Swimming is hands down the best form of cardiovascular exercise and getting into the pool is the single best change that you can make to your exercise routine.

Unlike jogging or any form of machine-based cardio exercise, swimming places no impact force on the joints and connective tissue, and is an incredibly efficient, total-body exercise.  You don’t need to spend hours in the pool every week in order to reap the benefits from swimming, as 20-minutes once or twice per week will do the trick.

The reason more people don’t swim is that it’s difficult, it takes effort.  Unlike the Stairmaster, treadmill or any of the most popular forms of cardiovascular exercise, swimming is tough.  Machine-based forms of cardio are popular because they are easy.  As a matter of fact, any exercise that is unpopular – especially in a big, open gym setting – is usually more difficult, and as a result more effective, than the less popular options.

For example, in most “big box” gyms there are literally tons of leg machines (leg press, leg extension, leg curl, etc.) but usually only a few squat racks, and these racks are rarely used for squats.  At the big box gym I belong to there are hundreds of treadmills and Stairmasters, but only 2 Concept 2 rowing machines.

It seems like everyone jogs and “climbs stairs” – even the people who wait to park their cars in the parking spaces closest to the entrance – but nobody sprints or does running and agility drills.

Translation; walking (except from their car) and stepping are easy, sprinting and rowing is tough.

I’ve written about my love/hate relationship with swimming, and it continues until this very moment (as I write this I’m about to head out for my weekly swim).  To sum up, I hate swimming, but love having swum.   On a winter’s day it takes an effort to get my butt off of my nice, comfy easy chair, out into the cold and into the pool, where there’s nothing to lean against or hold onto.  

You can’t watch TV, although I can listen to music thanks to my waterproof IPod case.  But I swim because I love what it does for me. So next time you’re wondering about what you can do to improve your workout routine, look no further than the pool and start swimming.


  1. ok…so help me out. When I’m on the treadmill, i know how fast I’m going, manage my pace, observe my heart rate, and easily incorporate HIIT techniques. In the pool, I don’t know how to do any of that. I don’t know if I’m speeding up or slowing down, pushing myself hard enough to get cardio-vascular or VO2 benefit. All I can do is count laps and watch the clock. And even watching the clock is hard, since I have to stop or at least slow down to do it.
    Do you have advice on how I can develop a routine to maximize the time in the lap pool and see results? Do you just swim steady laps or vary pace? What is your typical routine?

  2. I don’t get hung up on heart rate and worry about VO2 and all of that. As far as high-intensity training goes if you are working at your maximum things take care of themselves.
    With regard to the pool, if you are performing at a sustainable steady state for 20-25 minutes you are getting all of the aerobic benefits that you could hope for. If you want to change things up, swim as fast as you can – using any stroke you wish – for a length or two of the pool, make note of the time and rest for anywhere from 3-10 seconds for each second of work. At first swim one lap as fast as possible and see how your HR responds, and make use of a longer recovery period if you need to. As you transition into this new style of training you want to give your body a chance to adapt.
    Also, laps are of secondary importance to time spent swimming, IMHO, and as you improve as a swimmer you can start to pay more attention to how many laps you can complete in a certain period of time.
    Just like any exercise with swimming you need variety to derive the most benefits.


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