Fitness Articles

Swimming: Take the Plunge!

The All-in-One Workout

I recently swam laps for the first time since my childhood swimming lessons. The next day, when my muscles were sore and fatigued, I realized that there was much more to swimming than just splashing around. This gentle-but-challenging form of exercise builds strength and endurance in the whole body.

Swimming utilizes many different muscle groups as your body pushes against the resistance of the water. The shoulders and upper back help your arms power through the various strokes; core muscles help maintain your position in the water; the glutes drive your legs kicks to propel you forward. Since water allows for a wide range of motions, many muscle groups are involved in a single workout. Finally, like any cardio workout, you're also training your heart and lungs.

If you're new to swimming, enroll in adult lessons at your local pool or gym to master the various stroke techniques. Beginners may also start swimming with a kickboard (or other flotation device) until they're comfortable in the water.

Just like any other workout, make sure that you gradually warm up, stretch, and cool down during each session. You don't have to swim fast for every lap. Instead, try changing your speed or stroke for added variety, swimming a few gentler laps to recover, and then speeding up again.

If you've avoided the pool since those childhood lessons, these stroke basics will help you dive in again with confidence:

Freestyle Stroke
Also know as the crawl, this is one of the most common strokes. Lying facedown in the water with your legs fully extended, propel forward with fast “flutter" kicks. Alternately bring one arm from the side of your body, out and over the water in front of you, and then back down into the water, pushing your hand down toward your feet. Keep your face in the water except to take breaths on one side by turning your head to the side as your arm comes out of the water.

As the name implies, you are lying on your back during this stroke with your head resting above the water, looking up towards the ceiling. Like the freestyle, alternate fast kicks with a slight bend in the knees, but move your arms like a windmill, entering the water above your head, in line with your shoulder. Since you won’t be able to see where you are going, use the lane markers on each side of you so that you know where you are in the pool. Never perform this stroke in a crowded lane where you are likely to run into other people.
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About The Author

Liz Noelcke Liz Noelcke
Liz is a journalist who often writes about health and fitness topics.

Member Comments

  • I just joined a fitness center because of wanting to try out swimming and see how it goes. And I'm finding out that I love it. I never really cared for water growing up and later and it feels so good to be able to get some exercise in some other way than walking, etc. My Rheumatologist just recently told me that he wanted for me to find another form of exercise other than walking because my feet have gotten so bad with OA and RA, so this new form of exercise is making me so happy and so happy in fact, that I find myself craving it on the days I don't go! I love how I can walk and jog in the pool and have virtually no pain during or afterwards. Now that's a miracle to me!! - 8/23/2015 8:19:54 PM
  • I am recovering from Multiple Myeloma and had a stem cell transplant almost 2 years ago. I also had a bi-lateral knee replacement (before cancer) and have two femur rods. I love swimming and I am so grateful I can get in the water to do my laps. My aim is to swim 1/2 mile 2 or 3 times a week at our YMCA; I also do another 1/2 hour of (slow) water pilates, deep water aerobics, or exercises in the shallow end to work my legs. - 3/17/2015 6:55:26 PM
    I enjoy swimming/water jogging/treading water at the gym ( YMCA) and in the ocean. Nice to have indoor/outdoor options. Would like to try aqua zumba and aqua kickboxing. I've done water aerobics as well. - 11/17/2014 9:21:23 PM
  • Where is the funnist stroke butterfly? - 5/22/2014 9:13:50 PM
  • I now really dislike swimming as for some reason I used to be BETTER at it when I was THIN. Last few times when I used to go to the pool with my ex neighbour I used to go up to my neck and do kata in the water. - 1/9/2014 10:36:16 PM
  • Thankfully, my complex has a pool and if I get there when it opens, I can usually have it to myself for at least 30 minutes! I've never been a really strong swimmer, so I alternate true laps with running laps. I run the length of the pool while still doing swimming strokes with my arms. - 8/3/2013 8:46:37 PM
  • I also wish I had a pool to swim in. When I was growing up we had above ground pool in the backyard. My brothers and I will make whirlpools and then try to swim or walk against the current. We had a lot of fun! I know if I had access to a pool and able to fit a swimsuit that I was comfortable wearing I'd execerise a lot more often. - 3/18/2013 4:15:23 PM
  • I love to swim and wish I could everyday. I mostly do the breaststroke but I usually flutter kick instead of using the frog kick I learned with it as a child. I've also lost my fondness for having my face in the water so I hold my face out when swimming. When the summer is over and the apartment pool closes I'll have to check out the pool schedule at school. - 7/10/2012 10:52:45 PM
  • I wish I had a pool to do this. I think I would work out more often. - 7/10/2012 10:14:27 PM
  • Jack LaLanne, the Godfather of Fitness always said that swimming was the perfect exercise working all of the body and building up the lungs and heart. Yet, this exercise was easy on the joints and didn't pound down on the knees and feet. - 7/10/2012 7:58:54 PM
  • I live in a southern state so swimming shoud be a natural excersise i don't even think about this article makes me now think about it
    - 7/10/2012 2:59:28 PM
  • No butterfly? I learned how to swim well in the last year or two and I can't recommend swimming enough. It will be the cardio that gets me through my 'second stage' of life as the water is sure a softer landing than earth. - 7/10/2012 1:42:04 PM
  • I enjoy swimming but our small community only has a seasonal outdoor pool. Fortunately they do offer water aerobics in the summer and this year have added Aqua Zumba! Just wish I had the opportunity year round. - 7/10/2012 10:51:16 AM
  • I love swimming and have just recently started doing laps to increase my endurance. Wow, am I out of shape. But I am going to keep at it and look forward to seeing my improvement. And, it is so easy on the joints. Also, it makes me so tired at night! - 7/10/2012 10:32:01 AM
  • The only problem is that I can't afford to join a gym with a pool at the moment, and our apartment pool is only open in the summer and closes too early for me to get there after work (not to mention being swarming with kids on the weekends, which makes any sort of sustained swimming difficult). - 7/10/2012 9:12:32 AM

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