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Swimming provides a high-intensity, low-impact workout—an especially good option for individuals recovering from injuries.

If you struggle with injuries, especially in the joints, finding low-impact exercises to do is extremely important. But even if your body is in perfect shape, doing low-impact exercise is the best way to prevent future injuries from developing. By far, the best of these exercises is swimming. Why is swimming so good for you and your joints? First, swimming works many different muscle groups at the same time, ranging from your core to your legs and arms—water does this by providing resistance for your muscles to work against. You can maximize the number of muscles you work by varying the kinds of strokes you perform. For example, breaststroke uses mostly back muscles and requires abduction and adduction of the legs, whereas front stroke engages chest muscles along with the back muscles, and works glutes, hamstrings, and quads for the flutter kick of the legs. Second, swimming works to build lean muscle, which improves your metabolism. And third—and most important—water takes pressure off of your joints, making swimming a viable workout for anyone, even those with injuries, including arthritis and joint weakness that come with age. Keep in mind though: Swimming workouts should initially be done in shorter segments, since your cardiovascular system is forced to work differently than on land, where you can breathe in and out freely. Since swimming is such a great workout, especially for recovery, do swimmers use other types of exercises to cross train or deal with injuries? Just as the average person or athlete can benefit from swimming as much as cross training, swimmers can also benefit from cross training on land. Swimmers can do endurance building, strengthening, and flexibility exercises to improve their technique in the pool. Endurance building exercises help deal with the intense cardiovascular demands of swimming. The cardio work of the Lions swim team includes biking, running, and jumping rope. Strengthening exercises should involve multiple joints to simulate the full-body workout of swimming. Junior Lions swimmer Katie Meili says their strength coach has them focus on strengthening legs, shoulders, and core through Pilates, and increasing flexibility with yoga. "There is a lot that goes into making a great swimmer that takes place out of the water," she added. Swimming may be a great low-impact workout for non-swimmers, but if you spend as much time in the pool as Meili does, injuries still can—and often do—happen. "Because our sport is structured in a way that requires constant and intense training, overworked muscles and joints often times get injured," she said. The most common injuries in swimming involve the shoulder—such as tendinitis and or labrum tears—or the rotator cuff. Since swimming injuries are usually due to over-working muscles, rest is the only way to rehabilitate them. "Because our sport does not allow us to stop training at high intensity, injuries often just get worse," Meili said. Swimmers have to resist the urge to practice and compete through injuries. "If you have a shoulder injury, you will just kick the entire practice to rest your shoulders," Meili said. So while swimming is a great, safe workout for the average person, anything in excess can cause your body to break down. Don't let that scare you away from the pool, though. The fact that the only common swimming injuries tend to result from overuse—as opposed to the acute onset of injuries in other sports and exercises—is evidence that swimming is relatively easy on the body. Next time you want to get some good exercise, skip the treadmill and head down to Uris Pool—it's not just for swim tests.

swimming sports science Rachel Turner