How Swimming Laps Can Rebuild Your Physique — and Calm Your Mind

If the scaly, Michael Phelps-ian sea creature in Guillermo del Toro’s aquatic love story inspired you to finally perfect your whip kick, Derek McGregor can help. He coaches the Master’s Program at Toronto’s Boulevard Club, pictured above. McGregor’s twice-weekly swim meet brings together everyone from students to retired bank executives, and he sees that broad age span as a testament to the enduring spiritual connection that swimmers form with the sport. “It’s something you pick up for life,” he says, “because you start to really appreciate the way that it keeps you vibrant.” Credit the restorative properties of cool water, which makes even an intense workout feel like a refreshing escape. Here’s McGregor’s guide to ensuring a dip in the pool delivers optimal benefits once you’re back on land.

Why It’s Worth an Hour in a Speedo


It’s Ideal Cardio

Even when swimming at only a moderate pace, holding your breath underwater spikes your heart rate and boosts your lung capacity.

You’ll Notice the Tone Up

Swimming engages everything: your arms, legs, core, glutes, and back. Plus, the resistance provided by water makes for bonus strength conditioning.

No Aches and Pains

While high-impact running can wreak havoc on knees because of the pressure put on the body, swimming is easy on your joints, even at older ages.

Your Mental Health Will Thank You
The soothing silence of water and the rhythmic breathing required to maintain your pace both help to lower stress and put you in a positive headspace.

A Swim Coach-Approved Workout


“Most people just stick to swimming at a comfortable pace — they’re afraid to let it hurt,” McGregor says. “But to see results, it’s not how many laps you’re doing — it’s how hard you’re working.” This anaerobic, high-intensity interval training approach gets your heart racing in a short period of time.


• 400 m of any stroke


• 6×50 m as fast as you can (15 secs rest in between)
• 4×25 m as fast as can (15 secs rest in between)
• 1×100 m as fast as humanly possible

Alternate your swim days with: 

• Pull-ups to beef up your core
• Weights to build muscle endurance
• Yoga to bolster flexibility and mental acuity