ACSM'S Health & Fitness Journal:
DEPARTMENTS: Fitness Focus
Thompson, Dixie L. Ph.D., FACSM
Dixie L. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, is the director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health and professor and department head for the Department of Exercise, Sport, and Leisure Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Swimming is an activity that millions of Americans choose as a way to stay active and enhance their fitness. Swimming provides a full-body workout and has the advantage of providing low-impact forces on joints. In addition, swimming can be a great way for families to engage in recreation that also promotes fitness.
Unless you own your own pool or have residential access to a facility, the first task to be completed before taking up swimming as a fitness activity is to find a place to swim. As you investigate pool options in your community, remember to ask the following questions. Is the cost for access within my budget? Does the pool have specific times for fitness swimming, and do these times fit my schedule? Are there options that make this location particularly attractive (e.g., offers family packages, has organized swimming groups, provides coaching and/or fitness assessments)?
Goggles, a swim cap, and a swimsuit are important purchases for any swimmer. Swim goggles will help protect your eyes from chemicals and contaminants in the pool and will allow you to see while swimming. Search for a pair that fit the shape of your face and will keep water from reaching your eyes. If you wear glasses, you may choose to purchase prescription goggles. The swimsuit you choose does not have to be an expensive one made of the latest materials, but it should be a form-fitting suit that limits drag. Wearing baggy or loose-fitting clothing when swimming will create drag and make it more difficult to swim with good form. Other equipment that people often find useful in their fitness swimming programs are kickboards and flippers. But before you make these purchases, find out if these or other pieces of equipment are freely available at your swimming facility.
If swimming for fitness is new for you, getting assistance from a professional will be helpful for improving your stroke and planning your workouts. Another option might be joining a group that swims together regularly. This will provide you with insight from more experienced swimmers and also will give you a supportive group of individuals for encouragement and motivation. After a period of time, you might even choose to compete in swimming competitions. The fact that swimming competitions exist for individuals across the age spectrum makes this sport one that can allow individuals to enjoy competition throughout life.
A good training program is critical for success. Get advice from an experienced fitness professional who can help design a program to meet your fitness needs and take into account your time constraints, your personal preferences for workouts, and so on. Swimming at least 3 days per week is appropriate for the fitness needs of most individuals. Generally, programs will include various strokes and activities (e.g., using a kickboard) that will minimize the chance of overuse injuries.
Swimming is a wonderful sport, but safety must be an important consideration. It is important that regardless of your skill, you never swim alone. It is possible that any swimmer might get into trouble in the water, so having someone there for emergency situations is critically important. Swimming facilities post other safety rules that are important for all to follow.
Swimming can be a great way to stay fit and have fun regardless of your fitness level. It can provide a fitness challenge for highly fit competitors. On the other hand, swimming can be used as an alternative to high-impact activities for people who are recovering from injuries or for people with chronic conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. Get advice from a fitness professional to help shape a program that is right for you.
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© 2010 American College of Sports Medicine.