Gorgeous Sleep. We crave it. Gwen Stefani sings about it. Medical professionals claim it’s essential for healthy living. So, how does today’s woman achieve divine slumber when her “to do” list curls up next her in bed? Believe it or not, by adding a twice a week swim workout to your exercise routine, those restless turns tumble into a good night’s rest.
Swimming engages all of the body’s major muscle groups in a gentle, non-impact aerobic activity. Assuming a body weight of 130 lbs, a light to moderate freestyle swimming workout burns approximately 470 calories per hour. Unlike many exercises, swimming has the added benefit of being ligament and joint friendly, reducing the chances of a sports related injury.
In fact, if you do injure a muscle or joint in another sport, you’ll likely find yourself in the pool on doctor’s orders. Water resistance provides an ideal environment to rehabilitate and strengthen damaged joints and muscles. In addition to being a great workout, swimming won’t raise your body temperature like other types of exercise. For the night owls among us that means being able to hit the gym after a late night at the office without risking insomnia while your body temperature stabilizes.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of swimming is the meditative quality of silently slicing through the water. Eastern philosophy and now Western medicine encourage meditation as a means to clearing one’s mind, reducing stress and re-focusing energy. Unfortunately, finding time to meditate can be challenging. Swimming allows you to engage in movement-oriented meditation (often more effective for women), and get in a great workout at the same time. Enveloped in water, free from televisions, cellular phones, and even iPods, swimming allows your mind to unwind while you concentrate on your breathing, leaving you calm, peaceful and prepared to take on the impossible.
Getting started is simple. First, you’ll need a bathing suit that provides more coverage then your typical bikini. There are plenty of sports suits to choose from, including a one-piece, tankini, or even bikini-inspired wear that can be located in most sporting good stores. Next, you’ll want a set of goggles. A standard pair can be purchased for around $10. If you find goggles uncomfortable, or if they leave indentations around your eyes that last for longer then 30 minutes, you may want to consider upgrading to a seal mask. Popular with tri-athletes, seal masks cost around $30 and look like aerodynamic diving masks.
Many pools require swimmers to wear swimming caps. Even if yours doesn’t, you may want to consider purchasing a cap to prevent your hair from getting in the way of your workout. Swimming caps come in three different types of material. Latex caps are the least expensive, but after a couple of uses the sides of the cap tend to stick together. Lightly dousing your latex cap with baby powder should reduce its stickiness. Silicon caps are slightly more expensive then latex, but they provide a snugger fit and won’t stick together. Both latex and silicon caps will keep your hair relatively dry. A newcomer to the cap market, Lycra, is the most comfortable swim cap on the market, and it comes in a wide variety of colors. But, Lycra caps are not waterproof.
Using a pull buoy in conjunction with a kick board can enhance your overall workout. A pull buoy slips between your legs providing buoyancy to the back part of your body so you can concentrate on your stroke. Before purchasing either, check with your pool. Most pools have a supply of both pull buoys and kickboards for use by swimmers. If your pool doesn’t have pull buoys available, it may have a supply of water weights, which can serve as a pull buoy in a pinch.
Pool etiquette can be confusing at first, but don’t be daunted. A pool is divided into lanes by floating lines. Each lane is then divided into two swim zones by a black stripe along the bottom of the pool. If all the lanes in a pool are occupied, it is perfectly acceptable to ask a swimmer to share a lane. Each swimmer will then occupy one of the two swim zones within the lane.
We asked Dede Moore, an M.D., world tri-athlete and a personal stroke coach to recommend a one-hour beginner swim work out; she suggests:
- Warm up. Start by swimming 6 pool lengths (swimming from one end of the pool to the other end equals 1 pool length) using either the breaststroke or a slow freestyle stroke. In either case the emphasis should be on long stretching strokes, not speed. Next, swim 2 pool lengths using the kickboard, and 2 lengths using the pull buoy.
- Workout. Start by swimming 4 lengths of the pool (or for a minimum of two minutes) followed by 20 seconds of rest. The emphasis here should be on speed and breathing. The natural tendency for new swimmers is to hold their breath between strokes, which quickly leaves them out gasping for air. Rather than holding your breath, slowly exhale underwater by blowing bubbles out your nose in between strokes. This mimics your natural breathing patterns and allows you to swim a longer, more fulfilling workout.
- Warmdown. To finish up, swim 4 to 6 pool lengths in an easy long stride.
It may sound like a lot, but keep in mind that swimming is much more strenuous then it appears, so go slow, and enjoy your well-earned gorgeous sleep!