Hi Hayley,

In an effort to combat the slowly but steadily rising number on my scale, and to try to find exercise I actually enjoy instead of dread, I have turned to swimming laps. I loved swimming as a kid but it was always for fun, not specifically for exercise. I never had the endurance or speed to be on a swim team. 

Anyways, for the last couple of months I have tested out going to the pool, to see if I would actually stick to it, and to see if I even liked going. Turns out I really do enjoy swimming laps and I look forward to the days where I swim after work. I started out going once a week and that has increased to twice a week. In two months I have already seen myself slimming out a bit and my arms and legs are gaining muscle. The number on the scale hasn't really changed much but I'm not too concerned about that. I just want to look and feel good. 

But to get to the point - how do I make this more of a "real" workout? I'm kind of just doing whatever I feel like in the moment, switching between backstroke, front crawl and breaststroke. I count my laps so I know when I complete more than the previous swim, and I keep track of the clock, usually completing my swim in about 45 minutes. But how can I structure this to seem more like a workout? I know it is one, because I'm tired and exhilarated afterwards, but it also kind of seems like I'm just faking it...if that makes any sense.

Also, as a sidenote, I took many years of swim classes as a kid, but it has been a very long time since I swam consistently. I know my technique is rusty so I'm thinking about taking some adult classes to brush up on it.

I don't know if you can help me with this kind of question but any advice would be greatly appreciated!



Every workout needs progressions, no matter the activity. In HIIT programs, as you become stronger, the exercises become more complex, the workout intervals increase and the rest intervals become shorter. In yoga, as your body starts to figure out the shapes, you add binds, arm balances, inversions, longer holds, and more invigorating practices. When you’re learning to run you progress from walk/run to running consistently to adding speed and hill training. Swimming is no different.

You’ve accomplished all you need to accomplish in the first phase of creating a healthy lifestyle for yourself. You created the habit of going to the pool once a week and then, realizing you enjoyed it, you’ve upped it to twice. You’ve improved your endurance in the pool and you’re swimming farther with each workout. But like anything, it’s time to take the next step. If you were to have done this too soon there is a huge risk of failing. Now that the habit has been created and it is no longer a chore to get into the pool, start to increase the intensity of your workouts. Do this by adding in speed intervals, which can be accomplished in many ways.

Begin with a warmup, something gentle for 5 or 10 minutes, mixing in all of your swim strokes. After that spend about 50% of your workout really pushing yourself, while taking breaks between sets. For example you could do 4 laps where you alternate between an easy/recovery lap and a lap where you push your pace. Time yourself on the first one and then try and make each set of 4 take the same amount of time. Or you can do 4 laps where you gradually increase your speed each lap. Or maybe you set a goal of 10 by 1 lap sprints or 10 by 2 lap sprints. You can also set a benchmark and swim 4 laps as fast as you can, timed, and then do that again at the beginning of each month to see your improvements.

I would also recommend either hiring a swim coach for a lesson a month or joining a masters swimming club. In anything we do, we should always be striving to do it better. Hiring a coach will help you improve your technique which will then make you more energy efficient and allow you to swim farther in your workouts. Joining a masters program will also do that, but with less attention as the coach will be focused on many athletes, but it will push you as you can compete with the other swimmers, something that working with a private coach won’t accomplish.

Investing in a workout log book is also a great idea and the one I always use when I’m training for races is called Swim Workouts for triathletes. It’s waterproof and comes with 80 progressive swim workouts to follow and 4 programs. Having direction will take the boredom out of the workout as well as give your workouts a purpose.

Great job on finding a new way to challenge yourself and enjoy the journey of becoming stronger and faster in the pool. Maybe you’ll find yourself at the start of a swim race in the near future.

Attached - Demi Lovato leaving a boxing class yesterday in LA.