Swimming provides a thorough workout and tones a variety of muscle groups. It also helps with cardiovascular health and improves both flexibility and strength. Sometimes it can be difficult to design a workout that is both challenging and interesting. Consider many different examples of swimming workouts for inspiration next time you hit the pool.
Warmup and Cool Down
Although you should begin and end your swimming workout with stretching, that isn't enough to get your muscles loosened up and ready for swimming. Because water resistance works opposite muscle groups, swimming may work more muscles than you are used to. Make sure to begin and end your workout with a warmup and cool down. Aim for 400 to 500 meters, depending on the pool. The warmup and cool down should be done at a slower pace than the rest of your workout -- focus on loosening your muscles and increasing blood flow. This is the time to give different muscle groups individualized attention. Do a few laps with a pull buoy between your legs to work your upper body, and then a few with a kickboard to focus on your lower body. Take advantage of drills -- modify your freestyle by slowly dragging your fingertips over the surface of the water, or try a few laps of backstroke with an exaggerated shoulder rotation.
Training for Speed
If you want to improve your speed, focus on sprinting. Bring a stopwatch to the pool, as you'll want to be able to measure your progress. Workouts for speed should involve an alternation between short sprints at a 90- to 100-percent pace and periods of slower swimming at a 50- to 60-percent pace. One workout that helps with speed is the pyramid. Swim a 50-meter sprint, then a moderately fast 100 meters, then a slow 200 meters. Repeat the moderately fast 100 meters, then the 50 meter sprint. This will allow you to keep your heart rate up between sprints without becoming too exhausted.
Training for Endurance
If you are training to improve endurance, long workouts are beneficial. Do several freestyle sets of 400 to 500 meters, with breaks in between. Complete the entire set without stopping, if possible. The goal is not to be fast, but to make it to the end of the set without feeling exhausted, so pace yourself. Another way to improve endurance is to practice individual medley, a mixture of butterfly, backstroke, breast stroke and freestyle. Try 50 meters of each; switching between these four strokes works a variety of muscle groups and will help build up your stamina. If you would rather stick to one stroke, practice a few sets of a 100-meter butterfly. As Dick Hannula and Nort Thornton pointed out in 2012 in "The Swim Coaching Bible," the butterfly is a mix of "endurance and power," and will ultimately help improve endurance for all of your strokes. If you struggle with the butterfly, try incorporating the butterfly stroke for just a few laps of your workout -- you'll be amazed by how quickly your endurance improves.
Training for Technique
If your goal is to improve your swimming technique, focus most of your workout on the stroke that you want to improve. Try swimming the stroke in a variety of different ways: Hold your arms to your sides or in front in the streamline position and work the kick; keep your legs straight behind you or use a pull buoy to work the arm strokes. Practice a few 50- or 100-meter sprints, timing yourself to measure improvement. It is also essential to practice breathing techniques in order to make sure that your body is getting enough oxygen. According to Marty Gaal of "USA Triathlon Life" magazine, proper breathing involves knowing both when and how to breathe. Work on developing rhythmic breathing by paying attention to how often you take a breath and how long that breath is, and try to keep the timing consistent. For freestyle and butterfly, avoid hyperventilation by breathing no more than every other stoke.
Stay hydrated and stop to rest any time you feel that you are becoming too tired to continue. If you need a break but don't want to stop completely, swim a few slow laps to give your body a break while still maintaining blood flow to your muscles. If you're a beginner swimmer, don't push yourself too hard -- water training is very different than training on dry land, and you may feel sore after the first few workouts.