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In this article I will explain why I took up swimming seriously at the age of 50. I will explain my early workouts and how they developed. I will talk about the benefits of swimming both for your knee and for your overall health.
We’ll discuss a few swimming aides that were effective for me before and after surgery. Swimming is a great workout for anyone but it can be especially beneficial for people suffering knee pain and for patients rehabbing from knee surgery.
My Experience With Swimming
I spent numerous hours in the pool as a child. My dad spent 30 years in the Navy and we either lived on or near the Naval Base and I always had access to a swimming pool at no cost.
My early years were spent in the pool as a recreational activity. We played games, used the diving boards and just hung out at the pool.
I never took swimming laps seriously and went to the pool solely for fun.
My first job led me to California where summers can get very warm. As a young father I decided to put a pool in the backyard instead of buying a new car.
It was a great decision while the kids were young. Later when they all left home it became more important to me as I developed knee pain.
I began by stretching and exercising in the pool. The length of the pool was such that lap swimming was not really possible.
As my knee became worse and I was no longer able to run, play basketball or softball, swimming became a bigger part of my life. Fortunately I had access to the local high school swimming pool where I could swim daily including the weekends.
I began to swim almost daily. For the next ten years I swam at least 4 days a week year round. Unlike the activities that I had spent most of my life participating in, swimming has the possibility of being a lifetime activity for me.
Why Swimming Is A Great Exercise For Bad Knees
My primary reason to begin to take swimming seriously was the loss of function in my knee and the increasing pain I endured with the activities that I had been using for exercise.
I quickly learned that there were many secondary benefits for me. Swimming builds endurance, muscle strength and cardio fitness.
These were all of the things I was looking for in a workout. Aside from toning muscles and building strength, swimming was a relaxing and peaceful experience that reduced stress on my mind and knee.
You have 30 to 40 minutes with no distractions except hitting the walls. Regarding my knee, the positives were that there was no impact and water resistance was not painful.
I could bend my knee much easier in the water and I could do water resistant exercise with little or no pain. My flexibility increased. Other side benefits for me were that it kept my weight stable and I slept better at night.
Scheduling Time to Swim
If you are still working, you need to find an hour in your schedule to make swimming happen. If you plan to swim 20 to 30 minutes, you still need to allow time to drive to and from the pool and allow time to change clothing, shower and get dressed.
If you are retired like me it is much easier to plan your swimming time. Many of my peers like to swim the first thing in the morning.
I avoid that time because the pool in our clubhouse is too crowded. The pool is crowded, the dressing rooms are crowded and the showers are crowded.
If you want to swim for social reasons and you want to meet people, this may be the time for you. I like to swim between 4 and 5 pm.
Most people are done for the day and are at home preparing to eat their evening meal. I swim for 30 to 40 minutes, shower, go home and watch the evening news and enjoy a happy hour before I sit down for my meal.
Choosing A Swimming Pool
After you have dedicated the time to swim you need to find a swimming pool that will allow you to swim or jog laps and one that has a water area for general stretching and exercise.
One of the reasons that I chose to live in my current community was that it had a lap pool available for residents as part of the HOA. Public pools and YMCA’s are another option.
Many fitness clubs have a lap pool as well. They charge a fee but I too am paying a fee through my HOA.
Another consideration is how far away is the pool? For me, I can ride my bike and be at the pool in 5 minutes.
If you have to drive 10 or 20 minutes to and from a pool this will necessitate a longer commitment.
The water temperature is also important. If you plan to swim year round you need a heated pool whether or not it is an indoor or outdoor pool.
Many public pools and fitness centers offer water exercise programs including water aerobics. If you are not an accomplished swimmer a water exercise program might be a better option for you.
Another plus for me is that our pool has an adjoining hot tub where I usually spend 5 to 10 minutes after my workout. I have friends in Southern California that swim in the ocean daily and do not have a need for a pool. That’s an option but not everyone has an ocean or lake in their backyard.
My Swim Workout Routine
Every week I make a point to swim for 3 or 4 times. It’s a great way to get a total body workout without experiencing pressure on my knee.
It has helped keep me in shape and works out the whole body. In many ways, swimming has been good for my entire body (including my mental health) swimming has taken pressure off not just my knee but other important joints as well (ankles, hips).
Below is my weekly workout for swimming.
Exercise #1: Laps for Total Body Strength
As I mentioned above, I spend 30 to 40 minutes in the pool. When I started swimming 15 years ago I started off spending 20 minutes in the pool.
I swim at a relaxing pace put try not to stop at the walls so that I am continually swimming the entire time I dedicate to laps. I try to swim 40 laps in the lap pool (approximately 30 meters in length).
I swim a breaststroke lap followed by 3 freestyle laps and repeat the process 10 times for a total of 40 laps. I use the breaststroke lap as a recovery for my breathing.
When I complete the 10 cycles, I usually swim two easy laps on my back for a cool down. If I can, I stay in the deep water and do 30 scissor kicks (scissor kicks are when you keep your legs straight and move them back and forth quickly to keep your head above water.
Every other time I swim I’ll swim 2 to 4 laps at the end of my 40 laps as fast as I can with a 30 second break between fast laps.
If I travel and cannot swim on a trip I adjust my workout when I get home. I’ll start by swimming 24 laps and work back up to 40.
I use a small set of goggles to keep my eyes open under the water. Some of my fellow swimmers use large goggles and a snorkel and some wear fins – use whatever is most comfortable for you.
Use the steps and the handrail when getting in and out of the pool. Most pools have strategically placed ladders. I find them very difficult to use, especially getting out of the water.
Place a pair of rubber slip on sandals near the steps so that you are not walking on bare feet once you exit the pool. Make sure they have non slip soles to lessen your chance of slipping on a wet deck.
Exercise #2: Helpful Equipment To Ensure A Leg Workout
You might want to start off by using swimming aids before you transition to freestyle or stroke swimming. Common and inexpensive swimming aids that I recommend are a kickboard, noodle and fins.
A kickboard or a noodle helps you to float and allows you to “swim” laps only kicking and not using your upper body. You can use both the kickboard and the noodle swimming on your stomach or back.
If you start out only kicking you can transition to alternating arm strokes while keeping one hand on the kickboard or noodle. As you become confident and more fit you can discontinue the use of swimming aids and use both your legs and upper body for a full body workout.
When I used fins before knee surgery they put too much stress on my knee and made a grinding noise. Not only did I not use them while swimming but also I didn’t use them when I snorkeled during vacations.
I recommend not using fins if you have bad knees and are considering knee replacement surgery.
Exercise #3: Poolside Kicks For Strong Legs and Hips (hold onto edge of pool)
You can kick without swimming by holding on to the side of the pool. You can kick on your back or on your stomach.
I begin with easy slow kicks and increase the intensity as time goes by. Before surgery I had a hard time kicking on my stomach without causing pain to my knee. I had no trouble kicking on my back.
If needed ,you can lock your legs straight to decrease any pressure on your knee. By keeping the legs straight you’ll get a good thigh and hip workout.
Many of my fellow residents elect to walk or jog in the pool instead of swimming. They walk or jog at their own speed usually in a marked lane, which helps them keep track of the distance walked/jogged.
You can also do the same outside of a lane. They walk and jog both forward and backward.
My recommendation: 3 repetitions / 1 minute each
Pain In Your Knee While Swimming
As I mentioned I felt pain in my knee doing poolside kicks on my stomach. I also felt knee pain while using fins.
Doing the backstroke also caused pain as well as kicking furiously while trying to swim fast. Easy kicking motions caused little or no pain for me.
The great thing about swimming is your legs can be exercised in the position that feels most comfortable to you. Since none of us have the same knee problems (everyone is unique) experiment with various swimming techniques and aides to see how you feel.
Find a stroke and style that accommodates your bad knee and stick with it. Give yourself a good workout to prepare yourself for a speedy recovery. I’m convinced my swimming helped me recover quickly from TKR surgery.
Swimming is a lifetime activity that can be customized to any age and physical ability. You need to find a pool that is near you and that is affordable.
Plan a workout that fits you. If you are unsure, consult your physician or a physical therapist to help get you started.
Try water aerobics or walking or jogging if you are not a good swimmer. If you start by swimming laps consider using swimming aids if needed.
Start off with a few laps and work you way up. I hope that you find swimming beneficial before and after knee surgery. I also hope you feel better, tone your body, keep weight off and sleep better. Thanks for reading. See you at the pool.