Whether you are treading water or sprinting 200 yards of butterfly, swimming is a full-body exercise that strengthens and tones most muscle groups. Every movement through water encounters resistance because water is denser than air. As a result, movements in the pool are more challenging for the muscles. A typical swimming workout strengthens and tones the buttocks muscles -- gluteus maximus, gluteus medis and gluteus minimus. Because gluteus maximus is one of the largest and strongest muscles of the body, it is relatively easy to isolate this muscle in a swimming workout, along with the other buttocks muscles, for even greater toning results.
Kick-Butt with the Kickboard
The kickboard is an excellent tool for isolating the movement of the lower body in a swimming workout. Hold the kickboard in front of you with your arms extended so that the biceps are by your ears. This increases movement in the hips and minimizes injury and discomfort to the shoulders. Place your face in the water and turn your head to breathe. Count your kicks to breathe at regular intervals. Flip on your back for backstroke kick. Alternate stroke kicks -- freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and dolphin, throughout the workout at a frequency that works for you: every lap, every 50 yards or every 100 yards. Focus on initiating the movement from the hip to isolate and work the muscles of your butt.
Kicking drills provide an alternative to using a kickboard and alleviate the strain of repetition in a swimming workout. An effective kicking drill for any stroke is swimming a length of the pool underwater with your arms in streamline position: arms extended with the biceps by the ears, wrist over wrist and hand over hand. Push off the wall under water and position your arms. Start kicking to optimize the momentum of the push off the wall. Alternate laps with freestyle, breaststroke and dolphin kicking. Come up for air as necessary and dive back under to finish the lap. Swimming underwater quickly teaches you efficient leg movement and creates an incentive to kick hard and fast.
Tone with Treading Water
Simply treading water is a demanding use of the gluteal muscles -- increase the impact of this simple exercise with some focus. Tread water with one leg held out straight in front of your body for five to 10 seconds, and then switch legs. Another method is to lift your torso as high out of the water for as long as you can sustain, usually a few seconds. Hold your arms overhead to create a more intense isolation of the work in the leg and buttocks.
Fins for Greater Resistance and Results
Swimming with fins creates a greater surface area for resistance. Resistance exercises are one of the best ways to build muscle and tone. Incorporating fins into your swimming workout not only provides variety, but also provides results. Use fins with a kick board, kick drills and even for treading water. When adding fins, add them slowly. Fins can cause cramping and flex your ankles beyond your usual range of motion. If you feel a cramp beginning, stop, hold the lane rope or gutter and remove your fin. Pull your toes back to relieve the cramp and set your fins aside for the rest of the set.
Eileen Pfefferle covers art, literature, language, culture, nutrition and yoga. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Spanish from the University of Wyoming. Pfefferle is a registered yoga instructor with a specialization in children's yoga.