Swimming is a form of exercise that uses the body’s legs and arms to propel it through water. The sport can be competitive, recreational, or for physical rehabilitation. Humans use the skill to survive in marine environments and to travel long distances, and animals also swim for locomotion. Swimming has many benefits, including a lower risk of injury and a lower heart rate than land-based exercises.
In competitions, men and women compete in four strokes or styles of swimming: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. Each stroke requires a different technique. The freestyle stroke involves sweeping the arms over the head and torso and pushing them into the water to move forward, while the backstroke requires a circular motion with the arms that pushes back against the water’s resistance. Breaststroke and butterfly require a smooth, rhythmic motion of the arms and legs to produce power and create momentum.
Children should learn to swim at a pool or in a river with a lifeguard on duty. Adults who have not swum since childhood should take lessons from a professional instructor. They should wear a proper swimming suit and a floatation device. Adults who are overweight should consult a doctor before starting a swimming program. They should warm up their muscles and joints by walking, jogging or doing jumping jacks before getting in the water.
If you’re a beginner, start in the shallow end of the pool with a flotation device. When you feel comfortable, you can progress to the deeper pool area. You can also try a type of exercise called water running, which is a low-impact version of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). You can still work up a sweat and strengthen your muscles, but there’s less chance of jarring your knees.
Regular swimming helps reduce blood pressure and raises good cholesterol levels. It can also help ward off osteoporosis, especially in postmenopausal women. It may even slow the decline in mental function associated with aging, although more research is needed.
To improve your technique, try varying the strokes and breathing. For the freestyle stroke, point your eyes and nose downward to reduce drag. For the backstroke, keep your elbows close to your body and hold your breath while you swim. For the butterfly stroke, float horizontally and kick your legs to resemble a dolphin’s tail. Remember to breathe deeply and frequently, and move your arms in a wave-like pattern.
When swimming in a public pool, be mindful of other swimmers. Don’t surprise them, and avoid hitting other swimmers with your limbs. If you’re in a crowded lane, try circling or side-swimming to pass. If you’re sharing a lane with someone, let them know you’re coming by making eye contact or by taping their foot in the lane. This will give them time to move to the side of the lane or jump to the other end of the pool.