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I am learning to front crawl for the first time and I am swimming very poorly. I can only swim for about a minute straight. I'm not sure if this is because I am really out of shape or because my form is poor. Someone is teaching me so my form is improving, but I guess that is beside the point.

Is swimming poorly and getting out of breath due to poor breathing good cardio? My heart rate would bounce around from 90-160 and average around 130 for 30 minutes. You can imagine me swimming for a minute and taking one minute rest and going again.

Alternatively I could just hold onto a bar and kick for 30 minutes straight with a heart rate around 130. Would this be much better cardiovascular exercise? Heart rate would be the same on average with less variability and better breathing.

I'm concerned that my poor technique and breathing means my increased heart rate is due to being out of breath rather than a good workout.

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  • I tried swimming some years ago and it was so exhausting that I stopped. I'd recommend resistance barbell training instead to build up a base before swimming. It's much more scalable, especially for people who are starting. Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 16:00
  • @trystwithfreedom - Most people that get exhausted that quickly do so because they don't breathe properly. It's not a "strength" issue.
    – JohnP
    Commented Nov 3, 2023 at 15:01
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    Ironically, poor exercise technique can be great for cardio because you're being inefficient and therefore working harder. Motivation is now difficult, though.
    – Sean Duggan
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 13:24

4 Answers 4

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A few years ago, I found myself in a similar situation. I was trying to enhance my aerobic capacity while learning the front crawl swimming technique.

The successful solution I implemented involved a combination of the front crawl with various other styles and partial front crawl drills. For instance, I would swim four strokes of front crawl followed by five strokes of a leisurely breaststroke. Alternatively, I would do one breaststroke, followed by four front crawl leg kicks in between. I also found it beneficial to incorporate only two light leg kicks per double-arm front crawl cycle.

Certainly, these combinations of strokes may appear unconventional, and you might be the slowest swimmer in the pool. However, over time, this approach will help you make progress and gradually incorporate more front crawl into your swimming routine. Ultimately, you'll find that you can maintain a sustainable heart rate while swimming the front crawl.

When I began, my heart rate would often reach up to 160 beats per minute during front crawl. By implementing these unconventional strokes, I managed to reduce it to 140 beats per minute immediately and gradually reached a consistent 140 beats per minute during full front crawl.

Edit: I forget to asnwer the original question: Is swimming poorly good cardion?

The definition of effective cardiovascular training depends on the specific combination of attributes you consider as criteria for "good cardio." Practically, any aspect related to cardiovascular fitness can be improved even with activities that are not executed optimally (while ensuring safety). Are you aiming for a cardiovascular goal that requires a higher or lower heart rate? That will ultimately decide if you should ease up (for example with the drills I provided) or not.

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    Thank you for the tips. I may be wrong, but perhaps you didn't answer the question? I'm wondering if my poor swimming constitutes good cardio exercise.
    – Behacad
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 20:17
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    @Behacad That's probably because "good cardio" is not really a well defined word. Do you want to lose weight? Increase your VO2max? Feel more healthy? Be able to swim farther?
    – Nobody
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 21:45
  • @Behacad I tried to address it edit.
    – matousc
    Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 9:21
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I started swimming last year after being a runner for several years and having trouble with that due to joint issues. I had swam in college recreationally but sucked at it and never did a crawl. When I started again this year I didn't even attempt a crawl. I said to myself as I did my backstroke "If man were meant to craw, he'd have a breathing hole on the back of his head".

One day I saw another swimmer in the pool doing crawl with a snorkel. So I bought one. Tried it out and realized in like 5 seconds that one also needs a nose plug. Bought one of those. Tried again. It was weird. After a few laps I realized that it was so unnatural that I really felt like I was being water tortured.

I bought training fins for my feet. Tried those. Wow - I went fast. Less time feeling tortured while doing stroke with snorkel. I never brought snorkel to pool again.

Just last month, I started trying to crawl. After a few trips to the pool, I think I am improving.

My heart rate doing crawls is also really high. So I'll do a few laps just kicking or doing backstrokes so I'm not shocking my heart with the crawl. If I do that, it stays around 140.

I now feel that I get an excellent workout swimming. I always felt that I was getting good workout.

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As someone with a lot of swimming and coaching experience, even swimming with inefficient technique is still a great way to exercise. As you improve, you'll find that it feels easier to swim for longer distances, but this requires practice and consistency. One thing that you can do is incorporate kicking into your workouts as a way to warm up, actively recover from your swims, improve your kicking strength, and body position/technique. For example, you could start with some kicking to gradually raise your heartrate, then transition into some swimming (you can break this up into sets with varying amounts of rest depending on your goals), and then cooling down with more kicking. This way you can still get the benefits of practicing your swimming technique to become more efficient while using the kicking to build your endurance. As your swimming improves, you can start to vary the speed and distances you swim to both keep things interesting and target different skills (ie: slower with longer distances and minimal rest for endurance or faster over short distances with more rest for speed). Don't give up, it can be challenging, especially in the beginning. As you practice you will start to improve, especially with the help of an instructor!

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Ah, the age-old question: is swimming poorly good cardio? Let's dive in, shall we?

Imagine this: you're a graceful dolphin slicing through the water with the elegance of a ballerina. But wait – reality check – you're more like a floundering fish, splashing about with all the finesse of a clumsy seal.

Now, here's the scoop: even if your swimming skills resemble a chaotic whirlpool rather than a synchronized swimming routine, fear not! Poor form doesn't necessarily mean poor cardio.

Swimming, in any form, is a fantastic cardiovascular workout. It engages multiple muscle groups, torches calories like a bonfire on the beach, and gets that heart pumping faster than you can say "butterfly stroke."

Sure, if you're flailing around like a lost sea creature, you might not be maximizing your efficiency or speed. But guess what? You're still moving, you're still challenging your cardiovascular system, and you're still reaping the benefits of a killer workout.

So, to answer your question: yes, swimming poorly can still be good cardio. Embrace the chaos, embrace the splash, and keep on swimming – because every stroke gets you one step closer to your fitness goals! 🏊‍♂️💦

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  • is this AI-written?
    – Luciano
    Commented Apr 25 at 10:33
  • Hello, I suspect you just wanted to keep a light tone. For the purposes of this site - which is asking for and sharing expert knowledge that is based on publicly available sources - you might have gone a bit over the top here. Please try to keep in mind that explanations and references are considered more important than good writing here ;) Commented Apr 25 at 11:28

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