Well, we all watched the Olympics, and we all saw the bodies on those swimmers (I don’t think we could have missed Mr. Michael Phelps or Cullen Jones). Swimmers tend to have the most amazing bodies because of the physical beating swimming puts on the body. And because they require a lot of energy to actually swim for as long and as much as they do, they have to put in additional exercise time to build that energy. Besides, if I were a swimmer, and spent most of my camera time half naked, I would want to put in more time in the gym to look that amazing. I’m just saying.
Cullen Jones (www.essence.com)
This week, we are focusing on some of the exercises swimmers do to get themselves those amazingly toned bodies.
Swimming is a cardio workout in itself. So rather than do the regular cardio workouts like running or cycling, swimmers swim (duh!). If you enjoy the water, are not consistently worried about your hair, and want to build a lot of physical endurance, swimming is the best form of cardio you can take on because your body is in constant motion in two ways: your physical movement, and the force of the water against your skin. But note that you have to actually keep your body in constant motion by doing laps. You cannot simply float and expect your body to get toned.
When you first start swimming, just like running, you may find that you can do less than you originally thought. But the difference between running and swimming is this: with running, you build on your mileage as you build your endurance; with swimming, you build your distance as you build your technique. Technique allows you to get the most out of your lap without using every single muscle in your body for each stroke. When most of us swim, we don’t use technique. Rather, we fight for our lives in the pool. And that’s because swimming is not a natural human activity, while running is. To get comfortable building technique, we need to spend as much time in the water as we can. Because only when we have started building on technique can we start focusing on what muscles are being worked out.
Now, just as with any other form of cardio, we have four types of swimming workouts we can implement:
• The Sprinter: Sprinting is when we do a short distance very fast. It’s a short workout, but it involves intense speed. This really builds endurance, but most of us find that we cannot move at such a high level of speed until we have trained for a while.
• The Intervals: This is similar to the sprint, but rather than maintain that speed continuously, it requires going fast for a minute, and then going at a slow pace for a minute so the body can recover. This may be one of the best ways to work out because you confuse your body with the various levels of speed.
• The Circuit: When you go to the gym, you may notice a particular area where people jump from one machine to the other, do this for about three or four machines, and then go back to the first machine they were on. This is called circuiting. The same can be applied to swimming as well. If you know different strokes (no pun intended), you can switch from one stroke to the other, and then back to the start. The purpose, just like with intervals, is to confuse your muscles so your body does not get too comfortable with one routine.
• The Marathoner: From the name, you can tell that it is a long thing. For the marathoner, you have to train extensively to spend several hours in the pool lapping around. It involves very long distances at approximately the same speed and same energy level. Marathoning is usually competition-based.
Of course, you are not only doing cardio as you swim, you are also working on your muscles. Even if you can’t swim, you can incorporate some strength training positions into your workout routine to tone up. Here are a few:
• Alternating superman: It is really just like it sounds. Lie flat on your belly with your hands stretched in front of you, and pretend you are superman flying in the air. We all did this as kids so it should be easy enough. When you are flat on the floor, lift your legs and hands off the floor and alternate left and right like you are swimming. See? Swimming really is like flying…
• Side Plank and Reach: If you’re doing this in water, simply lie on your left side, stretch your right arm over your ear as a stroke, and then switch to the right side. This is sort of a side stroke that works on your arms. If you’re on dry ground, lie on your left side, and prop your weight onto your elbow so that your whole body is supported only by your left elbow and the sides of your feet. Cross your left foot over your right foot. Try to keep your body in a straight line, with your left elbow on the ground, and your right hand on your hip or waist. Now, reach your right arm over your right ear and stretch so that there is a straight line from your finger tips down to the sides of your feet. Keep switching sides like you are doing strokes.
• Swimmers’ circles: Well, in reality, this exercise is called the arm circle but I’ve deemed it “swimmer’s circle” because I like that name better. This is one of my favorite arm workouts. Why? Because it does not look so hard, but when you’re in the middle of it, you find yourself wondering why your arms hurt. Stand tall and stretch your arms to form a ‘T’ shape. Circle your arms forward slowly in small circles. When I say slowly, I mean take a second for each circle, not five circles per second. Do about 20 repetitions, and then reverse the direction of the circles. Make sure your arms are positioned correctly.
Swimming is really a great overall workout for the body when you are able to structure your swimming program to suit you. Do you plan to use swimming as part of your exercise routine? Let us know how it has helped you.