With the 2016 Olympics in full swing, the United States is back to doing one of the things it does best – winning a ton of medals in swimming.
From all-timers like Michael Phelps to new, transcendent talents like Katie Ledecky, the impressive feats of these Olympic swimmers has once again grabbed our national interest. After watching them, you might feel that desire to get in the pool yourself.
If you’re anything like me, you look at them and think … wow, swimming makes you look like that?
Now obviously these are Olympic athletes who have dedicated their lives to swimming and the exercise routines that make them capable of competing at this high level, so achieving an Olympic-level of fitness probably isn’t in the cards.
However, a pool is still a great place to exercise virtually every muscle in your body. Below are four exercises designed to get you started on a new pool fitness routine.
Let’s start with the most basic. Swimming laps is a great exercise that works practically every muscle. As the New York Times notes, swimming allows for all of the fitness benefits of similar land exercises without putting unneeded stress of the body. Take runners, for example. They’re constantly pounding their feet into the pavement often resulting in injuries, from foot issues to shin splints. Water exercise, on the other hand, offers buoyancy and avoids injuries caused by high-impact movement.
Furthermore, swimming is a unique exercise in today’s world. In the water there are no headphones, heavy weights slamming to the ground or TVs blasting ESPN on treadmills. Instead, there’s just you and the water. In swimming you can detach from the stresses of life while getting a great workout in.
When you are planning your pool fitness routine, a great place to start is swimming basic laps. Fitness Magazine has some excellent tips for exercises for people of all abilities, but to help get you started, buy some goggles. You really won’t enjoy swimming laps with your eyes closed.
After that, settle on a stroke that you are most comfortable with. Below is an infographic explaining a few basic strokes you may already be familiar with and the muscle groups they work out.
Freestyle is the most common stroke and a great one to do as you get started. The amount of laps you’ll want to do will be highly dependent upon the length of your pool, but as a general rule, set your starting point at four laps, with a lap consisting of one length of your pool.
While swimming with a freestyle stroke, keep your head down, looking at the bottom of the pool, and alternate breathing on your left and right sides by “rolling” your body during strokes. This will conserve energy that would otherwise be expended while lifting your head during every breath. Keep your form straight, ensuring you won’t put any unintended pressure on your neck muscles to help avoid strains.
Once you feel more comfortable and confident in your ability to swim longer lengths, keep adding to your workout. If you start to become bored, try out some of the different strokes above to exercise different muscle groups.
This is a great core exercise made slightly easier when performed in the water. The video below is a quick example of how to do these on land:
Though an effective exercise, it can put undue strain on your lower back and might be more difficult to get started with if you are relatively new to exercising your core.
To perform this exercise in a pool, either grab a pool noodle or rest against the side of your pool. If you’re using a pool noodle, you’ll move to the center of your pool and place the noodle behind you, resting your elbows on it and shifting your weight backwards so that you float with your legs suspended in front of you. Then you can move your legs up and down similar to the manner portrayed in the video above.
If using the side of your pool, rest your elbows again back on the surface above your pool and shift your weight backwards. Once your feet are suspended, you can then perform the exercise.
Keep going until you start to feel a burn in your core or tire out. The great thing about core exercises is you can do them every day – your core doesn’t need to recover like other muscles do – so feel free to make this a part of your daily pool exercise routine.
Planking is a great way to build core, upper body and lower body strength – or in other words, basically every muscle group. On land, you accomplish a plank by lying flat on your stomach – almost as though you were beginning a pushup – but instead of raising your body with your hands on the ground, you rest your forearms at a shoulder length space and hold the pose for at least a minute, keeping your back straight.
This is an exercise that can easily be moved to the pool. The water will make this much easier and allow you to hold the plank for longer while still building strength. For those with shoulder or leg issues, this is also a great way to avoid the pressure land planks can put on you.
To accomplish this, first move to the shallower end of your pool. Then grab a pool noodle and hold it out in front of you. Let your weight fall forward until you are at a diagonal angle with your feet still on the pool floor. The video below is a good example of what your position should look like under water.
Try to hold your position for at least a minute. Once you can comfortably do this, increase your time by 15 seconds. You’ll be surprised by how quickly you’ll be able to at least double your time.
Our last exercise suggestion is built primarily around developing arm strength, though your chest and back muscles will be worked, as well.
Triceps dips are accomplished by holding your body up in the air, then lowering yourself, before pushing back up again. This works especially well in water by using the side of the pool to lift yourself up, then lowering yourself back down but without releasing pressure. The video below is an excellent example of how to perform this exercise.
Like with our other recommendations, the water will greatly reduce the pressure on your body that this exercise would normally exert. Start by trying to do at least one set of 10 dips, before increasing your number of sets up to three. From there you can add as many dips as you feel is needed to get a good workout in to each set.
There you have it, four exercises to get you started on a new pool fitness program. These may not instantly turn you into a Ledecky, but by following this regimen you can safely ease into a fitness routine that will lead to real results and increase your overall physical health.