Anaerobic Vs. Aerobic Swimming Workouts

Sprinting elevates your heart rate into the anaerobic zone.
i Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The human heart is a built-in tool to gauge how hard you are working out. You can design specific swimming workouts based on your heart rate to achieve various fitness goals. If you want to build endurance, go for an aerobic workout. If you want to increase speed, try an anaerobic workout.

Aerobic Basics

    In an aerobic swimming workout, you are typically swimming at a moderate intensity for a long period of time. During this steady workout, your body breaks down glycogen into glucose. Oxygen is then brought in to change the glucose into energy. When in the aerobic zone, you heart is beating at 70 to 80 percent of its maximum heart rate. Fifty percent of your calories are burned from fat at this rate.

Anaerobic Basics

    An anaerobic workout has you swimming at a very intense pace at or near your maximum heart rate. During the anaerobic phase, instead of using glucose and oxygen to produce energy, your body uses creatine phosphate. The human body can only produce energy in approximately 30 second burst at this rate. If you keep swimming at this intense pace after that energy source is depleted, your body starts to use the anaerobic glycolysis system to generate energy. This system produces lactic acid as a byproduct, which can lead to a burning sensation in your muscles.

Aerobic Swimming Workout

    A long swim provides a solid aerobic workout. For those starting out, aim to swim 15 to 60 minutes at 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. An example of this type of aerobic workout is swimming 20 100-meter laps with 10 to 15 seconds rest or five 400-meter laps with 20 to 25 seconds rest. If you already have a solid swimming foundation and want to build your endurance, aim to swim at 80 percent of your maximum heart rate for 15 to 25 minutes. An example of this aerobic workout would be 10 200-meters with 15 seconds rest between sets.

Anaerobic Swimming Workout

    To get your body into the anaerobic zone, you must be sprinting. These short, hard burst of energy cannot go on for too long because the lactic acid will eventually build up in your muscles and cause muscle failure in your shoulders, arms, upper back and quadriceps. During an anaerobic workout, aim to workout at 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate. An example of a workout would be eight 50-meter sprints at your maximum pace. Take three to five minutes of rest between sprints to recovery. Follow this with five 100-meter sprints at your maximum pace with four minutes of recovery between sprints.

the nest