Swimming is the hidden gem of exercise. Unlike many sports that put strain on the body, particularly the ones most common to everyday folks — running and weightlifting — swimming is easy on the joints and a great cardio workout.
While too many people don’t bother to take a dip in the pool, they’d be doing themselves a huge favor if they started to, and used those lap lanes to build endurance.
The endurance and strong cardio training that regular lap swimming brings is especially important for EMTs and paramedics, whose jobs demand that they be ready to spring from stationary to physical in a matter of minutes, lift and carry patients undefined distances, and perform CPR chest compressions for as long as it takes to keep a person alive.
Here are 5 reasons and tips for using the pool as a true cross-training exercise:
1. True Speed
Most novices start out their first lap way too fast. That’s not going to work for swimming if you intend on doing it for longer than 2 minutes. Swimming requires you to find a do-able pace that you can maintain for an extended period of time.
Swim time is like the dog years of exercise: 20 minutes feels like 60. By finding the pace you can maintain for a set amount of time, you teach your body the skill of endurance.
2. Breathing Perfection
A major part of creating quality endurance skill is mastering your breathing. In swimming, this is particularly tricky.
Breathing technique isn’t something that can be simply explained in a sentence but, learn to breath bilaterally and take breaths as often as you need them. They should match up to your pace and feel natural. Pairing pace and breathing will help you with your endurance by enabling you to swim more naturally.
3. Full-Body Training
Not only is swimming amazing for your body and much less prone to causing injury, it also works virtually every part of you. Arms, legs, abs, butt – you got it – and by swimming for extended periods of time, you are training your muscles bodywide to sustain movement in a powerful way.
4. The Sprint
While sprinting isn’t usually used to build endurance specifically, it’s actually a very helpful exercise. Having the lung capacity for a sprint will naturally increase your lungs’ capacity for endurance swims — good for the swimmer or the runner, and essential for the emergency workers who might be called upon to do extensive lifting and carrying at a moment’s notice. Sprinting can be as short as one lap or as long as four (good luck with that).
The shorter your sprint, the faster and harder you can push. Vary your sprints to strengthen your lungs.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
You won’t jump in the pool and find your endurance in a day. It takes time, just like any good thing.
Practice, drills, dedication and motivation are required. Luckily, in a pool, you are at less risk of injury and will likely spend less time working out than you would trying to build endurance through running or another avenue. Incorporate swimming at least once a week for cross-training — and more if you have time or are focused on swimming as your main exercise.
To be a great athlete — or to be prepared for anything on the job — you need to have a solid foundation of endurance. That doesn’t come naturally, so you’ll need to find a way to build it up. Swimming is a simple and excellent to do so with the added bonus of a full body workout and less risk of injury.
What are you waiting for? Grab your suit and get to stroking!
Ericka Andersen is a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and a freelance writer working in politics, policy and social media. In her spare time, she writes about fitness on her blog, The Sweet Life.