The water instinct blog

Topics: Just for Women

Using swimming to tone ‘problem areas’

It’s human nature to be critical of our bodies, and while we want to focus on the positive, we all have problem areas we’d like to address. Swimming can help.

You pull on your favourite pair of jeans and glance in the mirror. Is that softness you see around your waist the beginnings of a muffin top? Horrors!

It’s easy to preach body positivity to other women when you’re finding time to exercise and your metabolism is holding up, but when you suddenly see a few extra pounds in the mirror yourself, how do you react?

Our attitudes toward beauty, and what we’re willing to do to achieve it, are complex and often conflicted. On the continuum from minimal personal care to extreme surgical makeovers, we all draw the line in a different place. Some women don’t want to wear makeup or colour their greying hair, while others are perfectly willing to go under the knife to achieve a body that makes them feel more attractive. One woman’s ‘letting herself go’ is another woman’s accepting her natural beauty. One woman’s vanity is another woman’s self-confidence.

And exercise is part of the equation too. Some people exercise to feel better, while others exercise to look better. And often it’s a combination of the two.

Beauty magazines are full of self-help articles telling us how to learn to love our bodies the way they are (after telling us we don’t measure up, of course): make a conscious effort to focus on the things you like about yourself, banish negative thoughts as soon as you start criticizing your body, don’t obsess about things you can’t change, and so on. All good advice. But what if we really do want to get rid of that muffin top, those saddlebags or those flabby arms…not in order to meet someone else’s unrealistic beauty standard but because having a lean, toned body makes us feel genuinely healthier and happier? We all have our worry zones. Can swimming help?

Targeted weight loss is impossible, alas, and hormones, genetics and stress all play a role in how fat accumulates in certain areas, but what you can do is add lean muscle mass in problem areas, ensuring that when you do lose those last stubborn pounds your body will be healthy and toned. And swimming is actually one of the best sports both for overall health (because it provides simultaneous cardio, strength and flexibility benefits) and for toning (because it’s a full-body workout that addresses your arms, legs and core, regardless which stroke you use). Certain strokes do emphasize different muscle groups, so if you want to focus on specific problem areas you can add targeted workouts:

Arms. All swim strokes engage your shoulders, biceps and triceps. If you want to do extra arm work, add some pull drills using a pull buoy and paddles.

Legs. Swimming gives your glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves and ankles a workout. Breaststroke, in particular, tones the inner thigh. For additional leg (and ab) toning, try incorporating a kickboard into your workout.

Core. All strokes tone your upper back and chest, and the core work will also help trim your waistline. The twisting motion of the freestyle and backstroke tones the abdominals and lower back, while the breaststroke and butterfly tone the chest and back.

Swimming, like exercise in general, is good for the psyche. Surveys show that women who exercise feel better about their bodies, even when their bodies themselves don’t change. Whether it’s due to the general post-exercise feel-good factor or the confidence gained from having accomplished something physically challenging, women who work out report having fewer negative thoughts about their bodies.

Maybe it’s because exercise helps you appreciate what your body actually does and how remarkable it is, rather than focusing on its appearance. You’re a land animal and you can glide through the water with ease. That’s actually pretty amazing.

What’s your take on exercising for the sake of appearance? Is it shallow? Does that matter?

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