a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA) 

Week: 534.1 Guest: Doug Huestis, Exercise Physiologist, Master Swim Program Trainer Topic: Benefits of Swimming Producer/Host: Steve Girard

NEMA: Swimming has always been seen as one of the healthiest ways to get in shape, and stay in shape...and its a lot of fun, too - where else can you be nearly weightless? Today, we're talking with Doug Heists, an exercise physiologist and a head coach of the Olympic Club Masters Swim Team in San Francisco, California. Thanks for joining us, Doug....

HUESTIS: You're welcome.

NEMA: Doug, from the exercise standpoint, and although you may be a bit biased, why is swimming such a great exercise?

HUESTIS: Well, its a sport that can be done by all ages, at all fitness you can tailor the workouts to fit the needs of the individual...ah, its low impact, in fact, its almost zero impact. And it probably gets about the best cardiovascular workout per unit of time around...because you're swimming through water, which is a fairly dense medium, compared to air.

NEMA: Now, how about some tips....for instance, somebody wants to get started in swimming for fitness...what would be the first step, if, you know, they've done some recreational swimming, but they haven't really gotten great instruction. What's their first step?

HUESTIS: Well, Masters swim team programs basically try to accommodate all levels, and even with our team, the Olympic Club, which has won multiple national championships, we try to attend to the needs of all swimmers and have instruction to bring everybody up to a certain level of fitness, so that they can get a decent workout. And I would recommend that to anyone to get their skill level up to a point where they can swim comfortably for twenty, thirty minutes....relatively non-stop, and then they can get a really good workout and get some decent training in...and really get some cardiovascular benefits.

NEMA: And you make the training fun, too...

HUESTIS: As a matter of fact, Doc Councilman, the coach of Indiana University, always used to say that the only difference between a track workout and a swimming workout at the world class level, and in fact basically at any level, is the fact that one is you're running around a track...and the other, you're in the water. It's interval training that makes the difference. That breaks the workout up into little bite sized chunks, so that you can go at a little higher energy level, and get rest pauses in between, and really get some solid training in, as opposed to just going non-stop at a lower level.

NEMA: I've had some friends say, "Well, you swim, and you don't lose as much seems like you even put on a little weight." Is that because you're adding muscle mass just about everywhere when you swim?

HUESTIS: If you think of the fact that swimming uses virtually all your muscles in your body, and for someone who hasn't really trained very much and starts on any training program, whether its swimming or track and field or bicycling or even running, once you start training those muscles, they will develop in size and in mass...and you may find yourself looking at your scales and seeing you're gaining weight and thinking, "This is the wrong way"! But if you went and had the body composition test, for example, like they do immersion to find out your percent body fat, you may find that your lean body mass is increasing, while your body fat is going down. And I've had this happen to myself, as I get heavy into training, and I think, probably, if you want to look at it in the ultimate test....people have been watching the Olympics lately, and they're talking about Tom Dolan, the 400 I-M'er, you know, he's three percent body fat. And all he does is swim. And that kind of rests the case, right there.

NEMA: Of course, swimming is not only one of the best heart workouts for you, but there's no stress on the connective tissues like other types of training...which makes it the best choice for fitness as you get older. I'm Steve Girard.