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Swim your way to fitness this winter

Rossi Swimming Pool in the Richmond District

Although this winter so far has been warmer than many of our San Francisco Julys, it’s still too chilly for most of us to want to take a plunge in the bay. Heated outdoor pools are limited, but there are many options for heated indoor pools at athletic clubs as well as several public locations to keep you in swimming shape year around.

One thing that makes swimming — along with other water workouts like water aerobics — such a great workout for almost everyone is that it provides whole-body exercise with no impact. The water cushions the joints and provides buoyancy to the body. Those nursing injuries or suffering from arthritis, stiff joints, or fragile bones can easily take to the pool to burn calories and build cardio fitness.

Swimming can also help improve both mental and physical health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), swimming is a great way to get regular aerobic exercise, build muscle mass, help with chronic diseases such as fibromyalgia, improve mood, and decrease anxiety. Water-based exercise can even improve the health of pregnant women and their unborn children.

Swimming is excellent exercise for those of all ages, especially older adults. According to, one study of men who completed an eight-week swimming program showed a 23.8 percent increase in the triceps (back of the arm) muscle. While you won’t build big muscles by swimming, it is an excellent way to keep muscles toned. And swimming hard, with smooth, even strokes without taking breaks, can burn upward of 500 calories an hour, just a little fewer than cycling.

So how do you integrate a water workout into your exercise program? Most San Francisco public pools have masters swim programs. Despite what it sounds like, the term “masters” was first used with adults who participated in track and field events and was later adopted by organized swimming for adults 18 to 55. During a masters swim practice, coaches can help you learn the basics of different strokes along with breathing techniques. Or, if you are still working on a new stroke, using a kickboard to make your way up and down the length of the pool will provide you with a solid workout. All of the city’s public pools have daily lap-swim times, and their schedules are available online. If you belong to a gym with a pool, sign up for a private lesson with a trainer or coach to get started. Water workout classes that involve jogging or using water weights in the pool are another way to build strength without putting any strain on joints. And even if you don’t want to swim laps, remember that most children love playing in the pool, and spending time in the water as a family offers both exercise and fun to all.

All you need to start swimming is a durable swimsuit and a pair of goggles; a swim cap is good for those who want to keep chlorine and other chemicals out of their hair. Of course, if you don’t mind the cold temperature or the waves, there are many outdoor swim programs available in the Bay Area, including the famous Dolphin Club, whose members swim year-round in the waters off Aquatic Park.

San Francisco Aquatics and Pools Program:

Dolphin Club of San Francisco:

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