If you haven't swum a lap since you took swimming lessons as a kid, you might be surprised at how much effort it takes to swim for any significant length of time. After a few laps' worth of kicking and spluttering, you might decide that sipping margaritas poolside is more your thing. However, if you're really committed to swimming longer and turning it into a bona fide workout, the key is really to just get in the pool and start kicking.
Get some basic gear. A swimsuit designed for lap swimming will help reduce drag in the water, something which can make you slower and make swimming more difficult. Also get a pair of quality goggles. Having to keep your head above water wastes energy that you could be using to swim.
Perform a warmup before every swim. Warming by walking, cycling or swimming slowly before the bulk of your workout eases your heart into a faster rhythm, gradually delivering more oxygen to your cells. It's important to warm up no matter what your overall goals are, but in this case, it could reduce the initial shock of diving right into hard swimming and, thereby, improve your endurance.
Swim at your own pace and fitness level at first. Set a goal to swim as long as you can until you feel fatigued. Note the time when you started and the time when you ended so you have a baseline for the number of minutes you're currently able to swim. Write down that number -- as well as the date -- for future reference. For the first week to two weeks, swim three to four days a week, continuing to swim for that baseline length of time.
Set a goal to add two to five minutes to your workout every week to two weeks. If you're just getting started as a swimmer, you're going to make some big strides in endurance simply by swimming on a regular basis. Once you've established that level of basic fitness, you have to push yourself by setting goals. If you need extra motivation to swim that extra two minutes, treat yourself to a smoothie, movie night or other reward when you meet your goal. If you are really struggling to add more time, use a kickboard or a pair of swim fins to help you through.
Start strength training if you're not already doing so. Not only is strength training two days a week recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of a healthy routine, it's also a way to gain more muscle and burn fat. Muscle burns calories more efficiently than fat, so doing resistance exercises will help you slim down. When you weigh less, it gets easier to propel your body through the water.
Seek the company of others. Having a buddy to swim in the lane next to you might add a level of competition that will make you swim longer -- so long as that person is at about the same level of fitness as you. If you swim with someone who's much faster than you, it might have the opposite effect, since you'll be struggling to keep up with her. Another idea: Join a swim club, such as a U.S. Masters program at your local pool. While the workouts might be challenging at first, the camaraderie could help you make significant progress in a short amount of time. Not only that, a coach will help you work on your form, making your strokes more efficient so that it's not so difficult to propel your body through the water.
- If you're not a strong swimmer, consider taking an adult swim course similar to those you might have taken as a child. Classes such as these can help you re-learn the important safety aspects of swimming, as well as allowing you to work on strokes you might not have done before. Another option is to use a flotation device or kickboard until you're completely comfortable swimming laps.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.