Staying swim fit on dry land

If you've been working on your swimming fitness and technique, you may be worried about the physical impact of time out of the pool and lake. How can you work on your swim fitness from home?

Variety makes you stronger

Research shows that adding variety to your training routine improves your fitness. This is mainly because your body adapts to the stresses you put on it and your progress plateaus. It's also because it carries a lower risk of injury from repeating the same movements. Plus, you'll find extra benefits such as improved body composition and fitness levels, better flexibility and agility and stronger bones and joints.

This research has changed the way budding young athletes train by encouraging them to try more sports rather than focus on one. Research has also found that rest is a crucial part of training; Rugby Union clubs, for example, add more rest than they used to and yet their players are fitter and stronger than ever before. Triple jump world record holder, Jonathan Edwards, put his extraordinary 1995 record-breaking jump down to a number of factors including a forced break the year before while he recovered from an illness.

Ok, you or I swimming down a river isn't in the same league as a pro-athlete, and, yes, I am absolutely trying to find some good in this terrible world health crisis and forced time off our favourite activity. But you get the picture: rest from swimming won't harm your ability, and mixing up your exercise routine will do you some good.

Swimmers' exercises

To work out which exercises compliment swimming, it's worth breaking down what you need to swim efficiently.

The easiest place to start is cardiovascular fitness. Swimming, especially swimming outdoors in cold water, especially swimming long distances, asks a lot of your heart and lungs. Your heart and lungs are responsible for providing your body with oxygenated blood. Therefore, the stronger your heart and the better your lung capacity, the more efficiently you send oxygen to your muscles and the longer you'll be able to swim before you notice the effects of oxygen debt.

Oxygen debt makes you feel out of breath, which causes you to breathe more often. As you get more fatigued, your breathing technique is likely to get worse --- you might start to lift your head out of the water to breathe rather than rotating to the side, for example. This will disrupt your stroke, wearing you out even more.

So, strengthening your heart, increasing lung capacity and improving your cardio-respiratory endurance will help your swimming. To do this, you need to push up your heart-rate by doing either aerobic (aerobic means 'with oxygen' and involves any long, sustained effort) or anaerobic (high-intensity bursts of exercise where your body can't supply oxygen fast enough) exercise -- or a mixture of both.

Aerobic, or cardio, exercises include:

  • Running or jogging

  • Brisk walking

  • Cycling

  • Dancing -- you can try Bollywood, Zumba, hip-hop... plus, you may learn some new moves!

  • Home aerobics -- YouTube is your friend; there are thousands of aerobic workouts including this gem!

Anaerobic, or high-intensity interval training, exercises can be anything that involves short bursts of intense exercise. These include:

Those home workouts are great fun. Take advantage of being in the comfort of your own home and having access to so many online workouts to explore new ways of exercising and having a laugh while you're at it. While hilarious, there are also serious benefits to learning new dance routines: agility, balance and co-ordination are all vital ingredients to a better swim technique.

Stronger body

While windmilling your arms Mr Motivator style will improve your shoulder flexibility, range of movement, coordination and the speed in which you'll be able to move your arms in front crawl, what happens under the water is what makes the real difference. The power of your pull is where you'll get the most forward motion -- in front crawl, your arms account for 85-90% of your propulsion.

So, the next thing to think about is strength work. Developing a strong back and shoulders is the obvious way to power your pull through the water. But your core strength is also key, as this not only ties together your stroke but also helps you maintain that lovely, streamlined position. And let's not forget your bum -- strong glutes are essential for that balancing kick and rotating hips. In breaststroke, the power comes from you core and down through your bum and legs.

Anything that uses weights, be that dumbells or your own body weight, and resistance is good for strength and conditioning. Watch this video for some ideas and then search 'strength and conditioning workout' on YouTube to find workouts that suit you and the kit you have at home. My aim is to be able to do one proper pull-up!

Strong minds

As I said before, core strength is key to a strong, efficient swimming stroke. Ditto flexibility, particularly in your ankles, hips and shoulders. Yoga and Pilates are both ideal for helping improve your core strength and flexibility.

Another advantage of yoga and Pilates is the focus on your breathing. Both use breathing techniques to help you engage your core and also connect body and mind. This is a really valuable skill for outdoor swimming as you'll often have to overcome physical challenges like the cold, being splashed by other swimmers and adverse currents or weather, as well as mental challenges -- 'I'm scared', 'I can't do this'.

Outdoor swimming is very much a mind game. Finding the strength to cope with coronavirus lockdown, the resilience to deal with its associated challenges and the resolve to adapt both your mindset and training will stand you in good stead for any outdoor swimming challenge! Adding yoga, Pilates, tai-chi and meditation to your repertoire will help you cope with both challenges.

Good luck, stay healthy and let me know how you do.