How swimming transformed my fitness program

photo by john ashworth

written by john c ashworth, ma, cscs, ces

Nothing has enhanced my energy, strength, vitality, and pain levels over the last year than my swim time in the pool. And before you go assuming that I possess a wildly aggressive swim regimen, let me tell you that the true secret to this new staple of my exercise program has been the consistency of it, and the combination of both cold water (~88 degrees) and warm water (~94 degrees).

About a year ago, my physical therapist at the time recommended I try the warm water pool to help address pain levels in my back that were related to an injury I had sustained. Yes, even trainers get injured. In fact, now that I’m 44 years old, I’m reminded almost every day about the pounding my body took as a highly competitive soccer player.

I soon started adding some cold water time with my warm water time over the first few months, and can now boast that for a year straight, I’ve been to the pool at least 3-4 days per week. Not bad.

The reason I decided to make this the topic for tonight’s segment on NBC with Leigh Mills is this…

Time in the pool holds many benefits. I’ve greatly improved my strength, my stamina, and my overall sense of well-being by making my loyal trips to the gym each week. The most compelling, however, is that time swimming in the pool accomplishes even more for someone like me (and likely you). The modern day over forty Bohemian Athlete trying to stay in shape in the context of a busy life, and inside a body that is always getting older, needs something like the pool for recovery and to help minimize impact on the body.

Here is my core list of swimming benefits.

First of all, your skin is your biggest bodily organ. So by covering yourself in the water for 15-30 minutes a day, you completely and almost immediately begin to calm down your nervous system, which helps tremendously with pain, stress, tightness and tension in the body. It also helps that when you dip yourself into the water, you unload your spinal discs by 40%. That’s why it feels so good so immediately 🙂

Secondly, strength throughout your entire body is built as you pull yourself through the water each day. And this not only makes you a lot stronger in a much more functional way, but it also builds a level of strength that you feel throughout your entire body from head to feet. As an example, I can’t believe how much stronger I feel now when I work with the stability ball now.

The third benefit I want to mention is what I now call the “Recovery Factor.” No one ever thinks enough about what they are doing to recover from their fitness regimen. Most people expect the body to automatically respond adequately to any training stimulus they provide. Of course this is not the case. You always need to consider what you are doing to recover, because it is in the process of recovery where you are building increased levels of health and fitness. Pool time aids in this process. I don’t swim long distances every time I’m in the pool. And in general, my swimming distances are not that impressive. I swim between 150 and 500 meters depending on how I’m feeling. And I either proceed or follow that with my warm water pool time. On Friday’s I look forward to adding strength training to this pool program at the end of the day. A vintage way of ending my week. I start with the strength training and then recover in the pool.

Lastly, and directly related to the first three…this combination of the relaxation effect, strength building, and recovery always leaves me feeling completely transformed for the rest of the day or evening. Yes. The rest of the day. This feeling is so powerful that I now look directly to my time in the water as a cure for the ailments that challenge all of us. Pain, stress, tightness, lack of exercise, and a means of elevating my heart rate that doesn’t beat up on my back and my joints.

OK, that’s it. What are you waiting for?






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