Swimming is so fun. Everyone loves to play around in the pool, but when it comes to getting a solid workout in, many people just don’t know enough about the sport to get the most out of their laps. It’s an amazing sport that really enables you to push yourself beyond your perceived limits, as long as you can get the technique down. For the most part, you can also continue swimming through injuries and old age.
I swam on rec and competitive teams since age 9, and eventually became a CIF Section finalist in my main event before my back injury. I’m now lucky enough to have a gym close by with a 24-hour indoor lap pool and have been getting back into swimming as a comprehensive cardio and strength workout.
Besides a pool, here are a couple of simple things you’ll need before getting serious about pool workouts:
- Goggles. Seems like a given, but I’ve seen people at the lap pool without them who really appeared to be struggling. Yes, they’re going to put ugly red rings around your eyes for a bit – that’s how they keep the damn water out! Remedy this by purchasing the right pair for your gender (seems dumb, but if you have a small face the women’s are going to seal better), and adjusting the nose piece and straps before you get in the pool. Chlorine can be very damaging to the eyes, as most of us have experienced at least once. A good pair of training or racing goggles will run you anywhere from $14-$30. Just don’t go for the ones with the weird holographic lizard eyes. Please.
- Swim cap. This is the part that makes everyone giggle. Growing up around the pool, I grew quite accustomed to hanging out and getting to know all my friends in matching bald, metallic, alien-looking skullcaps, but I understand why the normal person wouldn’t be caught dead wearing one. Honestly, if you have really short hair you might survive without one, but a nice silicone cap will only run you about $10 and will keep your hair from drying and turning green, getting ripped out by your goggle strap, or just plain getting in the way while you’re swimming. Trust me when I say hair is the last thing you want to deal with in the middle of a 1000-yard set.
- Proper training suit. The goal is to be fast and aerodynamic; your fringed beach bikini is certainly not going to work here. And why would you even want to wreck it with sweat and chlorine? A proper suit will relieve any discomforts or distractions you might feel when moving your entire body underwater. If you absolutely hate the idea of wearing a one-piece, invest in a stylish 2-piece trainer from any of the big brands. Though they’re usually quite skimpy (to reduce drag, of course!), they stay on tight and the bottoms have drawstrings to avoid any wardrobe malfunctions. Though a one-piece will keep you warmer.
- Basic familiarity with the 4 strokes. Most people can front crawl, or Freestyle, okay. But do you really know the proper stroke technique, or how to increase your speed? How about Backstroke, Breaststroke, and the killer, Butterfly? Stroke technique is a lifelong journey – there’s always something to learn or improve. There are plenty of guides and tutorials available online (including the amazing GoSwim.TV) to show you proper alignment and stroke timing, but it may be best to learn hands-on from someone else who has good technique and can show you in the pool.
- Flip turns. Before you can start putting in distance, you’ve really gotta learn how to do a flip turn. Sure it looks scary when the pros do it, but with practice you too can shoot back and forth across the pool like a tennis ball. If you ever did somersaults in the pool as a kid, you’re already halfway there. Learn to blow bubbles out of your nose while in rotation, and you won’t get water up your nose. Push off the wall with both feet planted firmly and you’ll feel the rush of speed you’re saving by not giving into laziness. It’s especially important to learn flip turns early on, because as you swim more you will quickly wear out your elbow and shoulder if you keep grasping for the wall every time you finish a length. It’s very hard to get hurt while swimming – unless you’re over-using the wrong body part. Then you have a much higher chance of developing an injury like tendonitis, which can take months of physical therapy to heal.