Swimming As Exercise: Advice from a Physical Therapist
Swimming is a powerful form of exercise. It can help reduce stress levels, improve your mood, give you better sleep, increase your overall strength and increase your endurance and cardiovascular capacity. Besides being a great workout, swimming is low-impact which means it’s easier on the joints than many contact sports or running frequently on a hard surface. It can burn a great deal of calories and work muscles all over your entire body. If your main focus is another sport, swimming can be a great cross-training form of exercise, and it’s something you can do almost your entire life.
These are some of the most frequent swimming-related questions I get from my patients, and the advice I give them.
I am in the process of training for a half-marathon. Would swimming be a good compliment to all that running?
The answer is yes. Not only is swimming an excellent compliment to a running program, it provides intense cardiovascular/aerobic training that reduces injuries to the runner by working other muscle groups that are otherwise not utilized. For example, runners in general have weak "hip compartments" and swimming helps improve flexibility in a runner's hip flexors that are often overused. Additionally, runners don't use their upper bodies with the exception of forward and backward arm movements intended for balance. Swimming uses the upper body and shoulder compartment that helps to improve overall core muscle strength and balance in the runner.
What makes swimming a good workout option?
Swimming is low-impact which means less stress on weight bearing joints such as the hips, knees, and ankles. Swimming is an overall body workout that utilizes the upper body, core, and lower body. If you are training for a half-marathon, 10K, or marathon distance and over 40, swimming is a great substitute on "non-running" days that will maintain sufficient cardiovascular fitness without the "wear and tear" on the weight bearing joints.
What areas of the body does swimming target?
- Shoulder compartment, Chest ( pectoralis muscles), Upper Back ( Latissimus Dorsi), and abdominal muscles as well as core.
- Lower Body focuses more on muscles used for kicking like calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) as well as hip flexors and hamstrings.
- The core- this includes pelvic floor muscles, abdominal muscles, and lower lumbar spinal muscles.
Do you have any tips for swimming newbies on how to get started?
The best way to get involved in swimming is to join a USMS Masters Swim Team. Masters swimming is the largest adult fitness organization in the world and there are thousands of teams located in just about any city in the U.S. There is always a coach on deck and many other swimmers with you. The coaches are there to give the swimmer a great workout and to help the "newbie" improve their swimming "biomechanics". Furthermore, swimming with other people is motivating and fun. Many runners and triathletes join masters swim teams to improve their swimming skills and to prevent and sometimes even treat athletic injuries. Swimming provides that overall "fitness" that is often lacking in runners due to "muscular imbalances". Swimming helps prevent runners as they age from becoming injured. This latter reason for swimming as one gets older especially into the 50's is an enormous advantage for anyone training for a half-marathon.