Swimming can be used to spice up your exercise routine this summer.
If your exercise routine involves a lot of high impact activities such as running, aerobics or netball, swimming is a great way to cross train – training your body and stimulating your muscles in a different way on different days of the week.
As marathon runner Tammy Young says “I know my running schedule gives my body a pounding so I make sure I mix it up with a few laps at Sydney’s Icebergs pool”. Many swimmers also report a calming or emptying of the mind whilst swimming, similar to that talked about by runners.
There is a reason you see athletes, including your favourite footy players, hit the pool or have a splash in the ocean after a hard session or game. Water is a kind medium that supports and soothes an over-worked body. It’s like the natural anti-inflammatory and stretching out session… that just feels good.
If you find you enjoy the water it can open up a whole new world of social, sporting events – triathlons and ocean races. You can set yourself a new personal fitness challenge, raise money for charity through sponsorship or just have fun doing a new activity and meeting new people.
Sydney ocean swimmer Rose Levien is one of a handful of people who have swum the English Channel. “I loved the water from a very young age. You can do things you can’t necessarily do on the ground like somersaults and handstands and feel the water rush against your face” she says.
Her advice for those starting out is to “grab a mask and snorkel and explore the water, play some games and experiment. Once you have found your confidence and enjoy being in the water then you can look to the serious stuff like strokes and breathing.”
Good swimming technique is important. If you find yourself very out of breath, feeling awkward in the water or sore the next day, it would certainly be worth investing in a session or two with a swim coach to get your stroke and breathing right.
Constantly repeating an action with poor technique further ingrains bad habits and will only be harder to change later. A good swimming style will make your laps more enjoyable, reduce soreness and you’ll find you improve in leaps and bounds. Swim coach Tamera Lang advises “swimming is very technical, it’s not something you can learn from a book. Even the best swimmers seek professional help to get faster, stronger and more efficient in the water”.
It is probably best to make your debut in a pool. Even though the buoyancy of salt water helps you float, the ocean has currents, rips, tides and swells that you will not do battle with in a pool. Later you can swim the bay and back!
As with any sport you need to build a foundation. Find a starting point that suits your current swimming ability and complete a comfortable amount of laps at a moderate pace. Each session you can build on this number. You can choose to simply increase the distance swum each session, or you can vary your stroke – 2 x freestyle, 2 x breast stroke, 2 x back stroke… If speed is important to you, time yourself for a length and try to improve on this. Or count the number of strokes it takes you to complete one length and try to decrease this number – less strokes per lap means your stroke is more efficient and powerful.
You can adjust your swim session to suit what is happening with your body or what you want to focus on. Hold a kickboard and only use your legs to increase leg power, improve leg technique or rest an upper body injury. Place a floatation device between your knees (or just keep your legs still) and use only your arms to give yourself a real upper body workout, focus on arm technique or rest an injured leg.
Tamera says the best way to avoid what swimmers call the boredom of ‘following the black line’ is to swim with a group. Squads like 4 Seasons Swim focus on making swimming social, enjoyable and safer for beginners. “The pool sessions are where you build technique and fitness. The ocean sessions are the real adventure where you get to apply your skill – because you never know what the ocean is going to throw at you!”