Posted by: jacksterja | 8 May, 2008

Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming

I went for a swim this morning. There was only one other person in the pool, and they weren’t swimming, they were walking up and down the pool.

I’ve always like swimming as a form of exercise, in fact it’s the one thing that I keep coming back to as a default, ever since high-school. I do it fairly regularly, even through winter because I know how good (although hungry!) it makes me feel.

So I was in the pool this morning doing laps and watching the walking woman. It got me thinking, really. I know that walking in the pool probably has its uses. If you had a bung knee or ankle and wanted something low impact to get back into form, it would probably be useful. But I really do think, that if you’re going to be in the pool, walking up and down is totally kidding yourself. It doesn’t possibly compare to actually going for a swim in terms of exercise.

So I started thinking (my mind really does wander during all those laps!) about swimming as a regular exercise routine. I’ve seen plenty of articles on running and there’s iPods and pedometers galore and classes and everything if you want to get into thatas a sport, but I’ve get to see anything on swimming for the average Joe (or Jacki). I’m not talking about competitive swimming, but doing it for good health and well-being. Well then, without bothering to Google search first to confirm that this is actually the case, I’m going to put my personal thoughts out there. (Please note I have next to no qualifications for writing this article, it’s just the experiences of someone who’s being doing it for years).

Hints for Anyone Wanting to get into Casual Swimming

The Basics…

  • You need to know how to swim. I’m afraid I can’t teach that here. If you’re at that level you’ll need to take lessons. So let’s take the ability to swim as a given and continue.


  • You’ll need a good pair of sensible swimmers. The tiny bikini you wear to lounge around on the beach won’t hold up. Nothing beats a racer back (girls will know what I mean). I prefer a two-piece, but that’s personal preference. I also recommend something that’s chlorine and salt-water resistant and of decent quality or your cossie with stretch and/or fade and/or fall down. My favourite pair are Nike brand, just for the record.
  • You will needgoggles and a swim cap (unless you’re head is bald or shaved). If you try to get away without them, your form is going to be affected by you trying to see where you’re going properly, trying not to swallow your hair when you breathe and the drag from your hair. Trust me, even after doing World’s Greatest Shave last year when I had seriously short hair, I still wore a cap to swim as the difference was noticable. I know they look ridiculous, but surely that’s even more of an argument…nobody would wear them if they didn’t do a really good job.
  • Water bottle. Even though you will be in the water, the idea is generally to avoid swallowing any of if. You’ll find the whole exercise much easier if you stop for a drink every couple of laps, as it’s easy to get dehydrated without noticing it when you’re in the pool as you stay fairly cool and don’t notice the sweat.
  • Other stuff. Kickbords, fins, pool noodles, paddles etc. These all have their place, but I get along just fine without them. I’d save them for a bit further down the line.

Onto the swimming!

  • Freestyle stroke is by far the most effective for giving you a good workout. You’re kidding yourself if you’re mucking around doing breast-stroke or other strokes as much as you’re doing freestyle.
  • If you’re reallyjust starting, or unfit, or been out of the water for a while or any of the above, I suggest doing as many laps of freestyle as you can manage, then one lap of breastroke to recover. Then freestyle laps minus one plus a breast-stroke, and so on (ie 4 laps FS, 1 BS, 3 FS, 1 BS, 2 FS, 1 BS, 1/1/1). Next time you swim, add an extra lap of freestyle to the start. Once you can do 10-12 laps of freestyle, I’d try to taper off less quickly, until you can do pretty much your whole workout in freestyle.
  • Breast-stroke, backstroke and any of the survival stokes have their place, though. They do use some different muscle groups, so it is good to do them. I find that they just don’t keep your heart rate high enough, though, so I use them for a cool-down at the end of my routine (1 kilometre, for the record). 
  • It’s really important to focus on technique. Mainly because if you don’t there’s a real risk of drowning. Or injuring yourself. Your movements should be fluid (excuse the pun) and not jerky. You should not have the feeling of throwing your head up and gasping for breath, but rhythmically and smoothly turning your head to the side. To gasp for breath. (Just kidding).
  • Focus on your feet. Most beginners tend to drag themselves through the water with their arms and only do a little flutter with the feet every so often. It’s a much better and easier workout if you can get into a rhythm with your kicks as well.
  • Tumble turns. Don’t even consider them if your pool is shorter than 50 metres. In fact, I totally consider them optional altogether. This is because a) I injured my shoulder once, whilst stuffing up a tumble turn, and b) I actually kind of consider it cheating yourself. Competitive swimmers use these to kick off the end of the pool as quick as possible, and therefore gain speed with less energy output than swimming. If you’re in this for the exercise, I suggest turning around at the end of each lap, and not kicking off the wall.
  • Remember to stretch when you’re done. It’s at least as important as it is with any other sport or exercise activity.
  • Whilst I personally find swimming endless laps quite meditative and a time for really clearing my head, I can also admit that after a while it can become a little tedious. Some of the things that help me break things up are…
  • Sprint laps at different intervals
  • Swimming tobada (this works particularly well if you are stuck with a 25m pool). Sprint your lap as fast as you can go. 15 second recovery. Repeat 4-6 laps before a longer rest and/or a couple of pace laps
  • this is where other equipment can come in handy. Mix it up with kickboard action – which is waaay harder than it sounds.


  • Firstly, I’d just like to point out that only swimsuit models and professional athletes look great in bathers. Everyone else looks better clothed. Once you’re in the pool, however, the water  / light bending phenomenon means that it’s really not clear what anyone looks like from the neck down. So if you’re feeling self-conscious, my advice is find a spot for your gear close to the ladder, whip off your gear and jump in as quickly as possible.
  • If you’re swimming in a public pool there are a number of things to be aware of….
  • Most busy pools will have different speed lanes. Choose the one that is appropriate (I go in the slow-but-steady lane, usually!) as it is less stressful for both yourself and the other swimmers.
  • Keep to the left. Hmmm…I wonder if that is the right in North America??
  • If there’s someone faster than you in your lane and they’re behind you but close near the end of the lap, move aside and let them past at the end of the lane.
  • If you’re the person who is a little faster near the end of the lane, wait until the end of the lane (and the aforementioned yield) before trying to overtake.
  • Don’t stop in the middle of the lap unless drowning. The end of the lane is the place for a rest. Anywhere else and you’re in the way.


  • Swimming, particularly in chlorinated pools has a couple of challenges. Here’s how I deal with them…
  • If you get water stuck in your ear, tilt your head so your ear is horizontal to the ground and jump up and down until it clears. You look ridiculous, but it works. Do not under any circumstances use a cotton bud.
  • I use Bayswim products to deal with the chlorine in my hair and on my skin. It’s a bit weird, but definitely works (and gets rid of that distinctive odour completely). If you don’t want to get that serious, I’ve always found that showering with Sorbolene Cream instead of soap after a swim works pretty well for the dryness, although it doesn’t do as much for the chlorine smell.
  • Swimming makes you HUNGRY! Be prepared. I find baked beans (especially home-made ones…have I published that recipe?) are the best thing to eat for breakfast after a big swim!

So there are all my secrets. Well, the swimming-related ones anyway! Hope it’s useful…if you’ve stumbled upon this and have further questions, feel free to add a comment and I’ll see what I can do!




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  2. Hi, no criticism, but you may not know that after a knee replacement, and probably other such operations, patients are told to walk in a swimming pool to gradually move into weight-bearing exercise. They may or may not be able to swim, but they may have been told to walk for a reason.

  3. Hi there, a few comments on your post above-
    I’ve found that wetting one’s hair very thoroughly in fresh water before tucking it into a swim cap really helps protect against chlorine damage. I have long thick hair which was suffering from my frequent pool visits, until I read this tip online. It’s something to do with saturating the hair with enough regular water that, combined with the swim cap, prevents it from soaking up the chlorinated water. Now my hair has no problems, as if I never visit the pool.

    I’ve been swimming for fitness for just a year and a half now. When I started I found that the breast stroke came the most naturally to me, BUT it’s the most exhausting. You stated that you felt freestyle is really the most effective for a good workout, but I’m not sure I agree. Right now I can sprint front crawl for up to about 100m, and at a more relaxed pace for about 1000m, but I find it hard to get through just 50m of breaststroke, going as fast as possible. Maybe it’s because I am trying to swim it too quickly? Perhaps people associate breaststroke with a more relaxed pace in the water, so they do it for their slower swims, since it *is* the slowest stroke. But I know that if I practice going faster with the breaststroke, I’m giving myself a pretty good workout; it really feels much more intense to me.

    Also, I prefer doing tumble turns even though the pool I use is only 25m, because I like to practice the coordination needed to do it properly and swiftly, which includes (for me, anyway) coordinating my breathing for before, into, and after the flip, at which point I try to dolphin kick on the side for a few meters. I realize some the stuff I try, especially since there’s no instructor to supervise me, others might not consider appropriate for anyone not competitive, but it’s nice to experiment anyway – it makes swimming more fun.

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