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Make a splash: swimming to keep fit and exercise

gunnell-aug12-swimmingFor a workout that’s full of fun and will exercise all the muscles in your body without being too strenuous, take to the water for a revitalising dip

Does the idea of going to the gym to do heavy, intensive workouts make you want to run for the hills? If so, head to your nearest pool instead. It’s a fabulous way of getting a whole-body workout and will leave you feeling fresh and invigorated.

What sets swimming apart from many other exercises is that it is suitable for everybody (because the water supports the body so well), making it a great option for pregnant women or new mums with post-baby fat, overweight people and those with conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis. It is also a beneficial way of exercising for the elderly.

A good swimming workout should include a short warm-up to lubricate your muscles – start with a few stretches in the water followed by a short swim or glide. This should get your blood flowing and your body used to being in the water.

You can then move on to the main workout, completing ‘sets’ of each stroke (see The Choice Is Yours, pg76), for example, five lengths of backstroke followed by five lengths of front crawl.

Build up to sets of longer lengths and use as many different strokes as you like – they all activate the main muscle groups in the body.

When it comes to equipment, it’s best to opt for professional sportswear rather than high-street fashion pieces which may be of inferior quality and won’t last. And, finally, do wear a swimming cap. Too much chlorine can leave hair dry and damaged.

The choice is yours…
The four main swimming strokes work different parts of your body

Front crawl
This stroke is considered to be the fastest swimming style (also known as freestyle). Most professional swimmers use it in competition. To do it well, you have to be on your front with both arms stretched out and both legs extended to the back. While one arm is pulling or pushing, the other arm is recovering. The circular arm strokes provide most of the forward movement and power, whereas the kicking of the legs helps you to propel forward only slightly – depending on how hard and fast you kick.

To do the front crawl effectively, you must know how to breathe underwater. Remember to turn your head, alternately to the left and the right, in order to take a breath, before putting it back in the water while you move forwards.

Benefits The front crawl tones your bottom (gluteal muscles), abdominal muscles and shoulders. It also works wonders to strengthen the back.

Although this is the slowest swimming stroke, likened to walking as opposed  to running, breaststroke can be swum at speed. It is popular with people who like to swim for fitness rather than in a competitive setting as the breathing is easier to master than in front crawl.

To do breaststroke, you need to keep your body level with the surface of the water, your shoulders must be in line and your hips must be flat in the water. You must then move your feet and legs together in a frog-like movement – this is usually the most tricky technique to learn when doing breaststroke. Your arms and legs should stay in the water all the time, making no splash at all.

Benefits Breaststroke expands the lungs, strengthens the chest muscles, shoulders, triceps, legs and hamstrings, and tones the inner thighs.

Described as the most difficult swimming stroke to perfect, you start on your front with both arms moving simultaneously and accompanied by the butterfly kick. Your arms must come out of the water at each stroke. Together, your arm and leg motion should closely resemble a dolphin’s movement. To do it well, the butterfly requires good technique and strong arm, chest and leg muscles.

Benefits The butterfly really benefits the upper body by toning the chest, abdominals, arms and triceps, while making back muscles stronger.

For swimmers who don’t like their face to be in the water, this is the stroke of choice. However, because you cannot see where you are going since you need to be flat on your back for this stroke, it can be a tricky one for novices. Your arms and legs need to be stretched straight out and you need to stay as close to the surface of the water as possible. While swimming, all of your body should stay close to the surface of the water.= The arms provide the power in back crawl, making a circling action as they move in and out of the water.

Benefits The backstroke works the stomach muscles, buttocks, legs, thighs, arms and shoulders.

‘My daughter and I have fun together while keeping fit’
Exercise didn’t feature in the life of Mandeep Sangha, 29, until she discovered swimming

‘Working out always seemed too much like hard work to me and as I’ve never had a problem with my weight, I didn’t bother doing any. But at 23, I had my daughter, Priyana, and like so many mums, I put on several pounds. Afterwards, I wanted to tone up but the thought of going to the gym didn’t appeal at all. ‘When Priyana was four, we went on holiday. She loved splashing around in the hotel pool but I felt bad that she couldn’t swim. So, when we got back home, I went to the local pool and signed her up for 10 lessons. She picked it up really quickly and has carried on ever since. We now go the local pool together. Priyana has become a really good swimmer and I am happy to say I am back to my pre-pregnancy size.’


 This article was first published in at home with Sally Gunnell in August 2012. [Read the digital edition here]


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