Swimming is a fantastic form of exercise, and a very popular one at that, as it is both a great full-body workout and a life skill. Many of us had the privilege to learn how to swim at a very young age, as anyone that is around bodies of water knows that knowing how to swim as a child is a necessary life skill. However, unless you were a swimmer into your formative years, you might have taken time away from swimming consistently after you initially learned. Whether continuing to swim or coming back to the sport as a recreational activity after time away, the benefits to both specific and overall well-being are immense.
A full body workout
Swimming has a distinct advantage over many other forms of exercise, in that there are four different strokes, and each stroke can be broken down into kick and pull. Because of this, swimming offers an unrivaled full-body workout. Without getting too in-depth, freestyle provides a fantastic full-body workout, using nearly all major muscle groups, as does backstroke. Breaststroke provides an opportunity to focus on flexion in the arms, building stronger biceps, lats, forearms, and pectorals, while breaststroke kick hits the glutes harder than freestyle for most swimmers. Butterfly, especially when done correctly, lights up the upper back and core and provides an effective workout quickly.
For isolation of the upper or lower body, just grab a kickboard or pull buoy, and it’s easy to focus on specific muscle groups. Even better, because swimming is non-weight bearing when done with correct form, it causes less stress on the joints and bones than many other forms of physical activity. For this reason, swimming is often touted as a fantastic injury rehabilitation tool, especially for those recovering from bone injuries or surgeries. In addition, it also is a fantastic injury prevention tool, as it allows you to build up muscle mass as a cross-training method for other sports such as baseball or football without causing the same weight-bearing stressors.
We can’t move on without mentioning the cardiovascular benefits of swimming. While high-intensity swimming offers the most distinct muscular benefits, endurance swimming, either for general wellbeing or as preparation for a competition such as an Ironman, offers a great way to burn calories while building fitness. Depending on a variety of factors such as technique, speed, weight, and age a swimmer can burn in the wheelhouse of 400-1000 calories per hour spent swimming. This will fluctuate as you improve, as better technique decreases calorie burn but will also allow you to swim at higher intensities. At this time, having accurate heart rate data is still one of the best ways to accurately calculate calorie burn during a swim. Using heart rate is a great way to get deeper insights into the increases in cardiac efficiency swimming provides over time and understanding your fitness improvements as a whole.
Another great thing about doing these longer swims is the benefit to your mental state while doing so. Swimming provides endorphin release, producing the same effect as a runner’s high; beneficial to stress and anxiety management, and produces a meditational effect for many, great after a long day at work or to start out the weekend.
Cold water swimming
Finally, when swimming in open water, especially cold water winter swimming, there are a distinct set of benefits above and beyond those that we’ve already mentioned. Cold water swimming has been shown to decrease tension and fatigue, and improve memory and mood, and over time. Exposure to cold water can also provide a boost to the immune system and improve blood circulation in the body. So, with all these great cardiovascular, muscular, and mental benefits from swimming, it’s a great time to find your nearest pool or lake and go for a swim!