If you're a competitive swimmer or fitness laps fanatic, you feel the workout in your legs, lats and arms. But toning your tummy will improve your times as well as your appearance. Work your abs to cruise as sleek and swift as a seal through the water, lose the pooch over your bikini bottom and power up your pool performance.
Abs-Centric Swim Speed
Use your six-pack to propel you past the competition or to improve your personal best. "Swimming World Magazine" says strong abs make you go fast in the water. Your abdominal muscles help you to start strong, adjust your body position for efficient movement, turn quickly and last at top speed to the finish off a race or workout. You don't really need a six-pack -- although it can't hurt. You do need strong, flexible obliques and upper and lower rectus abdominis for twisting, thrusting and propulsion. USA Swimming, the website of the U.S. National Governing Board for Swimming, highlights the importance of strength and conditioning for Olympic swimmers. Core training for competitive swimming includes planks and abdominal work to lock in the good posture that protects your back and contributes to full range of motion in your shoulders.
Basic Abs Strengtheners
Your dryland core training doesn't require fancy equipment or a gym membership. You can focus on a few classic do-anywhere exercises that use body weight and controlled movement to tighten your abs and keep your waist flexible. The American Council on Exercise recommends the plank, a core-contracted holding pose in which you support your torso on your toes and forearms, and the side plank, the same move with your torso turned so one shoulder is up and you rest on one forearm and the side of one foot. Bird-dog is an exercise for torso stabilizers and rotators that you perform with an engaged core. From a position on all fours, raise and straighten the opposite arm and leg, return to all fours and alternate arms and legs. Consistency in core workouts is the key to success.
Swim-Specific Abs Moves
Spend 10 or 15 minutes a day working on your abs to enhance your butterfly stroke and freestyle. "Swimming World Magazine" lists a number of exercises that target your abs using leg and arm movements. For the all abs exercise, lie face down on a mat with your arms extended over your head and lift your arms and torso without raising your legs. For a jackknife with double leg pikes, start from a supine position on a mat, with your legs and arms extended. Raise your legs, torso and arms off the floor, reaching for your toes. To do Supermans, lie face-down, legs together with your arms extended over your head and raise your arms and legs and hold for 15 seconds or more.
Best Abs Boosters
Choose the best exercises for tighter abs to maximize the benefits of your workout. A study conducted at the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University isolated the most effective muscle-strengthening moves. All the exercises emphasized nonstop abdominal stabilization and body rotation. First on your list should be bicycles, which you do lying down, hands behind your head, elbows out and knees bent. Raise your legs and shoulders off the floor and touch your right elbow to your left knee, left elbow to right knee, continuing to alternate. The captain's chair requires gym equipment to guide your position and provide strong resistance as you work your arms and legs using the muscles of your core. Crunches on a balance ball made the list. Those demand constant stabilization using all the muscles of your core, especially the abs and obliques.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .