Purchase appropriate equipment. You shouldn’t need to spend too much on swimming gear. You will need a good swimsuit––for women, this should be one piece. For men, choose swimming pants that cling, not board shorts or any other type of shorts. If you try to kick wearing flappy swimming gear, you’ll find it tends to affect your kick and can lead to bad kicking habits that only make use of the lower part of the leg. Goggles are also essential for most pools if your eyes are affected badly by chlorine (few people can swim regularly in chlorinated water without goggles on). Other items you might like to buy, hire or borrow include:
- Flippers/fins for increased speed (some swimming pools provide these free of charge)
- Hand paddles for correcting alignment and providing propulsion (water gloves are another possibility)
- Kickboard for holding onto when doing kicking-only laps (some swimming pools provide these free of charge)
- Some people like to use nose and ear plugs to prevent water going in
- Water dumbbells for adding resistance for strength training
- Swimming noodle for tucking under your arms and increasing your buoyancy
- A swimming cap––although not essential (unless the swimming pool management requires it), it helps to streamline you and can protect hair to a small extent
- Swimmer’s shampoo and conditioner––again not essential but regular swimmers find that such hair care products can prevent drying out and greening of hair due to the chlorine
- Towel; while any towel will probably do, some swimmers prefer super-absorbent towels and perhaps a small wipe-down towel for when you jump out of the pool or take a quick bathroom break before hopping back in
- A water bottle might be handy for fresh water to drink.
Plan to swim regularly. Fitness benefits will only come from regular swimming. While the most benefits will probably result from swimming two to three times a week, even once weekly swims should help to improve your fitness levels. Choose a consistent schedule that you know you’ll be able to meet each week and mark it in your calendar.
Decide on the type of swimming you’ll do dependent on the fitness and strength needs you want to enhance. Choose your swimming strokes according to what you enjoy (an important motivation for staying fit), what you’re able to do efficiently and what brings you the benefits you’re after by way of fitness. For most fitness swimmers, a combination of strokes tends to be the most interesting and useful approach, but it’s not unusual either for some fitness swimmers to prefer one type of stroke over all others. It really depends on your own comfort and needs, acknowledging that the best overall body workout will come from a combination of swimming strokes. Different swimming strokes convey different benefits for your body:
- Freestyle or front crawl: This is the most popular competitive swimming stroke and if you’re good at it, you can go quite fast. It’s good for stretching your entire body, in particular your shoulders and back, biceps, triceps, quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings. But for those with weak arm muscles, it can feel like enormously hard work. Persist though, as this is a good all-round, efficient stroke and it just feels good to go through the water quickly once you’ve built up your speed.
- Breaststroke: While some say this stroke is the hardest to perform well, it can actually feel very relaxing and easy to do because you get to control the pace and still benefit from it as a workout. It’s a good stroke for in between the faster swimming laps, when you want to keep going but at a slower pace. It’s the ideal stroke for developing all-body strength and increasing your endurance and has the same benefits as freestyle, with the added extra of working out your thighs and pectorals. Be aware that breaststroke may exacerbate existing neck, back or knee pain/injuries––if this is an issue for you, avoid using this stroke until you feel stronger and have the all-clear from your health care specialist.
- Backstroke or back crawl: This stroke is good for extending your back and shoulder muscles (helping to improve your posture) and for those who like to breathe the whole time they swim, this stroke is perfect! You get to do a lot of staring at the ceiling, so hopefully it’s an interesting one. When doing backstroke, be sure to choose markers above you that indicate you’re nearing the end––it can be really painful banging into the edge of the pool at a fast pace.
- Sidestroke: This stroke is not very taxing, and is actually intended as a rescue stroke, enabling someone to be able to hold an injured person while swimming them back to shore. It’s a good one to include in a mix of swim strokes, especially if you’re aiming for distance in your swims.
- Other stroke styles: Butterfly is another possibility, as is “dog paddle”. The former is hard to learn and to physically exhausting to maintain, while the latter is so simple it can soon bore you. However, as part of a mix of laps, these two swimming strokes can be a good way to vary the routine. And to endear you more toward the butterfly stroke, it’s a real calorie burner, burning up about 800 calories an hour!
- Kickboard laps: These laps are to help strengthen your kick strokes. They can be a fairly restful break in between the harder, faster laps without a kickboard. They’re also a very graceful way to get you started in fitness swimming, as you can do quite a few kickboard laps before feeling too worn out.
Get started. Push yourself to do a lap of your favorite stroke to begin with and see how it feels. If it’s okay and you think you can do more, keep going until it’s too difficult. If it proves too hard to complete even a single lap at the beginning, do what you can and take rest breaks as often as needed––in fact, deliberately build in some rest breaks, as well as allowing yourself unscheduled ones. This isn’t a competition––building up your strength and endurance will take time but you will also find that with regular workouts, you’ll improve quickly. The idea is to try and swim for 10 minutes the first few visits and to gradually build up to 30 minutes each visit. When you’re comfortable at that level, 45 to 60 minute swims can then be considered, depending on what time you have available and how much you feel additional time is benefiting you.
- If you’re in really poor shape, swimming might not be the ideal way to begin. There is no harm in starting slowly and building up––simply walking or jogging in chest-high water can be a good way to begin your fitness in the water. Walk forward and backward, as well as from side to side. As you do so, swing your arms.
- Don’t be surprised if the first few laps feel really hard at first. Keep pushing yourself because soon enough they will seem easier, allowing you to push through to the next few laps and so on.
- Use the kickboard to help you get started and remain motivated––you’ll be buoyed up and you won’t have to work as hard to begin with.
- Regularly increase the amount you’re doing each week––it’s a good idea to push yourself just beyond what you think you can do each time.
- Learn to keep a record in your mind as to how many laps you’ve done––good for your memory and vital to ensure you’re not under- or over-doing the laps.
- Consider water workout methods as a complementary to your swimming.
Plan fitness workout routines. Initially, you’ll want to get into a rhythm of turning up regularly and getting moving. However, within a short space of time, it’s important to establish a routine. Rather than simply lapping up and down the pool without a focus, develop a workout plan that gives you something to work towards and beyond, focusing on the fitness and speed you’re trying to achieve. There are many possible workout programs, and what you choose is dependent on which strokes you like and will be of benefit to you. Some pools will provide suggested workout programs––if you can’t see any (often placed on laminated sheets or on the wall), ask at the counter for suggestions. Other sources of workout plans include reputable swimming sites online and swimming workout books which you can borrow from the library or purchase.
- When selecting a fitness plan, focus on what it will do for you. Do you want to increase your speed, improve your endurance or simply unbend that permanently knotted shoulder area?
- A very basic starter routine would be something like: 2 x laps freestyle; 2 x laps backstroke; 2 x laps breaststroke; 2 x laps with kickboard; 2 x laps freestyle; then do a swim-down. This would provide a complete body workout at an easy pace which can be doubled, tripled, etc., as you improve over time. It can also be easily varied to accommodate preferred strokes or strokes that are having a clear benefit for your fitness.
- Change the workout routine when it becomes clear that the existing one has outlived its usefulness, namely when what you’re doing feels “too easy.”
- Consider asking fellow swimmers what their approaches to fitness swim workouts are. They might have some great tips for you.