Swimming helped Olympians such as Dara Torres, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps develop enviable defined abs — and you might wonder how you can use your time in the pool to achieve such a physique.
Although these swimmers cover dozens of miles in the water weekly, their dry-land training also contributes to a svelte six-pack abs. Combine intense swimming drills with core workouts to develop your own gold-medal body.
Six-Pack Moves in the Pool
Swimming can be a highly effective workout, but certain techniques ensure you'll burn the calories and develop the musculature that gets you a sculpted core.
Pick the Right Strokes
A fast-paced butterfly sizzles the most calories, but a speedy freestyle or breast stroke also helps you feel the effort. Burn calories to help create a caloric deficit and rid yourself of extra fat that's covering your midsection. Even if you do all the strengthening possible to build strong, segmented abs, you won't see them if you've got a top layer of pudge.
Stay Long in the Water
Staying streamlined in the water helps you fight drag. Not only will you go farther and faster, but you'll also employ your ab and back muscles with every stroke and kick.
Imagine yourself as one long line, keeping the muscles of your lumbar, or lower, spine and abs strong as you move through your swim. Contract all the muscles of your torso into the midline and rotate along that axis to give you power. When you keep your core strong, you resist sagging your midsection and legs, which slows you down.
Interval training is a sure-fire way to burn fat, especially when compared to steady-state exercise, reported a paper in a 2011 issue of Journal of Obesity. Intervals involve short spurts of all-out work alternated with short periods of easy effort.
Swimming gives you an awesome opportunity to perform intervals. After a warm up, do rounds of super-fast 50- or 100-meter (or yard) drills, followed by 25 to 50 meters of easy pulling. Go for 45 minutes to 60 minutes total.
Dry-land core work complements swim workouts; it doesn't replace them. Train your core in every direction to give you balanced ab development that shows through as a six-pack. An added bonus — when you have a strong trunk, your arms and legs have more leverage with which they can generate power through the water.
Plank holds provide strength to the axis of the body that keep you humming efficiently through the water. They develop the deep transverse abdominis muscle which improves posture and gives you power through the core. Master the standard plank, then add variations:
- Standard Plank: Get into the top of a push-up, either on your hands or forearms. Hug your ribs toward each other and pull your belly button to your spine. Hold for 20 to 60 seconds.
- Side Plank: From the standard plank position, rotate your body to the side and stack your hips, shoulders and feet. Hold 20 to 60 seconds
- Superman Plank: From the standard plank, lift your right leg and left arm and hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Switch sides.
If you have trouble holding plank pose, or any of the variations, support your trunk with your knees until you build the stamina to do the moves on your toes.
A six-pack is more than the front section of muscles most obvious in the mirror. You also want to develop those sexy side muscles known as the obliques. In addition to looking good, they help you maintain stability in the water.
- Cable Chop: Position a cable at the bottom rung, or anchor a resistance band at a low point. Face the cable with your right side and grasp the handle with both hands. Rotate down toward the anchor point, then twist up and away until the cord is angled just above your left shoulder. Repeat for 15 to 20 reps on one side; repeat on the other.
- X-Crunches: Lie on your back with your arms overhead and your legs extended -- your body will resemble the letter "x." Lift your right arm and left leg up to touch and then repeat with the left arm and right leg. Go for 15 to 20 total repetitions.
Some ab moves are a staple part of swim teams' routines. These exercises contribute to core strength and definition, particularly of the superficial rectus abdominis that makes up your six-pack, and the lower back muscles, which balance out strong abs. If you have strong abs and a weak back, you invite back pain, poor swimming performance and postural imbalance.
- Flutter Kick: Lie on your back and with your hands positioned under your buttocks for support. Lift your legs just a few inches off the floor and perform quick kicking motions for 20 to 45 seconds.
- Superman Back Extensions: Lie on your stomach with your arms extended overhead. Slowly lift your arms, head, upper chest and legs off the mat. Pause momentarily and return to the start, using control. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Regularly strength training your shoulders, chest, upper back, legs and hips also contributes to a more muscular, lean frame, defined abs and a stronger swim stroke.