Recently, I was swimming at the YMCA, and as I entered the pool area an open can of Barrel of Monkeys caught my eye poolside. “Bizarre!” I thought. It’s not every day plastic monkeys are hanging out on the edge of the pool.

So after the lap swimmer completed her workout, I asked her about these toys. “It helps me keep track of my lap count,” she told me. She places a monkey in the barrel as she comes up for air, rewarding herself for finishing one lap at a time. She also shared with me about the waterproof iPod shuffle she wears to listen to podcasts as she swims. Her friend doted about the waterproof FitBit she wore on her wrist to count her laps, just in case you don’t have a Barrel of Monkeys lying around.

There’s an entire subculture of swimming as exercise. And if you find yourself with children or grandchildren at the pool this summer, adult swim time can be maximized. Or, if you have an injury that prevents you from your rote workout routine, swimming is a fast, efficient cardiovascular exercise. As OrthoCarolina’s Kevin Casey, PA-C, Iron Man participant and triathlon winner, shared with me, people don’t have all the facts when it comes to swimming as exercise. Here’s what I learned from Casey:

Five misconceptions people have about swimming as exercise:

  1. I must swim for a long period of time. Casey informed me that swimming is a great warm up for other workouts. Jumping in the pool for a 10-minute warm up heats up the body and allows your muscles to warm up. Plus, you can jump out of the pool and do other exercises, stretches, yoga poolside, if you don’t want to have to bother changing or if you’re strapped for time.
  2. If you are swimming in lieu of other cardiovascular exercise, it’s not minute for minute that makes a difference. Swimming works different muscles than say the elliptical machine, so if you’re used to using the elliptical for 30 minutes nonstop, you probably won’t be able to hop in the pool for meter after meter. Actually, Casey tells me that he swims 100-meters quickly, and then rests to catch his breath, and then will do another sprint lap.
  3. As women age their bone density lessens. Therefore, weight-bearing exercises (walking, running, jogging) or lifting weights are important to strengthen bones. Because you are weightless in the pool, swimming is a non-weight bearing exercise and aging women shouldn’t swim primarily, unless directed by a medical provider. However, using swimming as an adjunct exercise or a once a week exercise to work different muscles is recommended.
  4. Swimming can actually help improve lung capacity. People who may be at risk for pulmonary problems, former smokers, etc. may shy away from the pool, but you have to learn breath control. As you learn breath control and have better use of your diaphragm, you’ll maintain a little more of your lung capacity, almost reversing the damage done as much as possible.
  5. Brand new swimmers can’t really swim…taking a lesson is a fantastic way to start. Most public pools – the YMCA and the JCC are more than willing, free of cost, to take a look at you. This can make a demonstrable difference and give you the confidence to stick with it. For example, I assumed I knew how to swim, since I was on the swim team, but that was over 30 years ago. A refresher from a lifeguard recently helped me improve my breathing and endurance. Don’t be afraid to ask for a lesson or two!

If you’re looking for places to swim indoors year-round, check out the 11 Charlotte YMCA locations that have warm indoor pools or the Jewish Community Center or the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center.

If you’d like to learn more about swimming for exercise or other workouts to diversify your workout routine, check out OrthoCarolina here.

Kevin Casey, PA-C, OrthoCarolina


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