Sticking to an exercise plan in the winter can be challenging! Freezing temperatures, snow, ice, and darkness can make even the most dedicated runner or cyclist think twice about heading out the door for a workout. Winter can be the perfect time to hit the pool and discover the many benefits of swimming.
Swimming can provide a total body workout; your upper body, lower body and core must all work together in any swim stroke which results not only in working your muscles head to toe but also in a high rate of calorie burn. While your joints will appreciate being suspended in water, your muscles will have to work hard to propel you forward against the resistance of the water.
Some find the steady rhythm of swimming laps to be relaxing while others enjoy a more structured workout. Typical swim workouts consist of 4 segments: a warm up, drills to improve swim technique by focusing on specific aspects of the swim stroke (kick, pull, pull, etc.), a main set, and a cooldown. This format not only breaks monotony but also provides a focus to the workout which should lead to steady improvement.
While you may be spending the winter swimming indoors, you can still work on skills in the pool that will translate to improvements in open water swimming. For example, there are no lane lines in lakes or oceans which makes it challenging to swim a straight line in open water. Sighting is especially challenging in choppy water or waves so it is smart to practice sighting in the controlled setting of pool swimming. This can be done as a part of the drill segment of the workout or incorporated into the main set to practice swimming hard and fast and trying to sight without breaking your rhythm. Having the clock next to the pool allows you to check how much sighting is slowing you down and track your progress as you get better at sneaking a look around in between strokes.
Pool workouts can also allow you to prepare for the challenges of navigating currents or chop when a quicker cadence might be necessary. It’s common for swimmers to count the number of strokes they take per lap and generally, the lower the stroke count, the better the swimmer. But a quicker cadence can be an advantage when fighting a current, dealing with high chop, or swimming in a tight pack of other swimmers. Pool workouts are the perfect setting to practice optimizing stroke technique at different cadences.
Swim workouts can offer endless variety and loads of challenges. US Masters Swimming is a terrific resource to identify local swim clubs, drop in workouts, examples of workouts, and tips for improving technique. So forget about the wind chill and head to the pool – you’ll be ready for some wonderful open water swims when the summer finally arrives!
Polly de Mille is the director of performance services at the Tisch Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. In addition to being a registered nurse, she holds a master’s degree in exercise physiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a registered clinical exercise physiologist, exercise specialist and exercise test technologist. She is also a certified USAT Level 1 triathlon coach and avid open water swimmer.