While triathletes already understand the benefits of a pool to balance out workouts, nearly all of us can benefit from including pool workouts in our training schedules. You can always head for open water during the warm months of the year, but most communities also have more convenient options year round. Check around for a community pool or low cost “swimming only” membership to your local health club. You can even check out local hotels and schools, many of which provide day passes for community swimming. Wondering how effective this could be for you? Here are my top five benefits of pool workouts:
Post workout muscular recovery. Swimming or gently working out in a cool swimming pool following a workout may help to decrease muscle soreness. Ideally, you want to head for a pool that is a little on the cool side and try a variety of strokes that will allow your legs to move in a variety of motions.
Preventing falls and injury. A recent Australian study demonstrated a correlation between swimming among aging men and fewer falls. This article, recently published by the Washington Post, describes the study’s outcome, finding that aging men who swim were 33% less likely to experience a fall. According to the study author, this could be due to the requirement that swimmers create their own base of support while coordinating movements of both the upper and lower extremities. Pretty interesting!
Address muscular imbalances. Land-based activities like cycling and running tend to overdevelop strength through the front of the body (including the quadriceps and chest), so it’s important to develop posterior strength in the back and hamstrings, too. Swimming is a natural way to strengthen these areas by working with the natural resistance of the water.
Improve upper body strength: Developing upper body strength will benefit most athletic activities, but like mentioned above, these muscles are not naturally developed through activities such as running and cycling. Choosing pool workouts that include different strokes will help improve your posture, increase core strength and increase the efficiency of your upper body.
Injury prevention and recovery: Whether you’re swimming or running in the pool, aquatic workouts can improve muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness without increasing injuries associated with impact. Pool “running” is an injured runner’s best friend, using the same muscles as running on land, with similar cardiovascular benefits, allowing you to maintain fitness during recovery.
If you would like to include more exercise in your schedule without the risk of increased impact, pool running is a natural way of doing so. As with traditional running, focus on maintaining an upright posture and a cadence that will increase your heart rate (you might have to work a little harder than feels natural). You’ll only need limited equipment (an aquatic running belt), but a friend and a heart rate monitor can really help to increase your focus and motivation.
For more on pool running, check out this article from strengthrunning.com. Choose your workout carefully, however. While pool running is especially beneficial for impact related injuries (such as plantar fasciitis), stabilization injuries (such as low back or hamstring soreness) can actually be aggravated by running in the pool and may be better treated through strength and stabilization work on a more traditional surface.
Swimming is a lifetime activity that can benefit athletes of all levels. Once you have a venue, the best part is the equipment needed is minimal. A swimming suit, a swimming cap, and a pair of goggles will get you started and you can choose to invest in optional tools such as a running belt, kickboard, and fins as you progress.
If you get really good, many communities also offer swimming clubs and “masters groups” that provide adults with an opportunity to train together and encourage each other. Add in some pool workouts in to complement your treadmill and indoor cycle training this winter and get ready to enjoy the enhanced recovery, fitness and overall strength in your spring races, sports, and events. Happy swimming!
About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more on the Meet Our Writers page.