What form of exercise will tone nearly every inch of your body, from head-to-toe; build strength without making you feel bulky; give you excellent cardiovascular conditioning; and is low impact, so you don’t develop soreness that makes you dread your next workout?
If your answer is swimming, you’re correct. Swimming does it all, and promises to boost your fitness whether it’s added to an existing exercise routine, or the only activity you do.
But for all of its benefits, many swimmers have wanted something more. Recently, a new take on swimming has brought new groups of swimmers into the water. Part fantasy, part enhanced swimming workout, mermaid swimming is making quite a splash in pools around Southern Oregon.
“As great of an exercise as swimming is, mermaid swimming is even more muscle-toning,” says Tanya Webb, aquatics coordinator at Club Northwest in Grants Pass. “It works your arms, back, glutes, legs and core. Mermaid swimming uses everything differently than regular swimming.”
At Club Northwest, where Webb teaches all levels of swimming, leads aerobics and trains lifeguards, classes in mermaid swimming technique have just recently begun. Webb explains the appeal. “It’s equal parts exercise and fantasy,” she says. “Many women enjoy the fantasy of mermaids, and many have dreamt of being a mermaid— being free to play in the water and to reconnect with their inner-child.”
Kathy Zuk, owner and instructor at Rogue Aquatics in Central Point, observes that many participants simply enjoy dressing up and swimming in a mermaid fin. “Some even perform in water ballet shows in Las Vegas,” says Zuk. Rogue Aquatics has also recently added mermaid swimming classes to its offerings.
But to conclude that the primary appeal behind mermaid swimming is having the opportunity to act out one’s fantasy of swimming like a sensual, mythical sea creature is to miss the greater purpose. Athletes and fitness lovers today are all seeking something new that will give them any little edge they can get, and it turns out that swimmers are no different. That’s where mermaid swimming delivers.
An exceptional workout
Mermaid swimming provides the core muscles—the abdominals, pelvic floor, obliques, spinal erectors, diaphragm and more—an exceptional workout that truly strengthens and tones the torso. The ideal mermaid stroke consists of a continuous rolling motion in which the fin is used to propel the swimmer forward. This motion engages all of the core muscles. And, because one kick leads to the next, it gives those muscles a rigorous, extended workout.
But that’s not all. Being native creatures of the seas, mermaids do almost all of their swimming underwater. So aspiring mermaids must be able to cover a lot of distance between breaths.
“It strengthens the heart and lungs,” says Webb. “Being underwater builds lung capacity, and builds endurance.”
The dolphin kick: Mermaid swimming’s essential stroke
Mastering the dolphin kick is essential to mermaid swimming. The kick is a fluid rolling motion that starts at the head and moves downward throughout the body, all the way through the toes. Starting position for the kick is with one’s body face-down and stretched out, tail fin behind, and arms reaching out in front and overhead. The mermaid starts by reaching downward and pushing her chest down, causing the hips to rise up. Then she pushes her hips down, which causes the chest to rise. The mermaid finishes the kick by pushing her tail down, with knees bent slightly, and essentially beginning the next kick by pushing her chest down and starting the whole motion over again.
The result is a very graceful, flowing stroke that shows why mermaids are so at home in the water. And, surprisingly, Webb says that many people can swim much faster in a mermaid tail than they do freestyle.
Beginners will start with the dolphin kick near the surface of the water, and after some practice will be able to do it at depths. In addition to the dolphin kick, a variety of other motions are also part of the standard mermaid repertoire. These include a vertical kick, in which swimmers learn to use their tail fins to shoot upward from the bottom of the pool; cone rolls; and handstands.
“All of these different motions improve overall cardiovascular capacity,” says Webb. “I’ve noticed tremendous core strength improvements with mermaid swimming and improved arm strength.”
Both Rogue Aquatics and Club Northwest are offering mermaid swimming classes and mermaid club group swims. A typical mermaid workout lasts about 45 minutes, and almost always starts with practicing the dolphin kick to get participants comfortable with wearing a tail fin. Because the legs are held together within the mermaid fin, being unable to kick each leg independently (as is done in freestyle swimming), takes some getting used to.
“It is an insane workout, so the swimmers don’t last too long,” says Zuk. “They get exhausted, but it’s worth it.”
Participants are required to pass a water safety test, as getting out of the mermaid tail can be difficult. Both Club Northwest and Rogue Aquatics sell mermaid tails, which range in price from $45-$105. These are what Zuk calls “practical” tails in that they look great, but have elastic waistbands and can be kicked off easily when needed. She says that some styles can range in price up to $5,000. Many styles are available with optional matching tops and leggings, which are sold separately.
So, if your swimming workout feels a little stale, the fantasy of swimming like a mermaid might be all that’s needed to spice things up.