Benefits of Swimming
Swimming is a full-body, no impact workout that almost everyone can do. It’s great for relaxation and mood enhancement and torches calories at about 225 for 30 minutes for a 155 pound person. (1) That can be more depending on the stroke that you use. Swimming is easy on the bones and joints and is one of few activities where you can get a great workout without being aware of sweating or being hot. It also boosts your energy levels by boosting your metabolic rate if you swim only 30 minutes, 3 times per week. (2)
My Happy Place!
I remember when I was a child, growing up in rural Alabama on a chirt road, swimming was the illusive summer joy that I rarely had the opportunity to enjoy. Every summer we went to Panama City Beach and my daddy would try to teach me to swim in the Gulf of Mexico. That was almost impossible! The waves were strong and frequent and I was forever getting a face-full of salty water in my eyes, nose and throat. I would fight him endlessly and he would finally give up for the day, tired, sunburned and salty. Even so, those vacations were paradise!
Other people in the community where we lived would go to local creeks for a dip on a hot summer day but we did not. Occasionally you would hear of someone being bitten by a Cottonmouth snake and those bites can be fatal. Most of the creeks where people swam were “hang-outs” and my proper Southern mother was not about to be seen in those places. The truth is, swimming in these creeks was sometimes little more than playing in the water because of the landscape.
There was also a large “River Culture” in the South. The rivers were huge, fast and treacherous! Because we are so close to the ocean, they run deep with strong currents. I found myself in one of those currents one time and although I’m a strong swimmer, except by the Grace of God, I would have surely died that day. I went so deep into the blackness that I could only see a pinprick of light and a voice in my mind said, “SWIM TO THE LIGHT!” and I did. As I exploded onto the surface with my very last bit of oxygen running out, I swam fiercely towards the docks and again, barely made it to safety before total exhaustion set in. The culture on most rivers was a party culture and again, I was raised to stay away. That’s one time I should have surely listened. The waters of the rivers were rumored to be polluted with sewage and that didn’t add to the attraction of swimming there.
I knew that I loved swimming pools because as I got a little older, our family vacations upgraded to include motels with pools! I was in Heaven! I was sad to leave those magical places, saying goodbye for another year. At age 9, we moved into a small town in South Alabama, directly across the street from the City Pool. I had surely entered into the Pearly Gates. This was too good to be true! My parents paid for me to have Red Cross Swimming Lessons and life was good. We lived there a couple of years and moved away. I didn’t have access to another pool for many years until as an adult, I joined the local YMCA. I spent endless hours swimming laps in that pool for 10 years. I would swim the American Crawl for 30 minutes, use the fins for 30 minutes, swimming like a dolphin, pull the swim block for 30 minutes, isolating my upper body to do all the work and cool down with 30 minutes on my back. Now as a heavy lifter, I do not have the time to swim and swimming laps would impact my lifting because it requires so much energy. Now, after finding my first love, lifting, I don’t miss it. I did find out a lot in those years, however.
More Than Laps
Although I swam laps almost exclusively, I was invited to a water aerobics class one time and reluctantly, I went. I expected a wimpy workout. Mind you that at that time I was running, lifting light weights, bowling and swimming laps. I slid into the water while “Barbie” “worked me out” and thought I had missed my workout for the day. I felt nothing. Normally muscle soreness will set in about 48 hours after strenuous exercise but the next morning when I jumped out of bed, I almost hit the floor! I was WRECKED. If you decide to try water aerobics, remember, it’s great exercise and you won’t feel like you’re working out. If you are not very active before you go to your first class, go easy if you want to walk the next day. It’s fun and easy and has great cardiovascular and strength benefits. It’s also quite inexpensive compared to joining the gym overall. Most pools have low fees for classes and do not require gym membership. I would advise wearing a one-piece swimsuit made for exercise rather than the showboat bikini designed to get attention. You might lose it. The classes are made up of all kinds of people and everyone can feel comfortable in that atmosphere. You don’t have to be an Olympian or a swimsuit model to fit in.
There are a few things that only experience can teach you about swimming as your main form of exercise. Regardless of the suit that you wear, if you go into a highly chlorinated pool, it might go see-through before you get out! Yep, it just might. I’m very light skinned and I’ll never forget walking into the dressing room after a long, relaxing swim one hot summer afternoon and catching a glimpse of my entire derriere in the mirror, shining right through my black swimsuit that was so carefully chosen to make me look slim and sexy…smooth move! If your pool is not overly chlorinated, this won’t happen but if the smell of chlorine is intense, get ready to shine. I strongly advise wearing a suit for function rather than looks. I chose my suits for both but whatever you do, don’t get one that is too skimpy. People think that you’re an idiot if you do that at a pool that is meant for fitness and you may lose the suit in the water if you really work out.
I stayed in a heavily chlorinated pool for too long one time and the entire whites of my eyes turned beet red and my vision got blurry for a few hours. Use some common sense. I believe that chlorine is necessary in a public pool but again, if it smells strong, adjust your behavior accordingly. Chlorine is a powerful disinfectant. Excessive chlorine exposure can cause problems with your skin, hair and nails. There are swimmer’s lotions to protect your skin. Remember to buy good goggles and replace them when they become foggy or dirty. You need to be able to see in the water. Use a swim cap. It will protect your hair. Wet your hair and comb conditioner through it before putting it under the swim cap. This will keep your hair from absorbing the chlorine that will seep in and also make the swim cap MUCH easier to put on. Get a SILICONE cap. I cannot tell you how much easier they are to put on and take off and how much better they are for your hair! I tried all of them. I got most of my swim supplies from http://www.kiefer.com They have everything. If there’s any chance of swimming outdoors, get a lightning detector. Kiefer has those too. Get under the shower in your suit before going into the pool to saturate your suit with cool tap water. It will absorb less chlorine. As soon as you get out of the pool, rinse your suit in cold water. DON’T put detergent on it. It will destroy the fiber. Carry moisturizers, shampoo and conditioners and wear open shoes to allow your feet to dry. Whatever you do, make sure to wear flip-flops in the shower! Even the cleanest facilities can be harboring athletes foot in those areas that stay wet all the time.
Swimming is one of the best exercises for the entire body. Allow plenty of time for going to the pool, the ritual of getting in, swimming and taking care of yourself when you get out. In cold weather have a hot drink and a light snack before leaving the gym to bring up your core temperature and bundle up before hitting the door. Be careful to stay within your calorie allowance because swimming lowers your core temperature and you will get hungry to try to raise it back up to normal. For all of the benefits of swimming, I have actually GAINED weight swimming frequently because I did not stay within my calorie allowance.
Swimming was my salvation when I had injured myself jumping rope on hard packed clay. The lack of impact, great relaxation and good full-body exercise was just what I needed. I have always had a love affair with the water. It’s magic.