Lap swimming for the veryvery unfit - advice needed

I really need to work on my cardio fitness and burn some extra calories, but I seem to be almost literally falling apart at the seams - I have “pre-arthritis” and other problems in my back and ankle, and I’ve been ordered not to run or walk for exercise.

So my HCPs have suggested swimming. The problem is, I’m so out of shape, I have a lot of trouble coordinating breathing. When I get winded, I feel in danger of drowning, because I need to breathe more often than the stroke rhythm.

So, I’ve seen one or two people using snorkels, and I’m intrigued. Anyone ever use one? I guess I’m willing to look like a colossal dork in my goggles, cap, and snorkel, but only if it really helps!

Also, any general advice on starting out? I have a good grounding from my childhood and teen years - I remember how to swim breaststroke and crawl pretty well. But I realize I am out of practice and out of shape.

I appreciate any pointers and information y’all can give me!

I saw a swimming version of Couch to 5k. It was pretty cool. Lemme see if I can find the link… Oh! It was called Zero to One Mile!

Lemme search for it…

Maybe do water-robics or whatever they’re called? You can slap on a floatation belt and be done with it?

Also, at most of the lap pools i’ve been to, the slow lanes are fully in a shallow area of the pool so you can always stand up.

Okay, all the links ultimately end up at this person’s site.

I’m a lousy swimmer. Weird for a guy that runs around a cycles a lot, but there you go: I’m inefficient. So this is the program I’m hoping to start in the spring.

Well, if timing your breathing is a problem, why not start with backstroke? That way your face is always out of the water, and you still get a workout. You can go nice and slow until you start to get fitter. Just keep one eye out for the end of the pool so you don’t smack your arms.

Don’t worry about this. Just swim in a pool where you can stand safely. And do breaststroke, not the crawl.

Learning backstroke will help too. :smiley:

Oh, another thought:

I see many people “jog” in the pool. They don’t wear float belts, and they don’t swim strokes. Rather, they (it’s kind of hard to explain) run laps in the pool.

I would imagine that the drag of the water makes it a good workout, and the fact that you’re buoyed by the water makes it extremely low impact.

I’d suggest sidestroke. Your head’s out of the water and it’s easier to see where you’re going than if you’re doing backstroke. When I was doing more lap-swimming, I did the crawl, but if I wanted a rest, I just switched to sidestroke.

Well, there’s an idea. :smack:

I kind of hate backstroke because I always feel like I’m veering off course or about to smack my head into the wall, but maybe if I practice it’ll feel more comfortable.

I do occasionally do water aerobics, but it’s not always what I want to do, and of course classes happen at a certain time, which isn’t always doable.

0-1650 looks interesting, but I think right now I just need to get in there and do it regularly before trying to build according to a plan.

Advice - get in the pool. I would hesitate to recommend a snorkle, just because it’s just going to make you dependent on it…much better if you can get the breathing rhythym down.

I think what you may be doing is not exhaling all of your air while stroking. This becomes a problem because when you lift your head to breathe you don’t really have time to exhale THEN inhale…

Really focus on using the time with your face in the water to breathe out…all of it…then inhale when you lift your head.

If your can calm your breathing you should be fine.

This. It’s a little more of a relaxing stroke than the breaststroke or the front crawl, and you don’t have to worry about when you’ll next get a chance to breathe because your head is above water. Then again, I’ve always had an irrational dislike of the backstroke, despite the fact that I practically lived in the pool in my teens and twenties.

Also, if part of the OMG-I’m-going-to-drown issue has to do with accidentally inhaling water, a nose clip might be a good idea too (they’re relatively inexpensive, and the newer plastic/silicone kind are actually quite comfortable compared to the metal clips most of us remember). I use one when I’m swimming because I hate the feeling of pool water in my nose.

I do this. Essentially you’re treading water but instead of moving your arms back and forth, you do the breast stroke with them. It’s a great workout but the down side is that you don’t move very quickly and the real swimmers tend to get testy.

yeah, my pool actually has a large 3-lane wide area that is in a shallow end and not sectioned off. that’s where they do that, and I could see it getting annoying to some if you do it in a lane.

I’m a fatty fat-ass who is really in to swimming. When I started, I just walked laps in the pool. Right there in the lap pool. Obviously, you have to be super alert of everything going on around you because the last thing you want to do be in the way of anyone trying to get in a serious swim. You eventually want to swim WITH them so don’t piss them off :slight_smile:

Anyway, I walked for a while (maybe 3 weeks?) and then started walking faster in the pool. Mind you, you have to not hop skip and jump, you have to work to make your feet touch the bottom to get good resistance. Eventually, I got fit enough to swim and not just heave.

But, I am actually a good swimmer so the breathing part came naturally to me…

If you feel the need to get into the water and not just walk - You can do the backstroke without arms…just kick your feet and put your hand out to follow the wall or rope…

You can get a kickboard and just lie on that on your stomach and kick.

You can get those aqua dumbbells to use for your arms while walking. You can also use them as floats for kicking.

If your pool has a diving section, you can just go in there and tread water for a while. If that’s too hard, get a water aerobic belt.

You don’t need any of that stuff…my pool happens to have all sorts of things available for people to use. I fiddle with it all so things don’t get boring.

One thing I will recommend that you should TOTALLY get if you have an iPod…an h2o Audio waterproof case and headphones. I couldn’t have ever sustained a swimming program without it. Swimming’s not quite as boring as running/walking but if you can’t do it with music, it’s worse :slight_smile:

Have fun! Just get in the pool and start doing it. You’re gonna love it!

A lot of pools have some kind of marker overhead to tell you when the wall is coming up - often it’s a string of those flags you see in used car lots, but it might be a rope or even just a line painted on the ceiling. With practice you can count how many more strokes you can fit in after that, or in a pinch you can just roll over into a breaststroke as soon as you see the line. Also, it sounds dumb, but I used to take my goggles off to do backstroke, but it’s a lot more comfortable with them on, even though your face is mostly out of the water. I apologize if you already know these things, but they were kind of revealations to me.

The other thing you could try is doing a breaststroke or front crawl kick while using a kick board, so your head can stay out of the water. Most pools have them but you migbt have to ask. It’s less of a workout but might be a way to work up to doing a full stroke.

I think this is really good advice. It is exactly what I ended up doing when I started swimming this year. I wish I had asked here, because it took me some time to figure it out myself.

First, I had to get used to exercising underwater – the idea that you can’t just gasp for breath as you need it. You have to relax, pace your breathing, and gain confidence that there is enough air in your lungs to get you to the next breath.

Second as Poysyn said, focus on pushing all of your exhale out while underwater right before you breathe. What I noticed for myself was that I was only getting shallow inhales because my lungs were still partly full. This may be what you are experiencing too. Pushing out hard made a big difference in my breathing.

Third, take as many breaks as you need: every length or even less if necessary. Take your time catching your breath. As you practice, your endurance will build (before you even notice any other health benefits). Also keep in mind that you will be building muscle mass. You may not see a drop in weight because the fat you are losing is being replaced by muscle.

I would forgo a snorkel too because I suspect that the time you spend getting used to it is a good chunk of the time you would spend doing the above steps. You may as well work on the “right” thing from the get-go. One of the great things about swimming is that even an out-of-shape person can take a slow pace and get a comfortable workout.

Regarding the backstroke: It is a great idea to avoid the breathing challenges. It is also useful when you are starting out just as a way of mixing up the workout – using different muscles. If you can find a pool with lane markers, you can use these to keep you going straight. When your hand hits a side, you adjust. These pools should have an overhead marker too so that you know you are N-number of strokes from the wall.

One of the major reasons swimming is a great cardio workout is because it is generally anaerobic, meaning you can’t breathe normally while doing it(cause you’re underwater a significant portion of the time). When your breaths come in enforced intervals, your cardio-pulmonary system has to do more work to make sure you stay properly oxygenated. You should push your limits with how long you can hold a breath and how quickly it takes to recover a breath when you surface for air. This makes it a better workout and increases your fitness level faster.

I started out with backstroke, but these days I do breaststroke, backstroke, breaststroke, backstroke, facedown kicks only, kicks on my back and then rest. So my set is six laps, with a mixture of anaerobic and aerobic, just to keep my system guessing. Actually I start of each face-down lap with a few meters of dolphin kicks, which really stresses the lungs. It’s helped a lot with my cardio health, but it is difficult to manage weight with workouts alone. Diet is the key for weight management.


I am not a big fan of the beginning swimmer using any devices besides goggles (including snorkels, kickboards, exc.) You need to ease into it. Many of the lessons found in the couch to 5k apply. Take a lot of breaks so that you don’t get to the point where you are struggling so much that you need take a breath so often and start off with a very slow pace. Initially this will not “feel” like a great workout, but it will start to build up some muscles and start getting your heart in shape. Take a day off between swims. Every week or so try to increase the amount you go before taking a break. Way too many people end up quitting activities because they try to go to hard right off the bat. Yes it may be embarrassing to have to take a break after every lap, but eventually you will get better if you keep at it.

edit to add: I have lost 40 lbs swimming with an improved diet.

Dang! Was I the only one who thought this was the latest service provided in strip clubs? :stuck_out_tongue:

So many great ideas here - thanks!

I can really see the wisdom of avoiding too many props, and just starting gently enough to keep going, yet vigorously enough to build my abilities.

I will definitely practice breathing out fully in the water, and will probably do a lot of sidestroke as well as backstroke - what a great suggestion!

I’m not afraid of actually drowning - one of the few advantages of being almost half fat is you float easily! I can tread water indefinitely, and will sometimes do deep water aerobics without a flotation belt, for extra challenge. So I just need to coordinate my effort level (so I’m not sucking wind like I just climbed ten flights of stairs) and my breathing technique, I guess.

Tomorrow morning I should have the opportunity to try some of this out, and now I’m excited to try, instead of dreading it. That may be the most valuable thing I’ve gotten from this thread!

(And I know calorie restriction is the basis of weight loss. I could just exercise as a supportive measure. Mostly it’s about having a fitter, healthier body, and hopefully avoiding further injuries and limitations by strengthening and conditioning.)