Actress Natalie Portman and songstress Colbie Caillat have something in common, besides showing up on almost every magazine cover out there. Both use swimming as a way to stay healthy and keep slim. Heed the siren's call and take a dip in the pool for calorie-burning cardio. But first, prepare properly from head to toe, and from the inside out.
While you may not feel hot and sweaty while swimming, swimming can still cause a major loss of water, and dehydration can be a major issue. And thanks to warm water and high humidity around the pool, dehydration can kick in, in as little as 30 minutes after you've started swimming. So have a drink or two, downing a couple cups of water two hours before swimming. Then, sip 10 ounces of water after every 20 minutes of being in the pool.
Crave Some Carbs
Put aside that low-carb snack and listen up. While this advice may make your low-carb friends shudder, carbs give your body the fuel it needs during a cardio workout like swimming. The night before your swimming day, eat complex carbs such as potatoes or pasta. Then, have a small carb-rich snack such as a banana or toast with honey right before swimming. This keeps fatigue and burnout at bay.
Pack Your Bags Ahead of Time
Getting your stuff ready the day before you head to the pool is especially helpful if you're going to a competitive swim meet with a strict starting time, but it's helpful for any woman with a busy schedule. And that pretty much describes most people. The night before your swim day, pack your bag with everything you need so you're not scrambling as you head out the door. The obvious stuff includes towels, your swimsuit, swim cap and goggles, and a change of clothes. But don't forget sunscreen if you'll be outdoors -- the sun's wrinkle-creating UV rays aren't a girl's friend -- and a good book for your post-swim relaxation.
Visualize Your Success
It's all in your head. Really. You don't need a shrink to tell you that visualizing images of success, such as that perfect backstroke or dive, actually improves your swimming performance. Create an image in your mind of what you want to accomplish with this swim, then focus on that image. This can help you tune out distractions, such as a noisy crowd at a competitive swimming race, or just help motivate you before you do some casual laps.
Get Warmed Up
Swimming is just like running, jogging or any other form of cardio. You want to warm up before really kicking your body into high gear, as this helps improve your performance and also prevents injuries. Spend five to 10 minutes in the pool doing basic swimming movements; nothing high speed and crazy, just slow and steady movements that get the blood flowing. If you're at a competitive swim race and there's no room for you to swim until it's your race time, a hot shower or wearing heat-trapping sweats can help get your body temperature up as a substitute to a traditional warm-up.
Joshua Duvauchelle is a certified personal trainer and health journalist, relationships expert and gardening specialist. His articles and advice have appeared in dozens of magazines, including exercise workouts in Shape, relationship guides for Alive and lifestyle tips for Lifehacker. In his spare time, he enjoys yoga and urban patio gardening.