#MIOlympics: A swimmer’s perspective on getting into swimming shape

The 2012 Olympic Games are going to make a huge splash later this summer.  All eyes will be on the London as it hosts one of the most prestigious sporting events on the planet.  In preparation for the games, the United States Swim Team Olympic Trials just ended in Omaha, NE.  There, thousands of people came together to compete for a chance to represent the United States in London later this summer.

Swimming is more than a spectator sport.  It is also a great way to get your daily exercise in.  I had the opportunity to speak with Liz Johnson, an Olympic Trials qualifier, about the benefits of swimming as an exercise and what types of things we might be able to do to get our own bodies into swimming shape.

Liz has committed herself to swimming for the past 13 years.  By the time she was in high school, she was competing in national level competitions across the country.  During her senior year of high school, she won several Michigan High School Athletic Association state titles and continued her swimming career at the University of Michigan.  While swimming for the university, she received Big Ten honors and swam at the national competition her Junior year.  Her biggest accomplishment came when she qualified for the Olympic Trials held in Omaha this past week.

A Healthier Michigan: What are the most important muscles to exercise to get into swimming shape?

Johnson: Almost any muscle you can think of will be incorporated into some part of a swimming stroke.  Upper body muscles are used to pull water past you as you complete the stroke.  Muscles of the back and core are extensively worked to stabilize the body in water.  Lower body muscles provide a lot of propulsion as you repetitively kick water away from you.  Therefore, every muscle is important to exercise.

AHM: What is the best workout to get into prime swimming shape?

Johnson: To get into prime swimming shape, you have to aerobically train your body.  Swimming is a combination of aerobic and resistance training.  You are often swimming long distances while pulling and pushing water with your muscles.  For this reason, one of the best ways to train both aerobically and resistance is to do a type of set called an Active Rest.  The main idea behind this exercise is to continue moving thus keeping your heart rate elevated even on the easy swims.  An Active Rest set is alternating between a hard, fast swim and an easy, recovery swim.  If you were to do 10 lengths of the pool, the odd numbers would be all out sprints while the evens are nice and easy swims.  The main goal is to minimize the amount of time spent on the wall and maximize your time swimming.

AHM: I know you also do workouts outside of the pool.  What workout does the team do to stay fit?

Johnson: We do several types of resistance training out of the pool.  These workouts are intended to provide cross training.  We use stretch cords to work upper body muscles such as biceps, triceps, shoulder and back muscles.  We also do a general Olympic style lift program for increased overall strength.  Some examples of these exercises include squats, presses, power cleans, pull ups, push ups, lunges and sit ups. ♦

Have you made swimming a regular part of your workout routine?  If you have, put your routine on video and enter the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Train Like An Olympian contest for your chance to ride on a float in the 2012 America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

Photo credit Rebecca Johnson

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