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Dive In: How to Go From Gym to Swim in Four Easy Steps

By Billy Polson and Mike Clausen

Summer is almost here, and it's time to start thinking about some new activities. We know you love the gym—but at least a couple of times a week, we'd like to see you get out of the weight room and into some outdoor activities. There are a bunch of great possibilities: swimming, running, tennis...dream it and you can do it. But if you're not feeling like a kid anymore, or are tight from all the winter months of lifting, or just want to protect your body for the long haul, you shouldn't just go dive into the pool, or hit the road or the courts. We do not want you to get hurt and have to give up and waste the beautiful weather. Better to do some prep up front to prepare for strenuous new activities, and know what to expect and how to stretch to keep yourself on track outdoors.

This week, we'd like to tell you about getting prepped to get in the pool. Swimming is an amazing full-body workout, great for all the muscles in your body, major and minor alike, and seriously cardiovascularly challenging. Better yet, it is zero-impact for your joints. And with some preparation and education, you can maximize your time in the pool and reap maximum benefits from your swims. Here are some ideas.

Check Your Basics
Swimming is 80 percent technique and 20 percent muscle, so if your technique is off you will put in a lot of work without a lot of success. If you are new to swimming or feeling pretty rusty I definitely recommend doing a weekend workshop at a nearby pool. Check out www.totalimmersion.net for swim classes coming to your area. They offer a great product!

Build Your Strength
If you already know how to swim, and feel confident (even if it has been a while), you may want to spend some time getting your swim muscles in shape before you hit the pool. A period of exercises on dry land will help you lay a foundation to help you through the first few swims until you get your strength back in the water, and keep you from getting as sore early on. Here are some great swim drills that you can rotate into your regular exercise program for a couple to a few weeks before you start to swim:

  1. Cables: Try Single-cable swim strokes, either standing or lying face-down on a stability ball, to get your upper back and shoulders in gear. Feeling tough? Try doing them on one leg, or with dumbbells as a drop set.
  2. Kicks: Freestyle kicks while lying face-down on a flat bench will give you strength and swift muscle-firing in your legs and hips.
  3. Cobras: The prone cobra (prominently featured in my recent Stretch Test) will test your core strength. Your goal: to hold the stretch for three solid minutes.
  4. Hip raises: Strengthen your legs and hips with stability ball hip raises. Lie flat on your back, with arms straight out to sides and feet on a stability ball and slowly lift your hips up and down with both legs. Try it on one leg when ready.
  5. Pull-ups: There are many kinds of pull-ups. All work your upper torso. Pick a version and do it for endurance and high reps.
Build Your Endurance
Once you get in the pool your endurance will be the toughest initial goal; it is astonishingly difficult to swim for any substantial length of time when you are not used to it. That's why swimming is such great exercise! So, we recommend trying to go for longer and longer series of lengths with each workout. For example, on your first day in the pool, check and see how many lengths/laps you can swim in a row before you need to stop and rest. Then use this number as the baseline from which you add laps every workout. Also, initially start with frequent, short swims, going a few times a week for just 15 to 20 minutes. Then you can start to increase each swim's length and reduce the days if you like, or keep them the same if you don't mind getting wet more often.

Be Alert
Swimming is great exercise, but like anything else it has the potential to lead to muscle imbalances and tight spots. Being aware of this, however, and doing appropriate corrective stretching before and after every swim, can help keep you from getting tight. For instance, plan on doing stretches to open your chest. Swimming has a tendency to really tighten the chest and round your shoulders forward, but chest stretches can go a long way to mitigating this. Likewise, your neck and upper traps are likely to get tight, both from the swim strokes and the breathing involved. Do gentle side bends of the head and neck, three times to each side with a five-second hold each time, both before and after your swim.

This should be enough to get you started in the pool. All you need now is a great swimsuit! Treat yourself to something new this season—with these basics, you're going to be diving into the pool in style.

About Billy Polson and Mike Clausen: Billy Polson and Mike Clausen are co-founders of the award-winning Diakadi Body personal training gym and creators of RealJock's 12-week Workout Programs. Have burning questions about your fitness that you want Billy and Mike to answer? Send an email to billyandmike@realjock.com.