When I decided to compete in my first triathlon last summer, I was not a swimmer. But I was a long-distance runner and cyclist, and I thought, How hard can it be? Turns out, swimming is quite hard when you’re new at it. Once you master the basics, however, it’s easy to see why swimming is one of the more effective total-body workouts — and it’s great for older bodies.
Why? Swimming is easy on the joints, which is a big plus for some women. Then there’s the fact that water provides a lot resistance, shaping and toning muscles without heavy lifting. And, last but not least, swimming torches some serious calories when done correctly — up to 500 an hour!
So what’s the best way for a non-swimmer to get started? Below are tips to help you go from sink to swim.
One of the nice things about swimming is that it doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment, but there are a few things you need to set yourself up for success. A pair of good-fitting goggles is a must. They should be snug but not too tight. I like the TYR Special Ops 2.0 for women, but experiment until you find the perfect fit for you. You will also want a swimsuit designed for training to prevent wardrobe malfunctions. Caps, fins, paddles, and kickboards are optional, but I recommend them for getting the most from your workout.
For me, this was the most difficult part. Your breath and stroke go hand in hand. Some people prefer to breathe on every other stroke, coming up on the same side each time. Others (like me) prefer to alternate sides, breathing on every third stroke. It really is a matter of preference, but regardless, make sure that you gently turn your face to the side, bringing it just above the surface, rather than lifting your head straight up out of the water.
Focus on Form
This is where the toys mentioned above can come in handy. Drills using fins and a kickboard allow you to focus on keeping your legs properly aligned. And while a good, strong kick is important, it’s your arms that propel you forward. Swim paddles can help you keep your hands in the proper position to achieve a strong pull with each stroke.
Like any new sport, it takes time to master the skills, but you can’t improve on land. Hit the water two to three times a week. Start with a warmup, spend a half-hour or more on drills, and end with a cool down. Depending on the length of the pool, aim to swim one or two laps then rest for 30 to 45 seconds. As you improve, increase the number of laps you swim and shorten the break periods.
Enlist Swim Support
Joining a class or hiring a coach to get you started can help build your confidence while you work on your skills. Most gyms with pools offer adult swim classes or check with your local community center.
Bonny Osterhage is co-founder and small-group trainer at BodyArchitecture Personal Training and Fitness in San Antonio, Texas.