Swimming is a great workout for any athlete, and increased strength and confidence in the water can be a crucial element in pushing yourself to accomplish more in your aquatic sport of choice.
Summer is filled with opportunities for you to find the nearest (or farthest) open water swimming adventure, be it a beach, river, lake or wild swimming hole.
Whether you’ve got your eyes on your first triathlon, want more stamina for your summer surf trip, or want a low-impact, but high-intensity, alternative to your regular workout routine, we’ve got you covered with the basics for getting fit in the water.
Here are the best swimming workouts for beginners and the keys you need to master them. Swimming can be a killer workout, as it’s easy on the joints, but can build strength and endurance easily.
Gear: Get Ready For Your Workouts
One of the best things about swimming is that, provided you can find a body of water, you don’t need any extra gear to do it. You can just get in and go.
That said, there are a few items that will help make your beginning, and future, swimming workouts more effective and versatile, if you can get your hands on them.
Goggles will make life much better, especially in a chlorinated pool. The ability to clearly see the bottom of the pool will also help you stay in a straight line, and know when you’re about to connect with the wall. Save your eyes and pick up a pair.
A kickboard is a classic training tool that will help you work on balance and lower body technique, even when your arms are burned out. There’s a reason swim instructors use kickboards when teaching people to swim, and a reason professional swimmers use them to isolate their legs.
The kickboard’s counterpart, the pull buoy, is a piece of foam that goes between the legs to keep them afloat without having to kick. It’ll allow you to focus on your arm movement and strength, and will assist with single-arm isolation exercises.
Swimming Workouts For Beginners
There are three basic types of swimming workouts, each with its own application: form, endurance and speed. For beginner’s swimming workouts, focus on form and endurance.
You can start to incorporate speed training into your workouts as you progress, or if you find yourself swimming more than four times a week.
Ultimately, speed will come into play if you’re training for a race or another timed trial, but for now, it’s most important to nail your technique and build stamina in the water.
These sample beginners swimming workouts are based on 500m of total distance, which you can increase over time.
Drills marked kick are done with a kickboard, pull drills are meant for a pull buoy (both arms) and right and left drills are performed by using a pull buoy while stroking with one arm at a time, keeping the other straight in front.
Aim to rest 15-30 seconds between each set. If you find that you need to rest longer, try slowing your pace when swimming and focusing on smooth movements until you can swim at a more intense pace with less rest.
Form Swimming Workout
- Warmup Swim: 4 x 25m
- Pull Drill: 4 x 25m
- Left Drill: 2 x 25m
- Right Drill: 2 x 25m
- Kick Drill: 4 x 25m
- Cool Down Swim: 4 x 25m
Endurance Swimming Workout #1
- Warmup: 4 x 25m
- Swim Ladder (rest between each distance): 25m, 50m, 75m, 75m, 50m, 25m
- Cool Down: 4 x 25m
Endurance Swimming Workout #2
- Warmup: 2 x 50m
- Workout: 3 x 100m
- Cool Down: 4 x 25m
Drills to Master Your Swimming Workouts
If you want to perfect these swimming workouts, you’ll need to focus on solid technique and form. Essentially, the major components are breathing, stroke mechanics, balance and the kick.
Use drills to practice these components until the parts of the movement are second nature.
Breathing is a simple but crucial part of refining your beginners swimming workouts. When breathing in the water, it’s important to remember that you generally won’t have time to inhale and exhale in the amount of time that your face is tilted out of the water.
This is especially true once you get deeper into a workout and you start breathing more heavily.
The fix is to practice exhaling while your face is in the water, and inhaling when you turn your head. “Bobs” are a good drill to work with. To perform them, stand in the shallow end of a pool, bend over so your torso and face are in the water and, without moving your arms, practice alternating exhaling into the water and turning your face to the side to breathe.
Understanding correct mechanics of the stroke, specifically the arm movement, will get you moving forward efficiently.
In a nutshell, you’re using your whole arm, not just your hand, and remember that you want to “grab” as much water as possible when pulling your arm through the water.
To do that, cup your hands slightly as you pull to increase drag. Keep your arm at a 90-degree angle as you move it through the water. Think about accelerating the arm as you move it from out in front of you down towards your hip.
Lastly, keep your elbow high as it exits the water so you’re not swinging your whole arm around like a windmill and slapping it down again; rather, your hand will stay pretty close to the surface and enter the water smoothly.
To practice, try going through the movements while standing out of the water and bending over at the waist.
Proper body balance in the water will decrease drag and keep your movements focused on propelling you forward, rather than working to keep your body on the surface of the water. The key for beginners to learn here is to relax our arms.
When the arms are relaxed and kept extended a few inches below the surface of the water, your torso effectively acts as a pivot for the lower half of your body, and keeps your legs from sinking.
You can practice this by floating facedown in the water or grabbing onto the side of the pool and keeping your arms relaxed. Let your legs naturally float to the surface.
A proper flutter kick technique will propel you through the water and save you from wasting unnecessary energy. You want to kick with your whole leg, letting the power originate in your hips, but be sure not to lock your knees out straight.
Let your knees bend slightly, keep your ankles loose, and think about whipping through your feet. Lastly, think small, as bigger movements won’t move you forward any faster.
The flip turn can seem like a mystery and an unnatural movement, but with some practice it will increase your speed, help conserve momentum and energy, and make you feel like a professional swimmer when you pull it off. It all starts with a somersault.
First, practice a somersault in the water, away from the wall. Then, practice taking a few strokes and going into the flip while you’re moving. Finally, go for it when you’re headed towards the wall and can see the “T” at the bottom of the lane that indicates you’re about one stroke from the wall.
Let your feet find the wall while your legs are bent, explode back towards the other end of the pool with your arms straight, and turn your body as you rise so that you’re facedown when you reach the surface.
Know any other swimming workouts for beginners or essential novice advice? Let us know in the comments below.
How to Perfect Your Swim Stroke
For would-be swimmers, there are techniques and exercises to turn even the most inefficient doggy-paddle into an effective stroke.
Perfecting your swimming technique will not only help you swim laps at the local pool for exercise, but also allow you to train for a marathon or handle yourself in more open water.
Here are some tips for perfecting your swimming stroke.
One of the things that keeps a lot of swimmers down is their desire to keep their head out of the water. It’s a natural inclination – you want to be able to breathe, and it seems like the best way to breathe is to lift your head out of the water.
However, this can really mess with your stroke if you lift your head too high, throwing the line of your body out position and forcing your legs to do more work to compensate. Instead, you want to keep your head nice and low, level with your body, so that it forms a straight line from head to toe.
All you need is to lift your head a tiny bit out of the water. Any more is unnecessary and will actually make things harder.
Now that you know how to hold your head, you want to make sure you’re breathing right. There are two key points here. The first is to never breathe on the same side twice in a row. That means, if you’re swimming and you go to the left to breathe, you want to go to the right for the next breath, alternating accordingly.
The second key is to coordinate your breathing to your stroke so that it’s consistent – you breathe when your pulling back with your arm.
In freestyle, your arms are what help you crawl forward through the water. The key here is to remember that you can twist your body as you pull each arm back. Always keep your head forward, but allow your torso to move with your arm. With your arm, you want to reach out and pull through the water. Then, push the water away as your arm raises back to recover.
Just as important as your arm technique is your kick. When kicking, the most crucial thing to remember is not to get carried away – just because you’re moving your legs faster doesn’t mean your body is going to go faster.
You want to avoid reaching too far out or down into the water with your kick, and you want to keep your legs loose – loose at the knee, loose at the ankle and loose at the hips. You don’t want them too loose, but within reason.
Stiffness of knee or ankle will destroy your momentum and tire you out.
As you reach with each hand, you want to rotate your whole body at the hips in the direction of that arm.
This is extremely important, because failure to do so will restrict every other part of your technique – poor body rotation will make you kick and pull too hard with your arms, make it harder to breathe and make it harder to keep your body level in the water.
Like any other endurance sport, half the battle is efficiency, and much of the efficiency comes from not sabotaging your own technique. Because everything in your body stems from the core, this is the first and last place you could make a difference in your stroke.