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Swimming is the second most popular sports activity in America and one of the best aerobic exercises. It can increase stamina and boost lung performance, because it is easy to do longer workouts in the water, and the controlled breathing of strokes helps increase lung capacity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that swimmers have about half the risk of death as inactive people.
Three Weekly Workouts
You can swim any stroke to get a good workout, but the President's Council on Physical Fitness recommends workouts of at least 20 minutes at least three times a week. If you are not a trained swimmer, get basic stroke instruction at a fitness center, including proper breathing technique. Always get a physical checkup before starting any new exercise program.
Begin a swim training program slowly, both in speed and distance, and increase workouts gradually. Warm up with stretches before you get in the pool. Start swimming your easiest stroke. Most swimmers exercise with the basic crawl, but some find the breaststroke easier. Rest at every pool length at first, then increase the number of lengths between pauses as your body adapts.
Use swim intervals to increase both stamina and lung capacity. Once your body has adapted to a basic swim workout, intersperse intervals of higher intensity. Swim one length as fast as you can, pause, then swim a normal length back. This "overload principle" will gradually accustom your body to working harder. Increase the length and intensity of intervals gradually to build stamina.
Control your breathing so you take in as much air as possible on each stroke. Build your lung capacity by altering your breathing pattern. Breathe only every other stroke, for instance, as your capacity increases. Do this also in intervals. Breathe every stroke for one length, every other stroke the next. Change strokes to help with breathing -- you may find it easier to breathe on breaststroke, for instance.
Your aerobic power or maximum oxygen uptake will increase with training. Studies show that training 30 minutes three times a week for six months can increase VO2 max by 15 to 20 percent, but these results can vary widely with age, body size and sex. Men have higher maximums and lower body fat percentages than women.