A good workout includes aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretches. If you’re not feeling this balance in the gym or on your regular runs, it may be time to take the plunge and add swimming to your workout.
Though swimming is primarily a cardio exercise, it's also a great exercise in strength. Water provides great resistance for your body, whether you’re swimming laps or doing some dynamic stretches to loosen up your joints.
But if that isn’t enough to fully convince you, here are five further reasons that swimming needs to be part of your training plan.
5 Epic Benefits of Adding Swimming to Your Training Plan
1. Swimming Strengthens Your Core
Maintaining core strength throughout your life is critical. Not only does a strong core help prevent injury and protect your vital organs, but it also stabilizes your body, enabling you to move freely and flexibly.
According to swim coach and personal trainer Kay Lynne Firsching, swimming is one of the best core exercises you can do because the strokes themselves demand a streamlined position in the water.
“Balance is necessary while you rotate in front crawl (freestyle) and backstroke, and when you undulate in butterfly and breaststroke,” Firsching explains. “And core stabilization is important because swimming is an open-chain activity, meaning that both your hands and feet are free to move.”
2. It’s a Full-Body Workout
The more you swim and improve your stroke, the more you’ll strengthen your core. And not only that, but as you power up your core, you’ll also recruit muscles in your legs, arms, and upper body.
“Swimming is a total-body exercise,” Firsching, who is also a record-holding weight lifter, says. “All of your major muscle groups have to work together to move your body in the pool.”
So whether you’re gliding through the water on a gentle breaststroke or going full throttle with your freestyle, you’re activating muscle groups across the upper and lower body and keeping your core engaged. This enables you to generate more power while you’re swimming (as well as when you’re on land), burn calories, and tone your body all at the same time.
3. Swimming Boosts Your Breath and Overall Lung Health
A pool workout combines strength training with great cardio conditioning because when your heart’s doing some heavy lifting, your lungs will pitch in to help.
However, while regular training will cause your cardio-pulmonary system to become more adept, swimming can actually expand overall lung size according to some studies. As a result, lung capacity and the organs’ overall health also increase.
One of the main reasons behind this has to do with a swimmer’s need to control their breathing in a way that athletes performing other forms of aerobic exercise don’t. Sure, serious runners and cyclists must manage their breathing while training or competing in an event, but breathable air is all around them. Swimmers, on the other hand, have to time their breaths with their strokes so that they can take in air at specific moments.
Sometimes, that next breath just isn’t available. That means swimmers’ bodies have to learn to wait a little longer than usual for their next intake of oxygen, which — over time — has been proven to increase the size of the lungs (and, therefore, their capacity).
Of course, the larger the lungs, the more oxygen they can hold and send to the muscles, keeping you powering down that pool longer.
4. Swimming Relieves Stress
Learning to control your breath can help in managing stress, too. Scientific studies have revealed major improvements in well-being and reduced anxiety through deliberate breathing exercises. But aside from the breath conditioning that swimming supports, the activity itself has been shown to help manage stress and stress-related symptoms.
In a 2012 global survey of nearly 1,200 swimmers aged 16 to 45, 74% of respondents said swimming helped them release stress and tension. Over two-thirds agreed that swimming has had a positive mental impact, while 70% also noted that the activity “helps them feel mentally refreshed."
5. Swimming Helps With Recovery
Finally, even if you’re not sure that you want to swap sweating in the gym for swimming in the pool, just tagging a swim to the end of training can bring you so many benefits.
“Try swimming for 10-15 minutes after a hard workout,” Firsching suggests. “Your recovery will be so much better.”
Swimming is a low-impact way to provide active stretching, a crucial part of recovery. Not only that, but it cools down a heated body, which — in turn — stamps out that feeling of fatigue after training and leaves you energized instead.
If you don’t feel confident in the water, though, Firsching recommends getting a good swim coach to look at your strokes. With over 35 years of coaching under her belt, she knows how important a coach can be to keep you motivated and improving.
“Swimming really is one of those activities that has so many benefits to offer serious athletes,” she says.