of fabrics that dry quickly and resist fading. There are also swimsuits that are made for competitive purposes and wetsuits can be used in cooler environments. Goggles are very important to protect your eyes. They also make swimming much more enjoyable. There are a number of fairly inexpensive models that have prescription lenses. It is important that the goggles fit snugly and do not leak. Swim caps can provide a variety of benefits depending on the swimmer and their needs.

There are also a number of training aids the swimmer may consider purchasing. Fins may be useful for the swimmer who has a weak kick. Runners often have poor ankle flexibility and fins can add propulsion to the training session. Make sure the fins fit properly. A pull-buoy is a flotation device that is placed between the legs to help the swimmer train without the lower body sinking. A kickboard is another flotation device that can be used for a number of drills. Kickboards are routinely used to help keep the upper body floating while working on the kick. In addition there are earplugs, nose clips, and other items that may be appropriate based on the individual swimmer.

In conclusion, swim training is an excellent way to improve health and fitness. Swim safely and enjoy the benefits.

Republished with permission of the American College of Sports Medicine. Copyright © 2015 American College of Sports Medicine.

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