Swimming Tips to Score the Biggest Benefits from Your Pool Workout

Think beyond steady laps: our dynamic way of swimming will transform your body and wake up your workouts.

Up Your Pool Game

Many people assume swimming means just going back and forth—but that’s only if you don’t know all your options, says Sue Chen, swim coach at Nation’s Capital Swim Club in Bethesda, Maryland. A pool workout can be dynamic and involve challenging intervals and muscle-sculpting strength exercises (Example: this workoutinvolves zero laps).

Plus, the environment offers a vibe in which you can decompress and refresh your winter workouts to keep you coming back for more, says Gerry Rodrigues, the founder of elite open-water training program Tower 26 in Pacific Palisades, California. Here, swimming tips for a better pool workout and all the reasons that will inspire you to finally take the plunge.

Work Your Whole Body

Water is resistance, and to move through it (and not sink), every major muscle group in your body— especially your core—has to pitch in, says CeCe Marizu, an instructor at Equinox in New York City who teaches in-pool classes that incorporate speed, power, and strength. To work more muscles from more angles, switch up your strokes during workouts, says Rachel Stratton-Mills, the head coach at Cleveland Swim Institute.

Freestyle (the classic front crawl) tends to be the easiest stroke to ace, and it results in a big calorie burn (30 minutes of vigorous freestyle burns 322 calories— only the butterfly gives you a better burn, at 354 calories). Backstroke (the flip side to freestyle with a windmill-like stroke) especially targets your core and hip flexors because it requires you to intensely tighten your torso and keep your hips in line with your upper body as you swim, Stratton-Mills says. For even more leg firming, do the breaststroke (where arms and legs sweep out in wide arcs), which requires bigger, more powerful kicks that, unlike other strokes, work muscles in your outer and inner thighs.

Watch Your Form

Even the smallest form adjustments can have a huge impact on how your body moves through the water, says Maya DiRado, a four-time Olympic medalist swimmer on the U.S. team. To stay streamlined and efficient—which will make you speedier—keep just three rules in mind, Rodrigues adds. First, continuously engage your big muscles (including your shoulders, back, abs, butt, and quads), and pull your ribs in almost as if you’re trying to close them together at the center.

Next, make sure your head, neck, and belly button are aligned on one horizontal plane with hips, knees, and feet. Finally, keep your hands fully extended, close your fingers, and straighten your wrists. Maintain this three-point form checklist no matter which stroke you do, and your body will remain one firm unit that moves with maximum fluidity, Rodrigues says.

Do Intervals

Think of swimming as you would any fun interval workout. For a 30-minute routine, Rodrigues suggests spending five to eight minutes warming up at an easy pace and then doing intervals for 20 minutes. Just as on dry land, you have many interval options. You could go by time, perhaps alternating ten 90-second sprints with 30 seconds of rest between each. Or work by distance; for example, you could sprint one length and recover on the way back.

Or increase your effort on each set (called laddering up): Take the first interval at an easy pace, the second at a moderate effort, and the third at a hard effort. Repeat that pattern three times, then on your final push, give it all you’ve got before doing cooldown laps. Whichever plan you pick, you’ll constantly think about what comes next, and your pool time will fly.

Think Beyond Laps

You can use the pool itself in different ways to sculpt your body. For example, pushing yourself up on the edge of the pool deck to get out of the water deeply strengthens your anterior shoulders and triceps (and will help you pump up your push-ups on solid ground). Do that 20 times—you don’t actually have to get out of the pool each time— between intervals or at the end of your workout for a bonus firm-up, Chen says.

For a twist on speedy intervals, swim to the deep end of the pool, cross your hands over your chest, and kick vertically, keeping your head above water (similar to treading water but without the help of your arms). Aim to do that for two or three sets of five minutes. You can also do power moves, including squat jumps and running, in the shallow end, since the water’s resistance provides an extra challenge, Marizu says.

Use It As Active Recovery

“Swimming allows you to train every day while letting your joints recover from the previous day’s workout,” Stratton-Mills says. Ground-pounding activities like running can’t do that. So what might normally be a rest day can now be an active one without beating your body up too much. (ICYMI, that’s what active recovery is all about.)

And there’s no such thing as a swim hangover—experiencing soreness is rare, and typically you’ll actually be able to perform better during your next workout because exercising in water loosens up your body, Rodrigues says.

Let Go

When you’re in the pool, you’re detached from the outside world. You can’t email, text, or even talk to others. There’s also a sound that relaxes you when you’re underwater even though you’re getting a killer workout, DiRado says. “It’s very soothing, almost like being swaddled,” she explains. And since more than
90 percent of your body weight is displaced when you swim, you’ll feel completely supported by the water. “You can think about whatever you want, or not think at all,” DiRado says. “It’s an amazing stress reliever.”

By Sara Angle for SHAPE

Will Stretching Before Sports and Exercise Really Affect How Well You Perform?

Image result for dynamic stretching

Athletes and exercisers tend to stretch their muscles before they train or compete. But past scientific studies have shown that this can reduce muscle force and power in the period afterwards. In fact, based on current scientific evidence, organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine and European College of Sports Sciences do not recommend static (motionless) stretching before sports or exercise.

Instead, dynamic stretching techniques – fast movements done through a large range of motion – are thought to be better. Yet, there has been concern that previous studies were not properly designed to specifically test the effects of stretching during warm-up. Investigators, in this study, therefore, asked 20 team-sport athletes to do different static and dynamic stretch routines on different days during a sports warm-up.

They then tested sprint running, jumping, and agility performances. Before the study, these athletes believed that dynamic stretching would help them perform better. But their performances were the same on each day regardless of the type of stretching used. Instead, they said they felt more prepared for exercise on days when some muscle stretching was done than when it wasn’t allowed.

Based on these results, athletes and exercisers may do whichever type of stretching they like during warm-up without worrying about whether it will affect their performance.

For more information, view the abstract

American College of Sports Medicine

The Power of the Mind-Body Connection: Make Mental Health a Priority

By: Erica Hornthal, CEO of Chicago Dance Therapy

Image result for mind body connectionAs a dance/movement therapist, I have always known that the mind and body are connected. I see it in my clients who carry scars of physical abuse, emotional abuse, tragic loss, debilitating illnesses and crippling anxiety. This tip is a reminder to pay attention to your body and know that there is a psychological component to your movement or even lack thereof. Whether or not you consider yourself an athlete, it is beneficial to move everyday and pay attention to what your body is saying.  So what can we do to be more present to the psychological impact that our bodies endure?

  • Never underestimate the power of your breath. Not only taking time to breathe, but notice how deeply you are breathing. The bodies ability to breathe can become compromised due to stress. Allowing for “breath breaks” throughout the day actually alleviates the buildup of stress and calms the nervous system.
  • Check in with your physical health every day. Make sure to move your body throughout the day to see what feels good and what doesn’t. Notice aches and pains that weren’t there before. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is not right.
  • Mental health is physical health.  There is a connection between mind and body even if you are not aware of it.  Everything you encounter emotionally, your body feels.  Take time to recognize that connections.
  • Make an appointment for a mental health checkup. Make your mental health a priority. Don’t wait for a reason to see a mental health provider. Be proactive!  Call Chicago Dance Therapy for a mental health check today!

Erica Hornthal is a licensed professional clinical counselor and board certified dance/movement therapist. She received her MA in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling from Columbia College Chicago and her BS in psychology from University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.  Erica is the founder and president of North Shore Dance Therapy and Chicago Dance Therapy.  As a psychotherapist in private practice, Erica specializes in working with older adults who are diagnosed with dementia and movement disorders.  Her work has been highlighted nationally in Social Work Magazine, Natural Awakenings, and locally in the Chicago Tribune as well as on WCIU and WGN.