Weighing In: The Swim Workout for Non-Swimmers

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For a lot of us, swimming consists of body surfing at the beach or sitting in a hot tub. Years having passed since our moms and dads forced us to take lessons at the local YMCA as kids.

However, whether you’re starting to get tired of your regular workout or your friend who was high school swimming champ has been begging you to swim laps with them at the gym (Yeah… because that’s totally going to end well), even doggie-paddling pros can learn how to incorporate swimming into their fitness regimen.

Why Swimming is Full-Body Fun

Your entire body is submerged in water and your goal is to somehow stay afloat while making forward progress – how could you not break a sweat swimming?

According to the Aquatics Coordinator at Penn State, Justin Brown, “There are so many different muscles working in sync with swimming that it’s just a total body workout.”

Swimming works your arms, legs and core, making it an ideal cross-training activity, while also being relatively low-impact on your joints in comparison to other cardio workouts.

Your Beginner’s Workout

In order to get the most out of your swimming workout, you should start with a longer warm-up and then move into sprints.

Penn State Club Swim coach Georgia Reiner recommends this workout for beginner swimmers that can be increased in intensity as you become more comfortable:

Warm Up:

4-6 laps (up and down the length of the pool), freestyle (aka “front crawl”), swam continuously at a medium pace

Set 1:

Repeat 4 times, with 15-25 seconds rest between:
Swim 2 laps freestyle continuously at a medium/fast pace.
Try to make the second lap of the two continuous laps faster than the first.

Set 2:

Repeat 3 times.
Do 1 lap 4 times, with a 10-20 second rest between each lap, your choice of stroke.
Increase the speed of each lap (make #2 faster than #1, #3 faster than #2, etc) so you should be going as fast as you can by the last lap.
Swim 1-2 laps at a medium or moderate pace between each round.

Warm Down:

2-4 laps, freestyle, easy pace

If you’re looking to isolate specific muscle groups, Brown recommends either using a pull buoy, which you can hold between your legs in order to strictly work on your arms by practicing strokes, or hitching a ride on a kick-board to work your legs and improve your overall swimming technique.

“The kick is really one of the most important parts of the stroke,” says Brown, “because that’s what will help propel you forward.”

Swimming Safe

For beginner swimmers, safety is a key factor to keep in mind. Brown advises starting a swim regimen in a shallow pool for new swimmers, pointing to the White Building pool and the full-length instructional pool at McCoy Natatorium as two great practice locations.

It’s also important to be aware of how your body is reacting to the workout – a little soreness is normal, but joint pain and cramps are red flags.

“Cramps and exhaustion can happen to any swimmer at any level,” says Brown, suggesting regular stretching before and after your workout to help you steer clear of any health risks.

Who would have thought that bikini body would be good for anything but sitting on a beach towel and sipping margaritas? Come on in, the water’s fine – and you’ll be lookin’ mighty fine, too, after making the water your new BFF (best fitness friend).

Photo by Gabrielle Mannino

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