Don't let extra weight, joint problems, or a dislike for sweat hold you back from regular activity! The pool might be the place for you.
Testing the waters with swimming activities can be your first step to better health, but be sure to check with your doctor first.
"Whenever I bring someone in for their first lesson, I tell them to look around the pool," says Dan McCarthy, a swim coach for 16 years and sports performance consultant for USA Swimming. They'll see 80- and 90-year-olds. This is an activity you'll be able to enjoy the rest of your life and receive the fitness benefits with none of the impact of other activities." Here are 3 ways to get wet and love it.
Lap swimming can burn as many calories as running but doesn't have the bone-jarring impact of every step. It's also easy to vary the intensity and duration of a session. To get started:
- Recruit a coach. If you're not a regular swimmer, a coach can help you learn proper technique—and get more out of the activity. Ask a staff member at your local YMCA, YWCA, community center, or gym to show you the ropes. Even a friend who is a better swimmer may be able to lend some pointers.
- Schedule regular pool time. Go to the pool about 3 times a week. If you feel some initial soreness, it may help to give yourself a day off between activities.
- Suit up. Wear a swimsuit that's comfortable and matches your modesty. But avoid baggy board-style trunks; they'll add drag and be more likely to slip. Also, wear goggles and, if you have long hair, a bathing cap.
- Warm up. As with any activity, it helps to warm up. Try this: Extend your arms out to your sides and do circles for about 5 minutes.
- Build up slowly. As you look to boost your laps or time in the pool, make only small increases of 10% to 15% from week to week. For example, if you can swim laps for 10 minutes, increase to 11 to 12 minutes the next week.
Resistance training allows you to target specific parts of your body. You'll use devices—often available at pool facilities—that provide additional resistance and flotation to help you move through the water. To float to a fitter you, try using:
- Kickboard. Hold a kickboard in front of you and it'll support your upper body weight while you kick forward with your feet. A kickboard works the lower body by isolating your hips, glutes, and hamstrings. It also allows you to keep your head above the water. Hint: Keep your neck relaxed.
- Hand bars. Available in several sizes and shapes, hand bars are similar to dumbbells and made of foam so they float. They allow you to call your torso and arms into action when you move them under the surface of the water.
- Fins. Resistance-training fins are smaller yet similar to the kind you see scuba divers use. By adding more resistance with each leg kick, fins help you get a better workout in less time.
Designed with the help of the Aquatic Exercise Association, these simple moves will help get your heart pumping. But rest assured that they're easy on the joints and can accommodate many levels of fitness.
- Cross-country ski jump. In chest-high water, stand with one leg forward with your foot flat on the pool bottom about a step in front of you. The other foot should be about a step behind you, resting on the ball of your foot. Extend your arms like you're holding ski poles in the water, with one arm forward and one arm behind. Do a slight jump and switch legs and arms. Hint: Move arms and legs in opposition to maintain correct alignment; when the right foot is forward, the left arm is forward.
- Easy-does-it option: Point your thumbs forward for less resistance and an easier workout. As you get better, try leading with your palm for more resistance and a tougher workout.
- Reps: 16 to 32 switches
- Jumping jacks. In water that is mid-chest depth or shallower, stand with your legs together and arms at your sides. Jump, moving the legs slightly past shoulder width while bringing your arms out to the sides (but do not lift above the water's surface). Keep your head up and don't let your shoulders slouch. Jump again and return to the start position.
- Easy-does-it option: To reduce the impact of jumping jacks, squat in the water, like you're sitting in a chair. Move your legs apart and together as your feet gently tap the pool bottom. Your shoulders should stay at the water's surface.
- Reps: 16 to 32 jumps
- Kicks. In chest-high water, alternate legs as you kick straight, to the side and backward without arching your back). Remember to stand up straight with your abdominals tight and shoulder blades back and down (think of putting them in your back pockets).
- Easy-does-it option: Try bending your knees first, then kicking out. Remember to keep the knees slightly bent or "soft" to protect your joints.
- Reps: 16 to 32 total kicks, alternating legs
- Walking/jogging. Between exercises, move around the pool by walking or jogging in water that is midchest or lower. Keep the same kind of stride you would have on land. Don't lean forward more than 10 degrees. Also consider moving backward and sideways to engage more muscles and provide a balanced workout.
- Easy-does-it option: Strap on a flotation device, such as a vest, and move to deeper water to limit impact.
- Time: Walk 10 minutes and run 2 minutes. As the activity becomes easier, you can increase the amount of time running.