As a long term gym goer and someone who quit swim lessons halfway through as a kid, I have always been a natural sinker vs swimmer. Swimming doesn’t come naturally to me, but I have always wanted to complete an Ironman and knew eventually I would need to change my swimming abilities to complete such a goal. I’m slowly working towards that goal, but don’t worry fellow meatheads, I don’t plan on becoming a skinny cardio junky during the process. More on how I plan to avoid this in coming months, but I hope I can convince a few people who make excuses not to swim, to start including it in their fitness regime. And heck, it seemed like a good way to return to blogging after many months off.
Pretty much every other physical activity involves a lot of joint loading and compression throughout the body and in particular the spine. Swimming feels very decompressive. During a good swim stroke you focus on getting long while trying to be efficient and glide. This feels great and coming out of the pool feels very different than any other exercise. Your torso feels lengthened, your spine feels decompressed, and all the muscles in your body have received a great workout.
Swimming is a great aerobic workout that is amazing for conditioning your lungs. This proves to be valuable for cross-over training for other aerobic sports, recovery training for athletes like Crossfitters or field athletes, and from a physio perspective great for individuals recovering from injuries. Improving the body’s ability to utilize oxygen and perfuse tissues with blood without aggressively loading the body can be helpful cross-training during the rehab from practically any lower half injury. More blood flowing through the body and into injured tissues is much better than sitting on the couch feeling sorry for yourself that you can’t run or squat. Nothing frustrates me more than when I have a patient (typically runners) become completely sedentary in hopes to fix their injury or they have no idea how to get in exercise outside of running. Basically unless you have either a concussion, severe low back pain, or BOTH a severe upper and lower extremity issue at the same time you can always get in exercise.
Swimming is an underrated core workout and again differs from most other core exercises because the torso is being tractioned/lengthened while having to work to resist/create different rotary forces. Most core exercises are either shortening tissues or holding braced positions fairly intensely. The lengthening of the torso while having to create tension and hold tension is an extremely effective workout for creating strength and control in the mid-section.
I find when swimming you can feel imbalances through your torso/shoulders/hips and can really focus on evening out the body as best as possible through focussed attention the parts of your stroke effected. Kick evenly, pull evenly, stay stable in the water without over-rotating, even out your ability to side glide while taking breaths etc. Once you get over the initial phase of just trying to survive in the water you can really focus your attention to these things and I feel it has my greatly improved my overall body awareness.
For most people that don’t swim they may be surprised to find out that it can be a great leg workout as well on top of the obvious upper body and also core training effects. There is a lot of isometric/small range quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves that can be helpful adjuncts to tendinopathies and painful joints. It really is a full body workout.
In summary, I have found a lot of benefit to swimming and I can see myself including it into a regular fitness regime for the rest of my life. I was once one of those people that said “oh I’m so bad at swimming, I can’t do it” and I know a lot of people that are like that too. I would highly recommend it though to anyone looking for an adjunct to training. If you are a runner looking for something to help with aerobic capacity and unload the body I can’t think of anything better. For Crossfitters who want to train more and more, but know there is a limit to how much they can beat themselves up, swimming is a great recovery workout. Unless your shoulders and neck are major issues I can’t see a reason to avoid it. Even with relatively minor shoulder or neck mobility restrictions and/or sensitized tissues swimming can be a beneficial adjunct and can be helpful in restoring balance and strength through your upper quadrant. Don’t let lack of ability stop you from utilizing such a great training tool, if you put a focussed effort into it for a few months, what once seemed impossible will seem easy.
Hope to start blogging more regularly again. Thanks for reading guys!!