How to Structure a Swimming Workout?
Chante writes: You talk about swimming being the best exercise for overweight people, but you don’t tell us how exactly to use swimming. What should overweight people do in the pool? What’s a good workout to start with? What are good beginner workouts, medium level workouts, and expert workouts?
Swimming Practice vs. Workout
My answer: First, to be honest, I rarely think in terms of swimming workouts. Given that I rarely participate in swimming competitions, except for the occasional triathlon in summer, I’m more focused on improving my technique than working out my body. I often decide on the spot what I’ll work on during a training, depending on the weaknesses of my swim stroke(s).
That being said, most of my swim sessions have a common underlying structure. Currently, it looks more or less like this:
- Warmup: 12 lengths of either breaststroke or a swim medley that includes breaststroke, front crawl, and backstroke.
- Focusing: a few swimming drills to get the feel of the water. Feeling connected to the water is an important aspect to be able to enjoy swimming. I currently use the following front crawl drills: Under Switch, Zipper Switch and Over Switch. I do about four lengths of each drill.
- Main practice: Here I work on the technical aspects of the stroke I want to improve. I typically alternate swimming lengths and drilling lengths, or I focus on one point of my stroke and try to execute it correctly while swimming for a few lengths.
- Endurance: Depending on the time left, I do a set of between 20 and 30 lengths non-stop.
- Speed: Once in a while I add a few lengths of quick high-intensity swimming to train for speed.
- Cool-down: a few relaxed lengths of breaststroke and backstroke.
Now to answer your question, Chante, I think the most important thing you need to do is to get started and find pleasure in your swim sessions. The problem with swim workouts is that they can be kind of tedious and boring. That’s why I prefer to mix up drill lengths with swim lengths on the spot a lot.
If you want to lose weight, I think you should swim three times a week for at least half an hour. I’d also suggest doing some drilling and some swimming each session. Learning and perfecting the swimming drills of each stroke should keep you busy for a few months.
I suggest three times a week as a guideline because this is what is needed to develop the feel for the water, make progress and hence stay motivated. This will also provide enough cardio to start burning off fat. More than three times a week can become a drag because you spend so much time at the pool. You need to see what works best for you.
Lastly, there’s a lot of truth in the saying that “a great body is made in the kitchen.” I have been following the Paleo Diet, as popularized by Loren Cordain, for three years now. The Paleo Diet is more of a set of nutrition guidelines that you should follow long-term rather than a short-term diet that you follow for a few weeks.
The biggies are to avoid industrial foods, sugar, dairy, grains/cereals and legumes, and to add fruits, nuts, vegetables, healthy fats, meat from pasture-raised animals, wild game, wild fish, and seafood. In my opinion, sugar and cereals/grains are the leading causes of obesity in western civilization.
I am in excellent shape now thanks to the Paleo Diet. A neighbor complimented me last year that I had the figure of a (lean) teenager. I never saw myself this way before but I had to agree. I’m in my forties by the way.
I now think that about 90% of getting and staying in shape is based on eating habits and only about 10% is based on physical activity. I came to this realization three years ago when I was injured and could not train for a few months. Nevertheless, shortly after being injured I started to eat following the Paleo Diet’s guidelines and was not only able to keep my weight, but I even lost some fat, even though my weight was already in the normal range. This showed me how what we eat has more influence on how much we weigh than how much we work out, at least up to a certain degree.
So my number one advice to lose weight is to get educated about nutrition and to change one’s eating habits and to get a moderate amount of exercise, such as swimming three times a week.
If you want to get started with the Paleo Diet, make sure to go to the source and follow Loren Cordain’s guidelines. Other authors call their diet Paleo, but they include food categories such as agave syrup etc. that you better avoid if you want to lose weight or stay in shape.