With the growing consensus among experts that the possibility of catching Covid-19 outdoors is much lower than indoors, it’s no surprise that people are shying away from crowded gyms and looking to alternative forms of exercise to get their endorphins hit. Meet your next workout routine
Social media is largely responsible for the surge in popularity of trend-led exercises such as weight training, spin and HIIT which, thanks to its impressive, fast-yielding results, has been the darling of the fitness scene for the last few years. Yet while these short bursts of ‘maximal effort’ exercise are indeed effective, there is a strong case for resurrecting that swimming schedule from your school days and hitting the pool instead.
While every type of workout has its selling points, swimming is unlike any other form of aerobic exercise in a number of ways. Firstly, with your bones and muscles generally unshackled from the constraints of gravity, it’s easy on the joints as the water supports around 90% of your bodyweight. “Swimming is a low impact form of exercise,” explains Mark Randall, Aquatics Unit Head at Dubai’s FitRepublik. “The buoyancy of the water helps to keep stress off the joints.”
Don’t be fooled, though – a session in the water also counts as strength training too, and it targets more major muscle groups than any other form of cardio exercise. “Swimming does indeed tone muscle and build strength,” adds Randall. “To build strength in the water, you need to focus on shorter, faster repetitions. You can also include training add-ons such as swim paddles and a pull buoy, which will help develop the upper body. Swimming fins will add more speed to your session while also strengthening the muscles in your legs.”
Different strokes use muscles in different ways. Looking to sculpt those abs? Backstroke causes the hips to tilt from side to side, forcing both core and back muscles to engage, whereas front and back crawl lend themselves to faster cardio workouts. Quite simply, the pool is your oyster. For those still not convinced about slipping into their swimmers, it’s not only the physical benefits that are worth noting – several studies have found that swimming regularly for around 30-45 minutes can battle depression, stress and age-related decline.
While all forms of regular exercise are proven to reap substantial mental health benefits thanks to a release of mood-lifting endorphins, swimming is so much more than that. As one of the few sports that demand you leave your phone on the side, it’s physically impossible to check your emails or post to Instagram in the water, providing the mind a much-needed break from digital stimulation.
One study by professors at NKP Salve Institute of Medical Sciences in Nagpur, India even found that hitting the pool was comparable to yoga in terms of reducing anxiety and stress over a 12-week period. “When you are swimming, you have a goal such as number of laps, and reaching this is all about mind over matter” says Canadian Olympic swimmer Max Bouchard. “You may want to give up, but if you keep pushing until you finish, it builds mental fitness. This is an effective tool for other areas of your life, too.”
Keen to get involved but don’t know where to start? “Like anything, it’s always good to have a goal because it’s easier to track your progress and will keep your motivation high,” explains Bouchard. “If you set your goal at 50 laps, start with 10 and work your way up. When you reach your goal, calculate your time and see how you progress each session.”
For more experienced swimmers looking to set up a solid routine, Randall advises targeting certain heart rate zones for each session. “The first session of the week may include longer, slower swims with a low heart rate to build your endurance and cardio,” he explains. “In another session, include swim sets where you keep the heart rate a little higher for a specified period. Including short, fast sprints in your weekly routine is also a must. Include one session where you are trying to hit all these areas throughout, starting slow and finishing fast towards the end of the course.”
How to burn more calories while swimming…
The number of calories burnt will depend on several factors such as weight, swim speed and stroke. Butterfly, the hardest and mosttechnical stroke, burns the most calories as it calls for total body muscleengagement, while front and back crawl are next in line.
“Swimming is one of the best workouts to lose weight as it is similar to amarathon,” says Bouchard. “You don’t go too fast, but your heart ratewill stay at a decent pace for a long period of time and you will continueto burn calories throughout. It’s not like HIIT where your heart rate ishigh but you get exhausted quickly. Swimming is all about consistency and perseverance, burning more calories over a longer period of time.”
Photography Arya Shirazi | Styling by Janine Aggen