If you’ve finally decided that now is the time to take all that talk about exercise more seriously, then welcome. Swimming is a fantastic, low-impact way of keeping yourself healthy, fit, and young, even as time continues its relentless march forward.
Whether you’ve found your way to the pool for fitness, weight loss, health benefits, social purposes, or any other reason, you’re on your way to a brighter future. Swimming offers a wealth of health benefits including improved cardiovascular function, reduced blood pressure, and strength and muscle building. It’s also a lot of fun; science has only begun to unravel the myriad health benefits that come from having an active social life, and your swimming friends will be all too eager to help you achieve those during and after a workout.
Gear You’ll Need to Start Swimming
Swimsuit. Find one that fits you well, meaning that it hugs your body without being too constrictive and one that will stand up to long-term chlorine exposure. Suits that contain a blend of Lycra and polyester fabric offer a good balance between comfort and durability.
There’s also plenty of additional gear that can make your swim more comfortable and more effective. This includes:
Goggles. Goggles will protect your eyes from the chemicals in the pool that might otherwise irritate them, and they help you see where you’re going.
Swim cap. If your hair is any longer than the shortest buzz cut, you’ll probably want a swim cap to help corral loose strands and keep your hair out of your face. Swim caps can also help protect your hair from the damaging effects of chlorine.
Water bottle. When working hard in the water, you’re sweating, just as you would be if you were on a treadmill in the gym. This means you need to replace the fluids you’re losing. Bring a water bottle to the pool for each workout session.
Training aids. Swimmers love to train with a range of “pool toys” to help spice up the workout and break up what could be monotonous back and forth swimming. You don’t have to acquire any of these items to gain the benefits of swimming, but it may be fun to add the following to your pool bag, particularly as you get deeper into your swimming routine:
- Kickboard. Kick sets help develop overall strength and ankle flexibility, which is important to efficient swimming.
- Pull buoy. Many new swimmers, especially those from a running or cycling background, find that their legs sink, making their stroke less efficient. Using a pull buoy, which is a block of foam you stick between your thighs, can help bring your legs up into perfect position at the top of the water so you can begin to feel how you should be swimming.
- Fins. Fins can also help get your legs into the right position, as they help your feet float a little, but their real strength is in building a powerful, fast kick.
- Hand paddles. Strapping on a pair of hand paddles makes the surface area of your hands bigger, which can help you grab more water to build upper body strength and endurance.
- Snorkel. A center-mount snorkel is a great tool for all swimmers. If you’re a new swimmer, turning your head to breathe while you’re busy learning to move your arms and legs can be exhausting and hard to coordinate. A snorkel eliminates the need to do that, so you can focus on fewer things at once. For more advanced swimmers, snorkels help refine technique, build breath control, improve lung function, and increase cardiovascular stamina.
Getting Going With Your New Swimming Routine
As you would with any new exercise routine, check in with your healthcare provider before you jump in for your first swimming session.
When you get the all clear, start out slowly and ramp up over time. Establishing just a once- or twice-a-week swimming habit for the first month can lead to big benefits, and you want a routine that’s sustainable.
Avoid the temptation of the New Year’s resolution trap that so many would-be fitness enthusiasts fall into come Jan. 1. Instead of setting a goal to swim every single day, give yourself some time and space to work up to that. Keep your goal small in the beginning and just get started.
Try to set aside a specific time of day to do your workouts. Many experts advise working out first thing in the morning, before life interferes. But anytime that works for you is just fine. The key is to build a consistent schedule. The more consistent you can be, the more gains you’ll see and the easier it will become. And if you miss a swim, don’t sweat it. Life happens; move on and try again tomorrow.
Ideally, you’ll work up to swimming three to four or more times a week, but in the beginning, take it easy. Start with one or two 30-minute sessions a week. During these sessions, aim to swim for 30 seconds at a stretch, and then rest for 30 seconds.
As you get stronger, lengthen the swimming periods to 45 seconds while dropping the rest to 15 seconds. Try different ways of moving in the water to loosen up your body and feel all your muscles. Play with it!
As you gain confidence, you can begin swimming sets or workouts (such as those in USMS’s Workout Library) or start swimming with your local Masters group. The key is to move at your own pace—don’t worry about what anyone else in the pool is doing, just focus on your own progress—and ease into the new routine.
Over time, you’ll get the hang of it. Talk with other swimmers or the coach about technique, or consider taking some swimming lessons to improve it; refining your technique is the best way to avoid injury and keep swimming for a lifetime.
You’ll also learn about lane etiquette and how to share the lane happily with other swimmers. As you progress, be sure to ask questions. Many swimmers have been at it their whole lives and might not realize how new you are to it. If something doesn’t make sense, just ask; most Masters swimmers are thrilled to help bring new people into the fold.
Starting a new fitness routine isn’t always the easiest thing and getting going is the hardest part. Once you build some momentum, you’ll likely wonder why you didn’t start this swimming business long ago.