Swimming engages your entire body and also helps build a healthy cardiovascular system. While it's a good workout to tone throughout, you can use different parts of each stroke to tone specific body parts. Remember to cross-train when swimming because swimming is not a weight-bearing sport, so it doesn't help maintain your skeletal system.
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Tone All Over
Swimming a variety of strokes emphasizes different muscle groups, toning your entire body. Breaststroke emphasizes the legs and core, while butterfly develops a powerful back, shoulders, arms and core. Both freestyle and backstroke help develop your core as well as strengthen your arms and legs. To avoid boredom and overuse injury, vary your strokes by either including medleys, in which you swim butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle in a series, or complete sets — series of laps — that focus on each of your strokes.
Pull drills focus your efforts on your upper body, helping develop your back and shoulder muscles as well as the muscles of your arms and torso. Eliminate your legs from this section of your workout by using a pull buoy — a kidney-shaped flotation device that you hold between your thighs — to keep your lower-body afloat. Add pull paddles — plastic paddles you hold on your hands — to increase resistance. Make sure you are using correct hand placement, however, before adding paddles. If you are entering the water thumb-first, you are at risk of developing "swimmer's shoulder" a common injury in swimmers caused by over-rotation that inflames the rotator cuff.
Kick drills focus your swimming effort on your legs. Scissor-kicking, the type of kick used in freestyle and backstroke, emphasizes a strong, long leg. If you are a runner, you may find swimming laps of kicking inefficient and frustrating. Runners and cyclists, too, often have limited ankle flexion, making their feet stop their forward progress when kicking. Kick with a pointed toe and add fins to your workout slowly to increase your ankle flexion. Use a kick board to make your kick drills social. This doesn't create an ideal alignment for your body, but it breaks up the monotony of lap swimming and also strengthens your legs. For better alignment, and if your neck or shoulder cramp while holding a kick board, keep your hands stretched in front of you and lift your head to breathe.
The core rotates your body during freestyle and backstroke, moves your hips and enables your body roll in butterfly, and maintains your body alignment in breaststroke. To further isolate and tone it, grab a kick board and complete dolphin- or butterfly-kick drills. Swim laps with the kick board, arms out front and holding the edges of the kick board, and breathe freely. Focus on keeping your core engaged and using the muscles of your core to lift our bottom above the water surface.