Although water activities are both enjoyable and effective, exercising in a fluid medium can quickly become exhausting if you attempt to do too much, too fast. I strongly recommend a progressive interval training approach to a swimming program.

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Although water activities are both enjoyable and effective, exercising in a fluid medium can quickly become exhausting if you attempt to do too much, too fast. I strongly recommend a progressive interval training approach to a swimming program. Assuming you are swimming in a standard 25-meter pool, begin by swimming one lap, resting 30 seconds, swimming another lap, resting 30 seconds, and continuing this pattern for eight laps (200 meters). As this routine becomes easier, progress to 12 laps (200 meters) and then to 16 laps (400 meters).


The next step is to eliminate the 30-second rests, but to continue an interval training protocol. Swim 16 laps, but alternate one moderate speed lap with one slow speed (recovery) lap. As this protocol becomes easier, do two moderate-speed laps alternated with one slow-speed (recovery) lap. The next progression is three moderate-speed laps alternated with one slow-speed (recovery lap).


At this point, you should be ready to swim, continuously at a moderate speed for several (four to eight) laps before taking a recovery lap. When you can complete 16 laps (quarter-mile) at a moderate speed, you may gradually extend your distance to 32 laps (half-mile). A half-mile of swimming is equivalent to 2 miles of running. Once you can swim a continuous half-mile, you may chose to add even more laps, or to swim your 32 laps at a faster pace.


Either way, you should be attaining a relatively high level of physical fitness, and enhancing both the quality and quantity of your life.


Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is instructor of exercise science at Massachusetts' Quincy College, and author of 24 fitness books.