Is Swimming The Best Cardio?

by Christian Duque

Cardiovascular exercise is key to losing fat, staying in shape, and also ensuring heart health. It’s called cardiovascular for a reason. Although this form of training is relatively new for bodybuilding purposes, it’s become a staple of pretty much all contest prep modalities. There’s a whole industry devoted to creating machines to fit this niche. There’s stair-masters, treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical’s – a never ending concession of hardware.

There’s machines that work off inclines, speed, and intensity. These machines have made gyms a great deal of money, including companies that cater to home workouts. But what if these machines were all second best to something that didn’t require any investment? Agility-based sports and exercises are considered a must for all athletes. The idea is to promote an overall body routine, with a strong preference on full range of motion. Swimming has long been considered an ideal exercise to burn calories, and here’s why. Swimming is a key way to stay in shape for three very powerful reasons. For starters, it’s an activity that engages the full body, secondly it has all the necessary resistance/tension, and finally, the swimmer is able to train at intervals. I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting cardio machines will ever be obsolete or that they are less beneficial; however, I do believe that athletes can benefit just as much from what’s considered, more unconventional types of training. It’s an important distinction that we don’t hear too much of, and why we don’t hear about it, may be something we should also address.

Full body exercise is key. In the old days, there weren’t days set out for each muscle group. For physique-based, competitive athletes, we know that developing each muscle group is key. As with anyone, there’s muscles that build easier than others. For example, someone with genetically good arms, or good legs, or who has an ideal structure to compete, they may have an easier time than someone else. That having been said, full body workouts stimulate muscle growth and maintenance in such a way that also has many unique benefits. In addition to physical stimuli, there’s also a strong case to be made insofar as the mind-muscle connection is concerned. Take someone who has subscribed to training in the traditional bodybuilding manner. For example, every Monday is chest, Tuesday is delts, Wednesday is back and Thursday is legs. Some might add a fifth day for arms, abs, and glutes. Now, take that same person and have them train 3-5 days a week with full body workouts. The results might be very impressive because as opposed to engaging target muscle groups each day, all muscle groups are being engaged all days of the workout cycle. Critics might argue that this is overtraining, but overtraining is typically related to weights, whether free weights or machines. With an an exercise like swimming, it’s all based on the water’s own resistance, the person in question, and how much force will be exerted. What makes this article unique as well, is that we’re privy to the fact that swimming isn’t just a form of cardiovascular exercise, but it’s also a muscle-building experience as well. Very few, if any, tried and true cardio exercises, will ever build muscle, and what’s even more interesting is that too much cardio will actually result in losing size, losing (muscle) gains. That’s not the case with swimming, and it also trumps weight-training for folks with injuries. If you have lower back issues, arthritis, joint pain or muscle aches, swimming will help reduce the pain and increase overall workout quality. Training with iron, on the other hand, might worsen the condition. Finally, water-based aerobic activities will help you manage your diabetes and if you have cholesterol issues, it will also help lower your bad cholesterol levels.

Most people go to weights, machines, and even free weights, because they want resistance. It is true that we build, condition, and maintain muscle through resistance and tension-based movements; however, the water creates it’s own resistance and swimmers have direct control over how much energy is exerted and over what period of time. With cardio, particularly machines, a computer is essentially determining everything, based on a questionable heart rate reader, crunching numbers you provide (weight, age, time, pace, and incline) and then providing results. While it’s true there’s no calorie count for running on the beach, nothing will ever be as hard as running in the sand or swimming in the ocean. I guess you could always use an iWatch or app to give you a caloric burn reading, but the point here, is that these are just numbers. Unless you’re about to step foot on stage, you can judge when you’ve been put through the ringer, when you’re exhausted, but also when you’re actually building and improving your overall degree of fitness. If you want to get in shape this way, all you really need is a pair of swimming trunks. You don’t need a gym membership, fancy attire, or equipment. That in and of itself might be a little nerve-wrecking for an industry that makes money on every single aspect of the workout. Interestingly, mother nature can provide a nice alternative from time to time. You don’t have to go to the extremes, but you can most certainly incorporate aspects of both worlds to improving your overall athletic performance.

How you train is up to you, whether at the gym, in a pool, or in a choppy ocean. We, as a society, are forgetting some of the basics. Innovation is a great thing and I’m certainly not advocating that we give up or stop learning, but there are still some pretty basic exercises that work. Chin-ups at the park, crunches, push-ups and swimming, are all fine examples. Look at most prisons today. They took all the weights out, there’s no more benching, not so much as a couple dumbbells, yet the inmates are still swole, walking around with tons of muscle, and in many instances running circles around the correction officers. How’s that possible? And how’s it possible on a diet known for low protein, bad carbs, and small portions? They use their minds and train with what they have, from towels to picnic benches. I’m not by any means trying to glamorize prison time, but if prisoners can build bodybuilding physiques without anything you see in a gym, it’s certainly – at least – food for thought. Isn’t it?

I hope that with this article you’ll at least consider some alternatives. As always, I invite you to share your opinion(s) here at Iron Magazine or wherever you may see this article.

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