20-Minute Swimming Workout

Published: May 29th, 2013   |   Author: Nina Lincoff

Get cardio and strength training in the water

This summer, head to the pool not just for a refreshing dip, but for a full-body cardiovascular workout. "Water is resistance, just like [when you work out with] dumbbells, so in order to move in it, you need to engage muscle," says Ellen Barrett, personal trainer and founder of Fusion Fitness.

Trading land for water is a no-impact way to get both strength training and cardio simultaneously, with less wear and tear on your joints and bones. "Obviously, swimming workouts are great for people with joint pain, but it's also really great for people suffering from back pain and tension, as the water is 'anti-gravity,'" Barrett says, Think about other forms of cardiovascular exercise like jogging, walking, or using the elliptical—they can increase pressure and tension on joints. Swimming actually allows your spine to decompress, Barrett says.

Make Your Own Workout:
If you're newer to swimming or working out, start slow. Grab a kick board and use it to help your legs (and lungs!) and steer your way across the pool for a couple laps. As you feel more comfortable, use a simple breast stroke, which will help tone your upper body. Try to swim for a total of 20 minutes, but take short breaks if that helps.

For more-experienced swimmers who can do multiple strokes, Barrett suggests trying a "medley" workout—think of the I.M. (individual medley) event in the 2012 Olympics where Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte battled over 200 meters. A medley utilizes all four racing strokes—freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly. “The movement variety will ensure that you are using all of your body, not just dominating muscles,” Barrett says. Each stroke is a full-body move, but breaststroke emphasizes the lateral movement of your hips<, freestyle and backstroke emphasize your glutes, and butterfly emphasizes your shoulders and chest. The order below is technically in reverse I.M. order, arranged so the butterfly will spike your heart rate at the end instead of tiring you out at the beginning.

Do this routine once (it should take 20 minutes or less) if you're up for a challenge. For an easier routine, cut each length in half or more, as suits your fitness level. Two hundred meters is 8 laps in a 25-meter long pool (short course) or 4 laps in a 50-meter long pool (long course/Olympic-size). If your neighborhood pool is measured in yards instead of meters, use the same distances (so 200 yards freestyle, etc).

Warm-up: 50 m any stroke, 50 m kicking with a kick board or in a streamline position (with your arms clasped above your head.)

200 m freestyle
Rest: 15 seconds
200 m breaststroke
Rest: 15 seconds
200 m backstroke
Rest: 15 seconds
200 m butterfly
Rest: 15 seconds

Cool-down: 50 m any stroke, 50 m kicking with a kick board or in a streamline position.

Talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.