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Four popular swimming strokes for an effective exercise workout

By Stefan Pinto
May 26, 10:29 PM

People who swim, know the value of this undeniably autonomous exercise. Non-swimmers tend to admire swimmer’s bodies for the overall muscle tone, leanness and most often, clearly visible abdominal muscles. A swimmer’s build is often considered the most sought after builds for men.

Like all exercises, effective swimming involves proper technique. A proper exercise form avoids injury, ensures effective breathing techniques and facilitates the targeting of muscle groups. Amie Hoff, a New York Sports Clubs master trainer, advises that “developing a swimming workout that incorporates all four of the primary swimming techniques (freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly strokes) will work every muscle in the body.”

Although all of these strokes are beneficial, some are more effective than others.

Jane Katz a consultant to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, uses the swimming pool to teach pilates, yoga, tai chi and sports exercises. Katz calls her technique the W.E.T Workout® and recommends it for improving strength, flexibility and overall core conditioning. “The W.E.T. Workouts are ideal for all age groups, but are particularly beneficial to baby boomers who are concerned about aggravating their joints” she said.

Hoff finds the freestyle stroke to be the most effective as “it works the greatest number of muscle groups (biceps, triceps, chest, back, core, and legs) and can usually be maintained for a long period of time.”

Bob Prichard, a counselor at Advanced Swim Camps agrees that all of the strokes provide a terrific workout but he favors the breaststroke, “it provides the greatest workout as it creates the greatest amount of drag (resistance); you have to work the hardest to overcome the resistance created by the breaststroke.” 2000 USA Olympic Gold Medalist and former World Record Holder, BJ (Bedford) Miller, agrees, “the breaststroke’s recover is below the surface of the water, so it’s harder to push through - a big part of why the breaststroke is the slowest of the four disciplines in competitive swimming.”

Like all aerobic exercises, effective breathing is key, more so when swimming, “the more efficient your breathing, the more productive your aerobic energy system will become,” advises SWIMKids USA head coach, Bryan Crane. “The backstroke allows you the freedom of breathing as you normally would during land exercises and this may help keep your heart rate within your target range.” Crane recommends both the backstroke and freestyle as the most aerobic based swimming strokes.

Beck Wenner, a former competitive swimmer, utilizes HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) for swimming workouts and prefers the freestyle stroke.  “The freestyle stroke is familiar to most people, making it the easiest stroke to perform an intense workout.” She suggests that the “freestyle stroke allows a swimmer to really push hard during the sprinting phase of the workout but also permits recovery during the slower portion of the exercise.”

Richard Hawes, professor of Exercise Physiology and head swimming coach at Ohio Wesleyan University simply recommends swimming all four strokes, a technique he calls Individual Medley (IM). “This type of training means you do strokes at which you are inefficient with and as a result, will expend more energy, as well as strokes in which you are efficient with and can swim longer which also expends additional energy.” Hawes swimming technique uses a larger number of muscle groups making it ideal for improved cardiovascular function. Theresa Burger a physical education teach at Cottey College agrees, “human nature is to use the stroke you do the best as your workout, but doing strokes you are less efficient in can increase the intensity of your workout and keep your workout more interesting.” She recommends using a variety of strokes to stress different muscle groups and to change the intensity during the workout. 


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