Swimming is a healthy activity that can be continued for a lifetime, and the health benefits swimming offers for a lifetime are worth the effort it takes to get to the swimming pool. It works practically all of the muscles in the body (if you do a variety of strokes). Swimming can develop a swimmer’s general strength, cardiovascular fitness and endurance. It does not help with bone density – you need to weight bearing exercise for that – but that is about all that is missing from what swimming could do for your fitness.
Why is Swimming So Good?
Swimming works your whole body, improving cardiovascular conditioning, muscle strength, endurance, posture, and flexibility all at the same time. Your cardiovascular system in particular benefits because swimming improves your body’s use of oxygen without overworking your heart.
As you become fitter and are able to swim longer, your resting heart rate and respiratory rate will be reduced, making blood flow to the heart and lungs more efficient. If you’re looking to lose weight, swimming is just the ticket. On average, a swimmer can burn as many calories in an hour as a runner who runs six miles in one hour. Simply put, some call swimming the perfect form of exercise.
- Whole body conditioning: Swimming tones your upper and lower body because you’re using almost all of your major muscle groups. The best strokes for all-over body toning are the freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke.
- Low risk of injury: There is a low risk for swimming injuries because there’s no stress on your bones, joints or connective tissues due to buoyancy and the fact that you weigh 1/10th less in water. If you’re looking for a safe daily workout routine, swimming is ideal because you can rigorously work out with a reduced chance of swimming injuries. Many athletes supplement their training with swimming.
- Low-impact exercise: So many people can reap the benefits of swimming. Pregnant women benefit from swimming because it helps strengthen the shoulder and abdominal muscles, which can be strained when carrying a baby. The elderly, women who have had a mastectomy and those recovering from an injury often turn to swimming or water aerobic exercises because it’s low impact, helps relax stiff muscles and isn’t weight-bearing. Swimming also increases circulation.
- Improve blood pressure: Studies have shown that a workout routine that includes swimming can help reduce and possibly prevent high blood pressure, which lowers your risk for heart disease and stroke.
- Stress reduction: You don’t have to be a water sign in the zodiac to feel the meditative and healing properties of water. Swimming is extremely relaxing because it allows more oxygen to flow to your muscles and forces you to regulate your breathing. It’s also a great way to relieve stress. Our bodies are made up of about 60% water so it’s no wonder why some feel such a draw to the water.
There are a number of swimming styles that have been developed which depend upon the position of the swimmer to the water. These styles are known as strokes and the stroke used will depend upon the purpose of the swim.
Breaststroke is the oldest known swimming stroke, as evidenced by cave drawings which have been found depicting Stone Age inhabitants using the motion. As the easiest stroke, Breaststroke is the most popular style for swimming recreationally and for fitness, and it is the slowest official stroke used in competitive swimming.
The Breaststroke is performed by leaning on the chest with the arms breaking the water slightly and the legs staying under water constantly. The body should be in line with the water surface and the shoulders and hips flat in the water. The arms are moved in a long circular motion and the legs are kicked in a movement similar to a frog’s kick, which is what slows the swimmer down. Breaststroke is difficult to perfect because, unlike front crawl or back stroke, the legs and arms are used in synchronisation. Professional swimmers will use the abdominal muscles and hips as well as the legs to add extra power to the kick.
Butterfly was originally derived as a faster alternative to breaststroke. One American researcher discovered that the swimmer is slowed down significantly in breaststroke by bringing the arms forward under water and instead developed a technique of bringing the arms forward over water. Butterfly requires more stamina and strength than the other strokes with both of the arms coming out of the water at every stroke. As with Breaststroke, both hands start in the water in front of the shoulders.
The hands are then pulled towards the feet until they reach the thighs, when they are thrown out of the water back to the original position. In order to lift the arms out of the water, the head needs to stay in the water at all times, except for when a breath is needed. The breath should be taken just as the arms reach the thighs and taken quickly so as not to disrupt the order of the stroke.
Backstroke is the only official swimming stroke to be swum on the back and the second slowest stroke in competitive swimming. The advantage of Backstroke is that it makes breathing easier but it also means that the swimmer cannot see where they are going.
Backstroke mainly uses the arms to move forward, with the legs kicking in an up-and-down motion to stabilize the body. The arms provide the power in backstroke and the movement required has three stages – the pull stage, the push stage and the recovery stage. One arm starts in a straight line above the shoulder and, once it reaches the water, it should push down towards the feet. The elbow is bent slightly and the elbow is pulled by the side to the thigh.
The elbow continues to be pushed towards the feet until the elbow is straightened. This constitutes one complete arm stroke and the arm then goes back to the original position. In Backstroke, each arm does the same thing but not at the same time. As one arm comes out of the water, the other arm should go into it, meaning one is always pushing and pulling as the other comes back round to its original position.
Front Crawl, also known as the Australian crawl, uses a similar arm stroke to backstroke but rests on the breast, giving the swimmer more flexibility in their arm. Front crawl was first seen in Europe when a number of South American swimmers used it to defeat the British breaststroke swimmers in a competition held in London in 1844. It is the fastest stroke, but can be difficult to learn, chiefly because it is hard to find a good breathing point. Front crawl is also used interchangeably with the term ‘freestyle.’ Although freestyle officially means that any stroke can be swum in competition, swimmers will always choose front crawl as it is officially the fastest stroke.
In front crawl, the body should be as close to the water surface as possible with the hips and legs behind the shoulders at all times. The leg movement requires a long and fast kicking motion, ensuring the whole of the leg is moving up and down. The knees are to be bent slightly and the feet should make a small splash. As with backstroke, the arm movement in front crawl consists of a push and pull stroke and a recovery stage.
The arms provide the power for the stroke with one arm following the other, through and over the top of the water. One hand should start in front of the head, stretching as far as possible with the hand pointing down thumb first, into the water. The elbow should be bent and the hand pushed towards the feet, keeping it going until it reaches the top of the leg. The arm should then be lifted out of the water and back to the original starting point in as controlled a fashion as possible. Front crawl is difficult because the face is in the water so, to breathe, the swimmer should turn their head to one side, leaving the side of the head resting in the water.