There’s little debate as to whether or not swimming is incredible exercise. It’s low impact, great for cardio and works nearly every muscle in your body. It’s suitable for all ages and can be used to rehabilitate the body after injuries. People have been swimming as exercise long before recorded history. Egyptian clay seals from 4000 BC depict people swimming and there were swimmers in Homer’s poems - the Iliad and the Odyssey.
The Arthritis Foundation strongly recommends swimming because there’s little to no resistance on your joints. When you’re submerged under the water, there’s less of your body above the surface to create drag. You can move easily with buoyancy and have complete range of motion without hard surface impact. In fact, the side-stroke is known as the best low-impact exercise you can do within the water! It’s a variation on the breaststroke that allows you to use less energy to propel your body forward. For that reason, it’s perfect for people rehabilitating wrist or shoulder injuries.
When you’re in the water, your heart rate decreases. However, the reduction in gravity and temperature helps you exercise longer, so that you can ensure a cardiovascular response. A researcher at the University of South Carolina found that the cardio fitness of regular swimmers was on par with cyclists and runners. That’s great because in the water you have less chance of injury than those other sports. Just 12 weeks of swimming can strengthen your heart by improving the amount of oxygenated blood it receives. Then there’s the weight loss benefits. One hour in the pool can burn over 500 calories!
Swimming is incredible exercise because it also builds muscle mass. Just look at professional swimmers like Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin. You don’t have to put in the amount of time they do, but you can still tone and strengthen your body. Repetitive kicks and the push/pull cycle works out your quadriceps, hamstrings, deltoids, glutes and more. A recent medical study found that males who swam for eight weeks saw a 23.8 percent increase in their triceps. You can target different muscle groups as well, by doing variations in the water. Each stroke can focus on a different major muscle group. It’s like resistance training without the silly bands, springs or celebrity gadgets.
Alexander Popov is an Olympic Gold-medalist and views the sport as a meditative experience. He says, “The water is your friend. You don’t have to fight the water, just share the same spirit as the water and it will help you move”. Who can argue with that? Swimming IS incredible exercise, but it also provides psychological and social benefits. Just “zone out and become one with the water” or join a swimming fitness group to keep you motivated. If you haven’t been swimming lately, go. Get in the pool and take a few laps in your favorite style.