I´m not sure if I have ever mentioned this before but I am not in love with running. However, I have found a liking to it, now that I can manage to run 10km five mornings every week. Someone give me a high five, please! It´s already 30C here in Barcelona, that´s 86F, and a dip in the water is exactly what this gal needs to cool off, so I spoke to a triathlete friend and she explained why runners can benefit so much from swimming. Even if you prefer your feet on dry land, consider swimming for some great cross training.

The more I listened to my friend speak the more I realized swimming is a brilliant form of exercise. Swimming not only benefits the body and the mind, but it is a great way to give your legs a well deserved break from the high impact of running.

It also serves as an ideal form of active recovery and to boot, it increases endurance and oxygen capacity! If you are recovering from a running related injury, it is a great way to maintain your fitness during your recovery period, because the resistance of the water makes the muscles work hard without the strain or impact that is experienced on land. There are different movement patterns in swimming that allow you to put your focus on neglected muscle groups, for example, your upper body.

In addition to specific movements, you can also use devices, such as a pull buoy, that put even more focus on these muscles. A [pull buoy (http://www.speedo.co.uk/news-tips-techniques/how-use-pullbuoy) is a floating type device that allows you to exclusively work your arms and back. It is called a pull buoy because it is a buoy that you pull! Go figure!!!

Getting Started

There are so many options of water exercise! Here´s a list of some of the options you have available.

  1. Lap Swimming

    Swimming lengths for a given period of time, using different styles of swimming (freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly or backstroke).

  2. Water Yoga and Relaxation

    Easy flowing moves using water as a relaxation medium.

  3. Deep Water Running/Pool Running

    Using flotation devices in deep water, you simulate land running; your feet do not touch the bottom of the pool.

  4. Water Walking

    This is done in waist-deep or chest-deep water. You can move forward, backward and sideways, using regular, short/long steps.

  5. Water Toning

    Upper and lower body exercises designed to strengthen and sculpt the muscles using water resistance or water exercise equipment.

In the recent weeks I’ve focused on lap swimming and pool running and have felt the neglect I’ve given to some muscles. So since I could pinpoint the muscles that hurt post workout, here are the types of strokes and the main muscles used with each.

Types of Strokes and Muscles Used

  • Freestyle/Front Crawl

    It is a great stroke for those of you that prefer a more fast-paced swimming, since it generates the most force of any stroke. The main muscles used in the freestyle stroke are the chest and lats.

  • Breaststroke

    This one is my favorite! It does require coordination and skill since you have to move your lower and upper body in sync. However, this stroke is not typically performed at great speed, so it’s better for overall strength building and cardiovascular exercise. Its focus is put on shoulders, chest and arms.

  • Butterfly

    By far the hardest and most intense of all the strokes and the most difficult to master. A terrific benefit is that it kicks fat burning into high gear! It boosts your metabolism and is perfect for interval training sessions. You will most certainly work your chest, shoulders and your back muscles.

  • Backstroke

    Like you are sleeping in water! No, not really, but it is the least intensive of all the strokes and is best for a recovery swim. As the name implies, the main muscles used are your back/lats and your hamstrings.

In the case of pool running I have to say it was a bit tricky at first but a great cross training option. First of all, selecting the right floating device is key!!!

Before you get started however I have to point out that I do not recommend this type of workout for anyone with a hip flexor injury, since it can be aggravated by the increased resistance of the water as you bring your leg up. By the way, my big assumption here is that you can swim. This isn’t like a cycle class where you don´t need to know how to ride a bicycle, in this case, I am all for you knowing how to swim before you try pool running in deep water.

Having said all those things, here are some tips and tricks to making your first pool run a positive experience.

  • Go To The Deep End – that´s right.

    The very deep, you don´t want to touch the bottom of the pool for this which takes me to the next point.

  • Floating Device

    There are different types of floating devices, from a belt to a vest. If you´re a beginner, such as myself, I’ve found the vest to provide better flotation (although there could be some forearm chaffing) and allows me to have better form. I have been told I will soon feel comfortable enough to graduate to the water belt or maybe go directly to pool running without a belt. Super challenging!!!

  • Your Form

    Your body should remain as vertical as possible in water. Avoid leaning forward at the chest, your arms and legs should be pumping like pistons. Like you would outside of the water.

So that´s really it. For now I just focus on running, as I would on land, for time – so I’ve been doing my water jogging for 20 minutes. As the weeks progress I will write about some great pool running workouts. For now, go to your nearest pool and give pool running a try, you will see the benefits in your land runs.

Ana De Castro

Ana is an integrative nutrition health coach, personal trainer, group fitness instructor and bikini world champion. In her free time she is also a mom to a 3 & 4 year old and an agent to celebrity and Michelin-star chefs. She loves to eat and cook and you will often see her posting pictures of food on her twitter and instagram accounts.... Read More

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