A swimmer

Workout in water with tips from fitness expert Sam Murphy.

Swimming is one of the most popular forms of exercise in the UK, and for good reason. It's one of the few activities that uses both upper and body muscles, which increases potential calorie burning, as well as strengthening and toning the whole body.

The varied movement pattern of all the different strokes also helps with flexibility and range of motion in the joints. But you need to swim with good technique and at a reasonable pace to get the full benefit.

Everyone's a winner bonus:

Being in water simply feels great - given that we spend the first 9 months of our existence suspended in the stuff, and are made up of roughly two-thirds water - it's only natural. Spend a few minutes just floating on your back, playing or diving under.

The 'I don't want to get my hair wet' approach to swimming, with head craned out of the water, gossiping to a friend, isn't going to get you fit fast! And slicing through the water in a pair of goggles looks far cooler, anyway.

It's a good idea to vary your strokes to use the maximum number of muscle groups and make your swimming session more interesting.

Among elite swimmers, research shows:

  • front crawl is the most economical swimming stroke (although it certainly won't feel that way when you first give it a go!)
  • breaststroke is more demanding (and calorie-hungry) because it uses more leg muscles than crawl
  • backstroke focuses on the upper back and shoulders, and the back of the legs.

Getting started

You almost certainly already have a swimsuit or trunks, but it's definitely worth investing in a pair of goggles, too.

Mastering breathing, stroke technique and confidence are the secret to fitness swimming - it may be that you need to take a few lessons to get the best out of it.

Most swimming pools have a local swimming club that you can join to improve your technique and fitness. To find your nearest club, contact the Amateur Swimming Association on 01509 618765 or visit www.britishswimming.org Or you can joint a 'virtual' club - Swimfit - which will formulate a programme that meets your personal goals www.swimfit.com.

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