8 Swimming Benefits Athletes Should Consider for Cross Training

OMG not another top benefits article!  There are so many articles out there that say the TOP X AMOUNT OF BENEFITS of doing “insert tag line here”, but none of them actually show the proof to those benefits. It’s nice in theory and might make me feel better about myself by eating some more fruit in my day, but I’m not the type that just likes to read and take the word of the author about those benefits.  I’m not sold just yet.  I want to see some proof of how, what those articles are saying is actually true.  So my plan is to experiment on myself for the next 6+ weeks and bring you my findings on the benefits of swimming on a cardiovascular level and to see if training 2 times a week for 30 minutes will lower my overall resting heart rate and shed a few pounds of fat during the process.  I’m saying FAT, not just what the scale says.  I could lose 20 pounds but that could just be combination of fat and muscle, I will be looking at the fat percentage in the hope to keep as much muscle density as possible.  These are my main goals, since overall health is my goal not necessarily being able to swim better, run faster or weigh less. Although I predict over time these areas will also improve.  I will also be tracking other data to validate some of these other top benefits.   

Before this experiment starts I will get a body composition scan to see how much my body fat percentage changes during those 6 weeks.  I will rescan at the end of the 6 weeks.   As a cardiovascular bench mark I will run 1 mile for fastest time and again once the 6 weeks are over to see if my overall running/cardiovascular capacity has increased due to this experiment.  The main purpose of this side of the experiment is to validate the cardiovascular enhancement and overall health of the body.  If my average resting heart rate is lower by the end, my overall health should be improved as well, including heart health.  I will wear a heart rate monitor at all times except for when I sleep and when I swim because it’s not water resistant.   

I will track as much data as I can including what I eat, how much I sleep, my daily weight when I wake up, how many laps I swim in 30 minutes,  how I feel before during and after my swims (for stress levels),  and the days I lift.  

Just a little background on me, I have been a swim coach for the past 7 years.  Even though I know how to coach it I haven’t spent very much time doing it since before I started coaching.  I have always been a good swimmer and took 2 semesters of swim for fitness in college.  I never swam competitively but being around so many other competitive swimmers and coaches at the swim school I learned to teach at, I gained as much knowledge as I would ever need and my form became impeccable.  Fast forward 7 years and now I lift heavy weights 4-5 times a week, I went through a powerlifting phase that lasted about 4 years and now want to concentrate on being athletic and healthy instead of pushing towards that ever growing max on bench, squat and deadlift.  Now that I have access to the pools and swim season is coming to an end I want to test some of these benefits to see exactly how much merit there is.  

My hope is that athletes, lifters and even those unable to swim will see the overall health benefits that I will show and they will consider using it in their programing, training and everyday life.

lap-pool

By the way here were some of my other findings for top benefits of swimming:

  1. Swimming improves cardiovascular capacity-  By constantly being in motion and learning to breathe properly athletes can see massive improvements in their overall training in their desired sports.  The cardio training swimmers go through is intensified because of the fact they must hold their breaths and learn to control their breathing.  
  2. Swimming improves joints and recovery-  By being in the water the buoyancy takes over and provides you with no weight barring exercise which helps athletes get a light workout with little to no stress on their body.  This also allows the joints a chance to be lubricated without any load on them, this is extremely beneficial to athletes that find it hard to not go a day without rest.   It also takes impact stress off the body
  3. Swimming can also help build longer and leaner muscles- Swimming also helps strengthen smaller muscles that may not be used on a regular basis with the athletes’ normal sport.  This allows the athlete to be stronger in more areas and a better overall athlete.  
  4. Swimming helps with weight/fat loss- Swimming burns a ton of calories because how much energy is used by moving so many muscles and body parts in your quest to the other end of the pool.  
  5. Swimming is great for stress relief-  You just had a hard day of mental struggles and maybe even some athletic training, now its time to get into the pool and everything floats away as you slide into the water.  The only thing that matters now is getting to the other side of the pool as efficiently as possible while having a good breathing rhythm.  Swimming allows you to concentrate and focus on yourself and your body that helps you forget about everything else.  While you are swimming you are also breathing and working your cardiovascular system, this pushes oxygen to all areas of the body, specifically the brain where it releases endorphins  causing a euphoric feeling, which helps reduce stress.  
  6. Swimming does wonders for the immune system-  As the body becomes more oxygenated, all areas of the body start to work better including the lymphatic system which sends white blood cells through the body.  The more white blood cells helps fight against disease and viruses that could enter the body.  How cool would it be if instead of getting sick 3 times a year, you never got sick because you had a ton more white blood cells?
  7. Swimming is great for rehab- It allows athletes with injuries to work out their bodies when they may not normally be able to because they aren’t supposed to put weight on their knees for example.  
  8. Swimming as a means for injury prevention-  Because swimming is easy on the body and great for stretching muscles, it allows the body to stay in prime shape in a well balanced manner to help prevent injury. 

Swim freestyles workouts:

Beginners- Just getting into the water and attempting is a good start.  Do not try and swim for 30 minutes straight, this is an unrealistic goal.  Instead go by how you feel that day.  Maybe only swimming half the length of the pool, then wait and see how you feel.  I recommend breathing every 2-4 arm strokes.  Only take small steps in progression and think of this as a long journey instead of a quick fix that you expect to lose 10 pounds in a week.  After you can swim one length of the pool start timing your rest to 45 seconds, and slowly lower the resting time.  Then try to swim 2 lengths without stopping and increase your rest time back to 45 seconds.  If you need more time to rest that is ok at every step of your swim workouts.  Recommended: start with no more than 5-10 minutes for 2 weeks.  Then increase 5 minutes every 1-2 weeks until you hit 30 minutes.  You have progressed into the intermediate phase by now.  

Intermediate-  Build up to a 100 yard distance without stopping.  Most gym/lap pools are 25 yards.  That is 25×4 lengths.  Do this as many times as you can within 20-30 minutes at 50% max speed.  Then work on getting the time of each lap a bit better always with a goal in mind (increasing rest times, lap times, how often you breathe)  Start to track how long your laps take.  Learn to pace yourself instead of going all out every lap and track your resting times starting at 45 second rest and slowly lower rest time as you get better and feel better.  

Advanced-  Start out with 2-3, 100 yards 50%-60% effort.  Then 1, 200 yards 40%-50% effort, at about 30 seconds-1:30 seconds.  Keep repeating this until the last 5 minutes.  In the last 5 minutes do 100 yard sprints at 70%-90% max effort.  Then when you are ready and fairly rested do one last 50-100 yard at below 50%.  As you get better increase these efforts and do more sprints.  Once you feel you can start to add more 200 yards do it.  I personally don’t like swimming longer than 100 yards but if you like swimming for longer distances go for it.  Don’t forget about the sprints though because those will help increase your overall speed during your long distance, by increasing your stroke strength.

-Mike Arentz

2 comments

  1. […] If you want to read about my swim experiment or recommended swimming workouts please check out my other blog post 8 swimming benefits. […]

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  2. […] Before this experiment I checked my blood pressure and I was told I was at risk for hypertension.  So I decided a good way to combat that would be to get more cardio into my life by swimming 2 times a week for 30 minutes.  I am always around a pool so it just made sense with all the benefits that swimming can give you.  Here is another article I wrote on swimming benefits: 8 Swimming Benefits Athletes Should Consider for Cross Training.  […]

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