Different Strokes

Different StrokesTake a Dip for a Low-Impact Workout with Refreshing Results

By Christy Kearney

Does the thought of slipping into a Speedo and tucking your tresses into a skin-tight cap take you a little out of your comfort zone? Don’t let the traditional ideas of swimming keep you from dipping your toes into the water and experiencing a powerful yet refreshing workout.

The Emerald Coast’s wonderfully warm year-round weather and convenient access to the Gulf, bays, bayous and a bevy of swimming pools make it a great place to take up swimming for fun and for exercise.

From a casual swim in the Gulf of Mexico to lap swimming, water aerobics and organized training sessions, swimming is an invigorating way to utilize your entire body with relatively little impact on your joints, compared to traditional workouts such as running or the Stairmaster.

According to Joe Mackenzie, coach of Destin’s Emerald Coast Swimming teams and a lifelong swimmer, swimming provides aerobic advantages as well as strengthening specific body parts.

“Once you are into a routine, there is very little risk of injury, as there is no impact, no constant fight with gravity,” he says. “Your entire body gets a workout.”

Swimming activates nearly the entire muscular system, including the neck, back, shoulders, arms, legs and the ever-important core.

“You go to a gym, and most people work their chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps, back, legs and abs,” Mackenzie says. “Swimming does that but also gets to all of the surrounding muscles that are usually not addressed by a visit to the gym.”

Donna Hamilton, the aquatics director for the Destin YMCA and coordinator of the center’s swimming lessons and water aerobics classes, sings the praises of swimming, citing flexibility, buoyancy and coolness of the water as its greatest assets.

“Anybody can do it,” she says. “If you are overweight or have physical problems or limitations but want to be active, the water is the place to be.”

For those who haven’t been in a formal swimming environment since they were a part of the introductory “guppies” class, the Fort Walton Beach and Destin YMCAs provide adult swimming lessons as well as more formal training programs. The family-focused organization strives to create a comfortable environment for the most timid of participants.

Anybody can enjoy and benefit from swimming, Hamilton says.

“If you just try it, you will realize you are not alone,” she says. “Everybody is welcome, and you can find friends here. It really isn’t an intimidating environment.”

Swimmers of all levels and triathletes who want to sharpen their swimming skills for competition can hit the water for Fastwater Fit Swim sessions in the new outdoor lap pool at the Destin YMCA.

“As little as one hour, two or three days a week, can make a huge difference in an adult’s physical appearance and attitude,” says Mackenzie, who runs the Fastwater Fit Swim sessions.

The program was designed to offer adults a managed swimming workout with multiple sets, stroke correction and goals that can be set as a group or individually.

Mackenzie suggests that the program is a great way for swimmers to switch things up from the monotony of lap swimming and to meet other swimmers who will help push them in their workouts.

“The Fastwater Fit Swim is a great accompaniment to someone’s exercise regime, as it is a non-impact sport and one that revitalizes the body and renews the spirit,” he says.

If you still aren’t comfortable with traditional lap swimming as exercise, then check out other water-based activities such as kayaking, canoeing, water skiing or surfing. All are interesting ways to be active, work your body and enjoy the area’s stunning world of water.