Swimming is a low-impact exercise that gets your heart rate up and fires up every muscle in your body. But it’s more than just donning your swimsuit and splish-splashing around — proper technique is key to making the most out of this workout. From breathing to arm positioning, here’s how to get the most out of your next swim session.
For a new swimmer, the initial step can be one of the most intimidating: getting into the water and submerging your head. However, with a little help and patience from a good coach or even some practice on your own, it can quickly become one of the best parts of your workout.
When first starting out, any number of laps you are able to complete is a great start, Slabaugh says. As you progress, you’ll want to aim for a certain amount of laps per session, depending on your goals and fitness level. In addition to being an excellent cardiovascular exercise, swimming can help strengthen your legs, back and core muscles. A typical lap in a swimming pool is about 25 yards, or 50 feet.
Swimming can be a challenging workout due to the fact that water is 1,000 times denser than air. Consequently, it can be difficult for some people to maintain balance in the water. However, if you can keep your hips up and shoulders even in the water’s surface, it will help decrease drag and allow for more efficient movement through the water.
Ideally, the hand should enter the water just above its full extension (extending your hand underwater is inefficient). Then, it is important to keep that arm straight as you push off and propel yourself through the water. When doing this, it is helpful to imagine you are surfing through the water, pushing off of a wall. You can also increase your speed by extending your lead arm as long as possible when pulling.
The leg kick is another important part of any swim stroke. To kick faster, it helps to “flutter” the motion, a motion that resembles kicking into a ball or wading through ankle-deep water. To perform this, start your downward motion at the hip, flexing the knee as you move down and then straightening it as you pull.
It’s common for beginners to gasp at each time their head hits the water, but doing this can put a lot of strain on your chest and neck. Instead, focus on exhaling fully through the mouth before inhaling. Additionally, as you develop endurance, try breathing on alternate sides — it can reduce the stress on your neck and shoulders.
Lastly, when swimming in open water, always stay within sight of land or a lifeguard station. This is not only for your own safety, but it’s also for the protection of others. In the event that you do get caught in a rip current, it’s important to swim away from the shore and remain calm in order to break free from the current. In this case, it’s important to yell for help or motion to a lifeguard as you swim.