William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- Introduction to swimming
- What is the history of swimming?
- What are the swimming strokes?
- What equipment do I need for swimming?
- What are the benefits of swimming?
- How do I get started with swimming?
- What if I already know how to swim?
- Are there swimming organizations that I can join?
- Can my young child start swimming?
- What about triathlons?
- What about swimming with disabilities?
- What resources are available to people interested in swimming?
What equipment do I need for swimming?
You'll need a swimsuit unless you plan on skinny-dipping! Like many other things, technology has entered the swimsuit arena as well. Fabrics are designed for minimal resistance through the water, they tend to last a long time, and they resist fading even when used repeatedly in chlorinated pools. Of course, not all of us would be comfortable in the skimpy racing suits that you see Olympians wear, but the good news is that you can find more modest suits at sporting goods and department stores as well as through a number of online vendors (see the resources section). Comfort is the most important quality in selecting a swimsuit. You're less likely to swim if you're uncomfortable in your suit.
Goggles protect your eyes from chlorine (and anything else that may be in the water), and they help you keep your eyes open while you swim so that you can see where you're going. You can even get prescription swim goggles if you wear glasses (check with your optician for availability). To find the right pair of goggles, do the following:
- Put the goggles over your eyes without slinging the strap over your head.
- Press the goggles into your eye sockets and let go.
- The goggles should stay in place.
- Experiment until you find the pair that fits your eyes best.
Bathing caps can serve several purposes. Some pool managers will require individuals with long hair to wear caps to keep hair from getting into the pool, and some people just like to protect their hair from the chlorine in the water. You may also decide to wear a bathing cap to cut down on resistance in the water. This really works, and so if you're looking to increase your time a bit, a bathing cap might help. Many caps are made of latex, although you can find silicone, neoprene (keeps you warm), and Lycra as well. Choose the one that fits your head and is most comfortable.
Flotation devices and other equipment
There are a number of flotation devices and other equipment available to help you learn how to swim, improve your swimming times if you start to get competitive, and add resistance to your water workouts to build muscular strength and tone. Flotation devices help keep you afloat so that you can slow down and work on your swim stroke without sinking or causing too much fatigue, and they help with confidence for individuals who don't know how to swim. Read on to learn more about floatation devices.
Kickboards are devices made of foam or other materials that float, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The main purpose is for you to hold on and stay afloat while your legs do all the work. It's good exercise for coordinating your kicking, and it gives your arms a rest. One technique that I suggest to swimmers who want to keep swimming continuously without a break is to leave a kickboard at the end of the pool, and when they get tired, grab the kickboard and do a lap or two with it until they get their arm strength back, and then drop the kickboard off at the end of the pool and swim again until they need the kickboard again. Many pools have kickboards available to try out.
Like kickboards, pull buoys are flotation devices that come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but unlike a kickboard, which gives the upper body a rest, pull buoys are placed between the legs to keep the legs afloat without kicking so that you can work your upper body. Pull buoys are excellent training devices for building upper-body strength, endurance, and cardiorespiratory fitness. They can also help you work on your form because you can swim slowly and deliberately without sinking.
Fins fit on your feet and add propulsion to your kicks (think of a duck's webfoot). They are great training for your legs and will help you swim faster. They come in long fins for beginners who want to work on their stroke and build up leg strength and ankle flexibility and short fins to help you go faster without overworking your legs. Fins should fit snugly but not so tight that they cut into your foot or cut off circulation. Wear socks with your fins if that feels more comfortable.
Hand paddles attach to your hands and add propulsion to your arm stroke because they move more water. They can be a lot of work for the arms and shoulders because of the resistance in the water, and for this reason, they are used in water aerobic classes to mimic the resistance exercises that you do on land with dumbbells (for example, biceps curls). Hand paddles make a water workout difficult, and so you should warm up in the water without them first, and then build up slowly like you would with any resistance exercise workout so that you don't overwork your arms and shoulder joints.
Gloves, like hand paddles, also add resistance for your arms, although they are smaller than paddles and so the resistance is lighter. These might be a better choice than paddles if you're just starting out with resistance exercises in the water.
Some manufacturers produce dumbbells made of foam for use in the water. They add resistance like paddles or gloves, but you can release them quickly after a set and then grab them again when you're ready. Water creates lots of resistance, and so water dumbbells will make you stronger if you use them consistently. They're fun!
A noodle is a flexible, tube-shaped flotation device that you can wrap under your arms or around your waist to keep you buoyant so that you can keep moving in the water (kids love to play with them). The advantage of being able to keep moving is that you can work on your stroke without fatigue and increase your strength and endurance.
Aqua jogger is a flotation device that you wear like a belt. Like a noodle, it permits you to keep on moving without fatigue, so that you can work on your stroke as well as your strength and aerobic fitness, but it's more heavy-duty than a noodle and will accommodate heavier people and create more resistance. Aqua joggers also allow you to participate in water aerobic classes and water running without having to know how to swim or break frequently.
Did you read that right? Yep, water treadmill. There are two types. One is a device that you install in your pool that works with a propeller to create a current of water that you swim in place against (okay, it's not really a treadmill, but you do swim in place). This type is a great training aid and is also used for rehabilitation, but it is very expensive, depending on the model and whether you have it installed when your pool is being built or in an existing pool. The other type is a treadmill that is designed for use in water. You walk on it just like any land-based treadmill, only there is less strain on your joints because of the water. This type of treadmill is frequently used in rehabilitation. See the resources section or search online for "water treadmill" to learn more.
There is one other option for swimming in place, and it's inexpensive. Swim stretch cords attach to the side of a pool and to your body so you can swim without going anywhere, or they come with a drag belt (sort of like a mini-parachute) that catches water as you swim and drag it behind you. Both are fine options for getting a great workout.
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