Think swimming’s just for recovery days? Nah. If you’re a runner or someone who wants to build endurance, swimming is a great way to do that and increase your VO2 max. (In non-PT speak, that’s a measure of the max volume of oxygen an athlete can use; as you up your effort when you exercise, the amount of oxygen you consume to produce energy increases, and some experts argue that increasing your VO2 max will improve your running performance). If your legs are sore from running or squats, having a swim day is a good way to keep the training going without overtaxing those muscles. Swimming can be light aerobic work, but you can make it intense aerobic work, says Debbie Savage, senior strength and conditioning coach at the Australian Institute of Sport. “You can do intense work in the pool. You could do pool sprints and then long, slower aerobic freestyle laps as well. It’s about your frequency and intensity – all those different variables.”
“Swimming uses all the large muscle groups,” says Savage. “Plus, it uses the cardiovascular system, respiratory system [and] musculoskeletal system.”
“The forces in swimming aren’t as harsh as, say, going for a run,” says Savage. “There’s drag, lift [and] gravity, but really the effect of buoyancy in swimming ... sort of negates any effect of gravity on the swimmer. So it’s quite an easy impact on the lower body.” That’s why a lot of people use swimming for post-surgery, post-injury and returning to sport, she adds. “A lot of our elite swimmers actually started swimming because they had asthma. So there’s an element of respiratory development. Some of our track athletes use it for recovery, to de-load and do pool running.” Keen to get your technique on point? Search online for local programs that help with everything from tekkers and endurance to speed.
Swimmers are renowned for their tone (hello, Campbell sisters!). That's because strength is developed via resistance, and the water offers resistance, says Savage. “There’s resistance to be able to pull yourself through the water and kick against it, and ... you actually have to [work hard to] find support in a fluid environment.”
Not convinved? Here's four extra reasons that a swim should be your next workout.