It’s time to get out your bathers and get the most from this comprehensive form of exercise. With the arrival of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, many of us are looking forward to swimming over our vacation. We splash and frolic, but with a little effort and knowledge swimming can offer so much more.
Growing up by the Pacific Ocean in New Zealand, swimming has always been a central part of my life. Yet, it wasn’t until a swimming coach started training me that I really came to fully appreciate this comprehensive sport.
It took persistence and dedication to become a good swimmer. I met my coach at the pool three or four times a week, and did all the training drills he asked of me. Within a few months, I was starting to feel the “glide” – the result of good technique – and I was hooked.
Two words: low impact. Swimming offers a full body workout without risking any damage to your joints. For this reason, we can do this sport into old age, whereas we will have to quit many others. Learning to swim well is an investment that pays off in the long run. More benefits:
It’s a good cardio workout, but with no impact
Improves muscle definition and strength
Uses just about every muscle in your body
Helps to maintain body weight
Protects heart and lungs
Improves mobility: swimming creates a lot of dynamic movement: reaching, twisting, stretching, pulling.
Burns calories: about 100 calories every 10 minutes with freestyle swimming.
It’s relaxing and alleviates stress
Pool or open water?
Unless you’re already a strong swimmer with experience swimming in lakes or the sea, start learning in a pool. That way you can confidently work on swimming drills and your stroke. Having a sense of safety and relaxation is important to advance your swimming ability.
Even if you are a good swimmer and want to try open water swimming, start out in calmer, safer bodies of water to begin with, gradually gaining strength and confidence before moving on to the sea, where you might face waves and strong currents.
Never underestimate the power of the sea. Respect it. Many times when I was a kid I got caught in strong currents, rips and whirlpools (which pull you under!). One rip nearly took a friend and I out to sea – a friendly surfer saved us. If you do go swimming in the sea, stay safe by swimming between surf lifesaving flags, and close to shore.
Winter dip, anyone?
For many people in Finland and other places, swimming outdoors in the middle of winter is a custom because of the touted health benefits. If you’re from a warm climate, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now! But don’t knock it before you try it; swimming in cold water offers numerous health benefits when done right.
- Jolts your immune system into action
- Gets your circulation pumping
- Burns more calories
- Improves libidio (because it increases presence of related hormones)
5 tips to become a strong swimmer
Go to any swimming pool and it’s easy to see many people haven’t received much in the way of swimming coaching. Because their technique is sloppy and inefficient, they plod through the water like an oil tanker, rather than gliding like a dolphin. With a little work they could be so much better and enjoy it far more.
1. Get coaching lessons
These needn’t cost the earth, and many swimming centres offer a coaching service. See your coach once a month and work on the exercises he or she gives you in between. Put in the work and you’ll quickly see results.
2. Learn to relax
People new to swimming, or who haven’t had proper training, often struggle in the water (this can be subtle). That’s because they don’t trust the water to hold them. Because they fear sinking, they flail around wildly, with unnecessary movement that interferes with their technique and expends energy.
Suggestion: before jumping into swimming lengths, spend time floating in starfish. Relax your whole body, relax your breathing, and try to allow the water to hold you. It might seem like you’re wasting time, but learning to fully relax is going to help your stroke!
3. Improve your kick
It might be hit to your ego, but to improve your swimming – and to enjoy it more! – get a kickboard and start with the fundamentals. Even more experienced swimmers go back to doing kickboard drills now and again. These exercises will improve your kick, help you gain stability in the water, and develop a smooth stroke. Check out Youtube for drills.
4. Breathe right
Breathing well is important in all sports, but none more so than swimming. You can practice your freestyle swimming breathing at the side of the pool. This Youtube video explains how.
5. Track your sessions
Paired with a heart rate monitor, you can also keep track of your level of exertion. Back at home, you can drill down into individual sessions to see your progress and where you need to improve. You can also analyze your swimming by tracking your sessions with a sport watch like the Suunto 5. In the pool, it will show you how many laps you’ve done, how long you’ve been swimming for, the total distance you’ve done, your stroke rate and many other useful statistics to help you improve.