Swimming Fitness

swimming breath

According to exercise pathologist Robert A. Robergs, "swimming is a good fitness choice for just about everyone, especially those who have physical limitations or who find other forms of exercise painful. It is an excellent whole-body low impact exercise type that is ideal for individuals with arthritis, musculoskeletal, or weight limitations." In addition, swimming is often used in rehabilitation for several types of injuries and/or surgeries.

For these reasons, swimming is one of the most popular forms of aerobic exercise. Swimming is also an excellent exercise type for improving cardiovascular endurance, toning and lengthening muscle tissue, and improving joint range of motion.

As an effective cross-training and rehabilitation activity, swimming is perfect for anyone wanting to wade into exercise but afraid that their body cannot handle the stress. Water has an amazing effect on the body in that it bears the weight depending on how deeply it is submerged. Submerged to the waist, the body will bear only 50% of its weight. Submerging to the neck causes the body to bear only 10%.

The objective of competitive swimming is to record the fastest time over a predetermined distance. This form of swimming became common in the 19th century, and consists of 36 single meets – 18 for men and 18 for women. The International Olympic Committee currently recognizes 34 meets – 17 for men and 17 for women. An event at the Summer Olympic Games, men and women compete in 26 of the standard meets. Olympic meets utilize a 50-meter swimming pool.

In addition to being almost entirely injury-resistant, swimming is a great way to get fit. Swimming employs all of the major muscle groups, including the back, shoulders, legs, abdominals and hips. Because water affords twelve times the resistance of air in all directions, it can rapidly build strength. Much like running, interval training is best when swimming as an exercise to become more fit and burn calories. This involves swimming rapidly for a short period of time and then swimming slowly for a longer period.

In addition to interval training, technique is also very important to proper swimming fitness. To be successful, hire a swimming coach or join a local swimming group. Getting the rhythm of the strokes and breathing can be difficult at first, and instructors can help beginning swimmers dive into concepts one at a time.

Getting Started


The best swimmers always warm up before hitting the pool, better preparing their body for an effective workout. Begin by walking the length of the pool - first outside of the water and then perhaps waist deep in water to warm up the legs.

Following that, try submerging up to the neck in the water and paddling to stay afloat. By doing so, you will warm-up the muscles and joints and ready them for your workout.

The only equipment needed to begin is a swimsuit and a pair of goggles, making swimming a relatively affordable activity provided that there is a local swimming pool offering open swim times, which is usually the case. If there are no local swimming pools, consider enlisting a buddy and swimming in a local lake or pond.

Always have a friend and a method of getting additional help in case of an accident if swimming in local lakes or rivers. In addition, always be cautious of any debris, glass, or sharp objects that may be on the lying on the surface of the lake or pond.

An Olympic Training Program

Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps recommends this simple, 9-week dry land training plan for faster swim times and an overall better workout.


Cardiovascular activity to be performed at the beginning of the workout and for 5 to 10 minutes

Work Out

45 Degree Leg Presses

  • Week 1-5: 25-30 reps

  • Week 6-9: 35-40 reps (2 sets) with two minutes rest in between sets

Seated Cable Rows

  • Week 1-5: 15-20 reps

  • Week 6-9: 20-30 reps (2 sets) with two minutes rest in between sets

Leg Extensions

  • Week 1-5: 20-25 reps

  • Week 6-9: 25-30 reps (2 sets) with two minutes rest in between sets

Push Ups

  • Perform as many as possible within 1 minute

Lying Leg Curls

  • Week 1-5: 20-25 reps

  • Week 6-9: 25-30 reps (2 sets) with two minutes rest in between sets

Wide Grip Pulldowns

  • Week 1-5: 15-20 reps

  • Week 6-9: 15-20 reps (2 sets) with two minutes rest in between sets

Seated Calf Raises

  • Week 1-5: 20-25 reps

  • Week 6-9: 10-15 reps (2 sets) with two minutes rest in between sets

Seated Side Lateral Deltoids Raises

  • All Weeks 15-20 reps


  • All Weeks 15-20 reps

Abdominals Crunches

  • All Weeks 25-35 reps (2 sets) with two minutes rest in between sets


  • Five to ten minutes of light aerobics and stretching

Typical Injuries Associated With Swimming

Swimmer's Shoulder: Swimmer’s shoulder is a common condition after a swim and is responsible for nearly 60% of all injuries that swimmers suffer. A survey of more than 1,300 American swimmers determined that 47% of all age groups as well as 73% of professional swimmers had experienced shoulder pain that prevented them from swimming.

Though somewhat vague in its definition, Swimmer's Shoulder is the absence of the regular, fluid motion and suffocation of delicate tissues located beneath the shoulder. The proper treatment of Swimmer's Shoulder is to increase the warm-up period and allow only the activities that cause no pain. Using the R.I.C.E. method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) will aid in reducing any feelings of pain or inflamed tissue.

Breaststroker’s Knee: Knee pain is also a typical condition among swimmers, especially those that use the breast stroke. In fact, knee pain accounts for at least 25% of all recurring swimming injuries. Typically, Breaststroker’s Knee is thought to be a recurring injury of a ligament that centers the underside of the knee cap.

If the pain is minor, treat it with increased warm-up periods and stretches, and abstain from any exercise that brings additional pain. Any thigh strengthening exercises and a re-evaluation of the proper technique are invaluable to preventing the recurrence of pain. The R.I.C.E. method must be used early to prevent further injury.

Butterfly Back: Back pain in the lower region is common in professional swimmers, and is responsible for almost 10% of all orthopedic issues. The Butterfly stroke and the newly developed "undulating" execution of the breast stroke normally results in the recurring hyperextension of the back. This process can overstrain the bone structure of the spine and result in a fracture.

Many issues are insignificant, and are typically muscle or minor ligament sprains. Treatment is usually successful with rest and a "stretch and strength" program with a physiotherapist. However, lingering discomfort, impaired training and lack of improvement after three weeks should be explored further to rule out the possibility of a stress problem.

Nutritional Information for Swimmers

Nicole Haislett, 1992 Olympic swimmer, writes the following about proper nutrition for swimmers:

freestyle swimming

"Choose foods close to nature (i.e. whole foods that are minimally processed and/or preserved), always choose fresh foods over pre-packaged food items and try to consume foods that are nutritionally dense (i.e. high in micro nutrients). In addition, make sure that there is enough fiber in your diet.

Avoid refined sugars and enriched food products. Choose whole grains over those that have been stripped of their natural content. Keep your diet interesting. Don’t eat the same food products day after day. Make time to eat. Don’t eat on the run or standing up. Taste, savor and appreciate your food. Food is not only a necessity, but something that should be enjoyed.

Prepare meals with love, attention and intention. Read labels and learn to understand them. Pay attention to how foods make you feel and take responsibility for the foods you eat."