On her first visit to the gym, former national level swimmer and actress Pooja Banerjee she recalls how the instructor put her through the paces. “He started helping me stretch, and after a few minutes, he stopped and told me there was nothing for him to stretch, since my body is so flexible,” she says, remembering how he was scared that he had dislocated her shoulder with his zeal.
Pooja, who can be seen on Channel V show Swim Team, recommends swimming as a great way to keep fit during the hot summer months, and burn calories as well. Put through the paces from age four-and-a-half, when she first got in the pool, and competing at a state level since class 2, Pooja is of the opinion that swimming is the best way to workout. “It’s a sport that involves your entire body, right from your brain to the tip of your toes, everything works in co-ordination and with a lot of discipline,” she says. It differs from other sports like, say, badminton, which is a one-arm activity, and builds strength and tones only one arm. “In swimming, every arm and body movement is in co-ordination so whatever growth, toning, etc happens is uniform. And that’s why you lose weight instantly,” she says.
Pooja shares five reasons why she thinks swimming can be a great way to lose weight:
It’s good cardio
Swimming uses so many muscles in your body, your heart and lungs work hard to supply them with oxygen. Which is why it provides a great cardio workout. For beginners, Pooja recommends half an hour to complete 15-20 laps for a good cardio workout. “I used to swim 5-6 km in two hours, and now, even if I am swimming just for 30 minutes, I make sure I get my warm-up (about one-and-a-half kilometer of swimming, kicking and pulling),” she says. Depending on your weight and exertion level, experts estimate you can burn between 90-550 extra calories in a half-hour session.
It’s good aerobics
Swimming is known to be one of the best all round aerobic exercises because the strokes work all the major muscle groups, targeting every area of your body. “With Freestyle, you get proper toning and alignment of body, the Breaststroke is great for your thighs, Backstroke helps create good back posture and the Butterfly is really good for the shoulders,” says Pooja, who enjoys Freestyling the most. “You burn more calories while doing Freestyle, and the workout isn’t limited to just shoulders or thighs (like other strokes). It has an equal effect on all parts of the body,” she says.
It’s good resistance training
Battling against the water to propel your body forward is a great way to increase strength, especially in the upper body. As your swimming progresses you will build muscle, which, in turn, burns fat. You will also burn an increased amount of calories even after the exercise is finished as your body uses energy to recover and rebuild muscle tissue. Pooja looks back at her school days and recalls how deceptively strong she had become. “I was a shot put gold medalist too, and the teachers couldn’t figure out how since I was small and petite. But swimmers gain a lot of strength without even realizing it,” she says.
It improves flexibility
Due to the nature of the movement, when performing swimming strokes, it can aid in improving the flexibility of the muscles and joints. Pooja says, “It helped me pursue and excel at other activities like dancing as well as athletics, which required a lot of flexibility.”
According to Pooja, swimming is the only sport where you are safe from injuries. She once swam with a dislocated arm; another time she competed in a 35 km sea race with a twisted toe. “I was perfectly fine after, in fact I was actually healed in the pool,” she says, reiterating how swimming aligns the body.
But apart from aiding weight-loss, Pooja recommends swimming because it makes you feel really good to be inside the water. “Water therapy energizes your body, relaxes your soul and disciplines your mind,” she concludes.
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