If you're a water baby, choosing swimming as your form of physical activity is a very good choice indeed. Not only will you be able to get an aerobic workout that challenges your cardiovascular system, but you'll also be doing a form of strength training, since moving through water involves added resistance. Getting started can involve simply diving in -- though a few things may help you stay on track to get fit.
Get the right gear. Sure, you could start out wearing that skimpy bikini that you normally sport at the beach, but after a while a pool's chlorine is going to wear that suit out. A suit designed for fitness swimming will stay on better, create less drag in the water and won't get as faded and worn-looking. Also invest in a quality pair of goggles that will allow you to keep your face in the water, making you a faster, better swimmer. Also worth getting: a pair of swim fins and a kickboard, if your pool doesn't already have loaners, and a swim cap to protect your hair from all that chlorine.
Schedule at least four sessions per week, giving yourself at least one hour for your entire workout. For good health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise. Hitting the pool for four 35-minute sessions each week will get you on the right track. According to MayoClinic.com, a 160-pound person will burn about 423 calories per hour swimming laps. Put the workout time in your personal calendar and then don't schedule anything over it -- this is your precious time to take care of you.
Include a warmup and cool-down in each session. To warm up, get in the pool and swim some really slow laps for five to 10 minutes. At the end of your swim, do the same thing for a cool-down, and then get out of the pool and do some basic arm and leg stretches.
Start out just monitoring your time. Don't worry about being the slowest swimmer at the pool; just aim for 30 to 35 minutes of consistent swimming. Focus on practicing good form for the first couple weeks. For the crawl or "freestyle" stroke, relax the neck to a neutral position, kick from the hips and extend your arm out as far forward as you can when reaching forward. If you're not sure whether you're doing a stroke correctly, ask a swim coach or trainer to monitor your form. If you can't swim continuously, swim a length of the pool, hold onto the side for a few breaths, and then get going again.
Add more variety and intensity as you get more confident in the water. One option: Try a form of high-intensity interval training in the water two days a week. Swim as fast as you can for one length of the pool, and then swim at a leisurely pace on the way back. Doing that eight times will provide you a killer workout that can help boost metabolism and help you burn fat faster, advises the American Council on Exercise. On other days, isolate parts of your body by using a pull buoy to focus on the arms, or hold onto a kickboard to place more focus on your legs. Also start monitoring your time. Look at the clock just before you start a lap, and again when you're done. Take a short break and then swim another lap, trying to beat your previous time.
- If you want to add even more variety and challenge to your workouts, join a swim club in which you'll be pitted against other swimmers and learn new drills to make you faster and more efficient.
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.