Body and Mind
Take the Plunge
Unleash your inner athlete and learn how to swim
-Mary Beth Sammons
If you’ve been wondering what’s the best way to get in shape, just take one look at Dara Torres and her perfect six-pack. It’s enough to make you – and me – go running to the nearest pool and dive into swimming as the exercise du jour. As photos of the five-time U.S. Olympic swimmer – and 41-year-old mom of a toddler – rolled across my TV screen last week, I have to admit I was pretty thrilled that I’ve taken the dive into swimming.
Okay, so Dara employs three trainers, two stretchers and a massage therapist to get that body (and to achieve world-class performance). But exercise experts agree that swimming is a great way to soothe and strengthen your body, and at the same time get a great cardio workout. Plus, as the smell of chlorine reeks out of my skin all day, at least I feel like I’m doing something to try to banish stretch marks and a triple post-pregnancy pooch. Other benefits: Swimming improves your posture and helps you develop a strong, lean physique.
So, if you’re longing for the fluidity and freedom you can only find in a pool, what’s the best way to get started? Here are a few simple things that can make your swimming easier and more productive. You’ll be speeding down the pool in no time.
• Face your fears. You’re not alone. Most people are afraid of the water:
It’s a fact. I confess that even though I practically lived in Lake Michigan as a child, and did a mean breaststroke, the idea of donning goggles and a Speedo and promenading around the deck of my health-club pool terrified me. To ease my anxiety and motivate myself I went incognito by hightailing it to a pool (several suburbs away). There, I signed up for private lessons with a coach, explaining to him that I was too afraid and perhaps I should race back to the security of the step machine (and clothes). I unfortunately had already announced to friends that I was going to attempt a triathlon that coming summer, so I was counting on the swim coach to declare me an extremely unfit swimmer and therefore unable to compete. Instead, he told me to shut up and get wet. “Everybody’s afraid,” he barked. Five hours and four pairs of goggles later, my soggy self could swim again.
• Start with the basics. The best way to start is to sign up for a refresher course in the basics or check out this YouTube swimming lesson:
• Just breathe. Practice your breathing during swimming. After you’ve done some gliding, try going on your side and getting some breathing practice. Breathing is the key to a successful stroke, and the more time you can spend perfecting it, the better.
• Gear up: Choose your swim gear carefully. Go to a decent sports shop and get some advice on what you should wear. Wear goggles (shaded if you’re swimming outside in the summer glare), a swimming cap (chlorine wrecks your color and makes your scalp flake), which keeps your hair out of your face.
• Swim, swim and swim some more. The only way to swim is to dive in.