Swimming is a very effective and safe way to get and stay fit. Because it is a non-weight bearing activity, it’s easy on your joints which makes it ideal for older, heavier or injured exercisers. You can make swimming as hard or as easy as you wish so it’s suitable for all fitness levels. Swimming is also an important skill that could one day save your life.
Learning to swim
Unlike walking and running which are really a very “instant” forms of exercise, technique plays a big part in swimming so if you want to swim for fitness, you need to learn to do it right. If you are a beginner or lack confidence in the water, you’ll make much faster progress if you hire a swimming teacher to show you the ropes.
If private swimming lessons are not practical, consider joining a group class. A good swimming teacher should be able to take you from non-swimmer to a basic level of competency in a few short weeks. If you are already a decent swimmer but want to get better, refresher lessons are a great idea and can help fix any bad habits you have picked up over the years. Mastering the strokes is one of the best ways to improve your swimming performance so investing in some swimming coaching is a good idea if you want to see just how far your swimming can take you.
Overcoming body issues
If you are self-conscious of your appearance and feel uncomfortable in a bathing suit, you should realize that you are not alone. In fact many of your fellow swimmers will have a similar concern which is probably why they are swimming up and down the pool and trying to thrash the water to foam! Remember, you are swimming for all of the many benefits it offers you and you won’t tone up or lose weight unless you get into the water and swim. Once in the water, everyone pretty much looks the same anyway and will be far too busy trying to remember to breathe to look at you. Wear a swimming costume that is comfortable and flattering to your shape and consider wearing a robe for walking around on poolside if you want to cover up a little.
Swimming has a language all its own so it pays to be at least semi-fluent so that you understand basic swimming terms…
Lap – a single length of the pool i.e. today I swam 20 laps.
Strokes – there are four commonly-used strokes, front crawl which is also called freestyle, breast stroke, back stroke and butterfly. Freestyle and breast stroke are the most common whereas butterfly is arguably the hardest to master. All strokes work all major muscles so you don’t need to master them all but, instead, get proficient in the one you enjoy the most.
Drills – specific techniques used to improve swimming performance. For example, kicking while using a float to develop better leg strength and power or swimming freestyle using one arm only to help develop a more equilateral stroke. Drills are often used as part of a swimming-specific warm-up to reinforce good technique.
“Off of” – most swimming workouts take the form of interval training e.g. four sets of 200-meters. Rather than rest for a specific time between intervals, workouts are conducted according to the sweep hand of a clock. For example, you might do 10 sets of 50-meters “off of” two-minutes which means that every second minute you start your next interval. If you slow down, you get less rest and if you go faster you get more rest. Most swimming pool clocks have a large sweep hand which is why “off of” works so well.
When to swim
It’s a given that you should not swim on a full stomach but, instead, should wait a couple of hours after your last meal before diving in and doing your laps. However, you also need to consider the time you go swimming for a different reason – so you can have an uninterrupted workout.
Ideally, you want to turn up at your local pool when there are lanes set up especially for fitness swimmers otherwise you may find yourself having to contend with kids jumping in front of you or people swimming width-ways when you are plowing up and down lengthways. You might even find yourself amidst an aqua aerobics class!
If your pool offers organized lane swims then that is the best time to go but if not, try and go when you know the pool will be as quite as possible. If you cannot make it to a lane swim, just get close to the wall and swim up and down as though there was a lane to minimize the risk of being obstructed.
Swimming in lanes makes your workout much easier – there will be fewer obstructions as, in theory, everyone will be going the same way. However, for lane swimming to work properly, there are several points of etiquette that all swimmers should adhere to.
Choose the right lane – pools usually have slow and fast lanes. Be honest about your swimming ability and don’t go in the wrong lane, even if there are fewer people in it. If everyone in the lane swims at roughly the same speed, there should be very little overtaking or congestion. If you do end up in the wrong lane by accident, don’t stubbornly stay there. Instead, move over and get into the right lane for your swimming ability.
Congestion – before entering a lane, see if there is actually sufficient space for you to swim or whether your presence will make things too crowded for comfort. If the lane looks busy, wait a few minutes because as your workout is due to start, someone else’s may well be due to finish. Very crowded lanes are no fun for serious swimming.
Entering your lane – make sure that when you enter the water, you leave enough space between you and the outgoing swimmer so that you don’t catch them within a few strokes. Likewise, do not set off just ahead of a swimmer who will then have to try and overtake you.
Stay close to the lane rope – stay over to the side of your lane and do not hog the center. If you plow down the middle of your lane, you make it very difficult to safely pass swimmers coming in the opposite direction. Stay on the left (or right as local rules dictate) and there should be no inadvertent collisions. In some pools, swimmers will “split the lane” which simply means that instead of staying on the left (or right) and swimming in circles, they will divide the lane into two and stay on one side for the duration of their swim. This only really works when there are two swimmers in a lane. Check with the other lane occupant whether they want to swim in circles or prefer to split the lane.
Give way to faster swimmers – if you feel someone touching your feet, it means they are a faster swimmer than you and probably want to get past you. Don’t be a lane hog; when you get to the next turn, give way and allow them to pass. As a courtesy, pause at each turn and allow faster swimmers to get past you. In time, you’ll appreciate the gesture when someone does this for you!
Don’t stop! – coming to an abrupt halt mid-lap can cause collisions so only stop and rest when you reach one of the ends of the pool. Backstroke swimmers are all but swimming blind and freestylers have their heads down so they might not see you have stopped and plow right into you.
Swimming pools have the potential to be unhealthy, unclean places. The chemicals and filter system in the pool go a long way to preventing problems but there are several things you and your fellow swimmers can do to further minimize hygiene issues.
- Always shower before entering the pool so that you do not introduce any pollutants into the water.
- Check your feet for infections such as athlete’s foot or verrucas. If you have any such ailment, you should treat it, cover it with a sanitary waterproof sock and avoid touching your foot on any communal surfaces.
- Wear shower shoes to ovoid transmitting or picking up infections.
- Place a towel on any locker room seats when you sit down.
- Shower thoroughly after you have swum to remove all traces of chemicals – especially from your hair. Leaving the chemicals in your hair can, in some circumstances, turn your hair green!
Swimming is a great addition to running and walking workouts; easy on your joints, good for all your major muscles and joints, swimming can help you develop a high level of fitness. So, now you know your way around all things swimming-related, all that is left for you to do is dive in and get paddling!