In the swim of things

While you might not be able to feel yourself sweat the way you would during a 10-miler through downtown, swimming can be a great, high-intensity workout for when it’s too cold to exercise outside.

Elissa James, executive director of risk management and aquatics at the Central Ohio YMCA, called swimming an “all-muscle sport.”

“When you’re engaged in swimming, there’s not one part of your body that gets left behind,” James said. “So that’s why we really endorse swimming, especially in the winter, as a good overall cardiovascular workout.”

To get the most out of a swim, James stressed the importance of learning the correct form, also helpful in order to avoid injury.

“If someone is interested in making lap-swimming a habit, I would say one of the first steps would be to get in touch with someone who could make sure they’re performing the strokes safely and effectively for their body,” she said. “Because what we don’t want to happen is for someone to get injured while they’re trying to stay healthy.”

A good place to start is with a masters team, said Tony Phillips, head swim team coach for Bishop Hartley High School and Eastmoor Pool aquatics director.

“When you’re engaged in swimming, there’s not one part of your body that gets left behind. So that’s why we really endorse swimming, especially in the winter, as a good overall cardiovascular workout.” 

“When people think teams they think, “Oh I gotta join a team and compete,” and that’s not the case. Masters’ just means 18 and up,” Phillips said. “Not everyone wants to compete, but it’s fun to learn how to outsmart the water and move more efficiently through it. [Team members] can make suggestions on how to move your strokes more effectively and accurately … even if you don’t want to join, there’s generally somebody there who can spend a session or two to make sure you’re not doing anything to mess up your body.”

For beginners, James suggested starting out by finding a pool that suits their needs. She recommended looking at hours swimming is available, whether or not there are lap lanes and then how many there are. Next comes hydration and nutrition.

“Another myth with swimming is that because you’re in water you are effectively hydrated,” James said. “But I would say any swimmer should have a water bottle along the wall to make sure that they are taking in water regularly, because you are burning a lot of calories at the same time.”

The basics to bring to that first lap-swim? Goggles that fit well and don’t leak, and an active suit that allows full range of motion. These can be found at local shops like Kast-A-Way Swimwear and Aquatic Adventures.

Once you dive in, James said learning the pool’s lap-swimming etiquette is key. Some pools have slow, medium and fast lanes, and those can vary depending on the time or the day of the week. Learning how to share a lane is also important: it’s commonly polite to ask before jumping in a lane with someone.

“When you’re sharing the lane with other [swimmers], you generally want to swim in a circle, if there’s more than a couple,” Phillips said. “It’s just like traffic on the road.”

The biggest thing for beginners to keep in mind, Phillips said, is to stay patient. It’s important to start out nice and easy then gradually build up. Phillips recommended starting with a 10-minute swim for a few days, then work up to 20-30 minutes, depending on an individual’s goals, and remember to mix it up.

“The same stroke over and over can get tiring for your muscles,” Phillips said. “Get out a kick-board and kick for a while, do some one-arm drills, vary your speeds, do some interval training – swim fast and take a break, and then at the end, swim a few laps nice and easy to calm your mind and relax your muscles.”

The Y also offers “Water in Motion” class, for those looking for a low-impact water fitness class. This type of workout can be good for someone who isn’t a lap swimmer, or someone who wants to take a break from it. But all in all, swimming is a beneficial exercise for anyone of any age (even with injuries) – anyone who isn’t aquaphobic that is, Phillips said.

“I run into a lot of athletes who use swimming to rehab an injury or a bad back … it’s great for anyone with arthritis or weight issues,” Phillips said. “I’ll swim laps on my own, and in the lane next to me is a woman in her 60s running laps – incorporating swimming in your fitness routine is for anyone.”

Regardless of what gets people into the pool this winter, James said the important thing is just giving the water a try.

“Any indoor pool in Columbus has something to offer. Anything that keeps people active in the winter months, I call that a win,” she said. “We just want to make sure people are still staying active and seeking a healthy lifestyle.”