Feeling meh about your cardio routine? Consider swimming. This low-impact sport can breathe new life into your workout routine, and there are tons of other benefits from swimming that might make you want to sub it in as a fresh cardio option with lifeguard training near me.
But before you put on your suit and hit the lap pool, there are some things you should know about swimming for fitness. We tapped three experts for insights on proper technique, gear, and how to safely and effectively start a swimming routine. We also rounded up 10 seriously awesome mental and physical benefits of swimming, so you can feel extra good about adding pool time to your schedule. Read on for everything you need to know.
What kind of exercise is swimming?
Swimming counts as cardiovascular exercise. That’s because it involves lots of large muscle groups working together simultaneously and continuously, which requires your heart to work hard to pump oxygen throughout your body. As a result, you feel breathless, and your heart rate increases. Swimming also incorporates muscular endurance work, since tackling lap after lap requires your muscles to function for long periods of time.
In some circumstances—say, a workout that’s heavy on fast sprints—swimming can double as strength training and power building. But the majority of the time, swimming is going to be considered a type of cardio workout.
How can beginners get started swimming?
It’s important to swim with the right stroke technique, since that can help you move through the water more efficiently and reduce your risk of injury. So if you don’t have a strong background in the sport, it’s a good idea to get help from a qualified coach before you start swimming on your own.
Look for someone who is certified as a water safety instructor, Tracy Doherty, NSCA-certified personal trainer and USA Swim Coach level 1, tells SELF. (It’s even better if they have competitive swimming experience and a background in anatomy and physiology!) Both USA Swimming and the Red Cross have databases where you can find qualified instructors. You can also go to your local pool and ask if they have an in-house instructor, certified swim coach Roger Montenegro, C.S.C.S., tells SELF.
If you can’t afford a coach or don’t have one accessible to you, there are online resources that can help you improve your stroke technique, says Doherty. (Check out her recommendations here, here, and here.)
What kind of swimming gear do you need?
In terms of gear, a swimsuit is (obviously) a must. Get one that feels comfortable and secure so you don’t have to worry about it falling down as you swim. One-piece suits are typically more comfortable and easy to exercise in than two-piece suits. This might be different from the type of suit you wear when lounging around the pool—it’s completely okay to have one for each purpose!
Another must? Goggles. “You need to be able to see to swim,” says Doherty. “If it’s blurry, and you don’t know where you’re going, then you’re going to start to change your stroke.” She recommends getting goggles with adjustable nose pieces so that you can fit them to your face, which reduces the risk of leakage. Check out the Speedo, Arena, or TYR brands, suggests Doherty.
Many experts also recommend swimming caps for people who want to keep their hair out of the way while swimming. Silicone swim caps tend to feel more comfortable than latex and are more effective than cloth caps at keeping water out and reducing drag. Last, consider purchasing a pair of fins, as they naturally help you learn how to kick better, says Montenegro. Buy short fins (not the long fins that scuba divers use), says Doherty, who recommends fins by Speedo, Finnis, and TYR. You should also bring a pair of shower shoes or flip-flops to wear around the pool and the locker room to guard against issues like athlete’s foot.
How often should you swim for fitness?
When it comes to actually getting in the water, start slowly and ease your way into a swimming routine. Swimming is a challenging sport, and even the fittest athletes (think marathoners and intense cyclists) can struggle with it at first, says Doherty, so don’t be discouraged if just three minutes of straight swimming in the pool leaves you winded. Start with 20- to 30-minute sessions, and swim one length at a time, suggests Doherty.
From there, slowly ramp up your duration and distance, and be as consistent with your routines as you can.