Swimming provides an excellent non-impact cardiovascular workout. Being in the water allows you to challenge your heart and lungs without stressing your joints, which means swimming can be an appropriate mode of exercise for people living with osteoarthritis or other joint complications.
Swimming is also fantastic for cross-training; it complements any fitness routine that involves a great deal of impact or lateral motion like tennis, basketball and endurance running. As a triathlete, I deal with fewer impact-related injuries than when I only ran. I credit this to the nature of my sport. I have to cross-train. I swim, bike, lift weights and run.
Many of us also enjoy swimming – especially at the cottage or on vacation. This is of no small significance. You are much more likely to stick with a fitness activity that you enjoy, and when it comes to working out, consistency is key. A two-hour workout once a month is much less valuable than moderate movement done daily.
There are some caveats, however.
Non-impact activities such as swimming are great for osteoarthritis, but an appropriate amount of impact is actually beneficial. Impact helps to maintain or increase bone density, which aids in prevention and management of osteoporosis.
Don't only swim. Complement your swimming routine with regular walking (a convenient moderate-impact activity) and strength-training sessions.
Strength training not only helps to maintain or increase bone density, it also strengthens your musculoskeletal system (swimming primarily strengthens your cardiovascular system); produces lean muscle mass, which increases your metabolism; bolsters your strength and athletic performance; and helps you stay functionally fit and mobile.
Lift weights regularly. Prioritize multi-joint exercises such as squats, lunges, rows and push-ups. They are highly functional and easy to do anywhere, anytime.
Consider buying a resistance band; it is portable and inexpensive. With it you can get a full body workout anywhere – even on the dock at the cottage.
To prepare your body for the specific demands of swimming, incorporate these three exercises.
1. To prevent shoulder injuries try resistance-band external rotations. Start standing holding a resistance band horizontal to the floor with both hands, palms up, elbows held into your sides at a 90-degree angle. Keep the 90-degree angle as you rotate both hands out to the side. Don't break at your wrist. Use the muscles around your shoulder blades to initiate the motion. Do 15 reps.
2. To strengthen your bum and core and prevent kicking-induced lower back strain, try standing hip extensions. Place your right foot on a book, knee slightly bent and bum engaged. Move your left leg slightly behind you like you were kicking in the front crawl. Use your left bum muscle to do the work, not your lower back. Engage your core, gently pulling your belly button to your spine and thinking about pulling your lower abdominal muscles wide to your hip bones. Your lower spine should not arch as you move your leg backwards. Repeat 15 times and switch sides.
3. To prevent neck strain, try the three-way neck mobilizer. Start on your hands and knees. First, reach your right hand under your left rib cage. Turn your head so you see your left armpit and rotate your torso. Next, rotate your torso and head to the right. Turn your head; don't just reach with your arm. Finally, turn your head and torso to try to see your right foot. Don't move your foot. Repeat 5 times. Switch and repeat on the other side.
Whenever you don't want to exercise, use my "10-minute rule." Tell yourself you have to do something for 10 minutes. If you want to stop after 10 minutes, then you can – at least you will have done something. Usually the hardest part of exercising is the first 10 minutes. If you can get started, there is a good chance that you will finish.
Two simple swimming workouts to try.
At the cottage
Warm up with two to five minutes treading water.
Alternate 50 flutter kicks holding onto the dock with one to two minutes vigorously treading water. Repeat two to five times.
For 10 to 20 minutes, do lengths to and from an object a safe distance from your cottage's dock (only if it's safe to do so in your particular lake).
Cool down with a relaxed length or two, followed by some strength exercises and stretches on the dock.
At the pool
Warm up with four to eight laps at an easy pace.
Swim 200 metres, varying your swim stroke every 25 metres. Repeat two to four times.
Finish with some intervals: Swim 25 metres hard, 50 metres recovery, 50 metres hard, 100 metres recovery, 100 metres hard, 200 metres recovery, 200 metres hard, 400 metres recovery. If you are a strong swimmer, do the entire set twice.
Cool down with two to four easy laps.