Olympics 2012: how to get involved in swimming


Does swimming really need an introduction? Yes, dammit! This is one of the most popular forms of exercise in the world. Four different strokes are used in Olympic competitions: freestyle (front crawl), backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. As a beginner you may be more familiar with doggy paddle and sinking. Swimming has featured at every modern Games, and also in every decent holiday ever.

The basics

Once you’ve learned the art of staying above the surface (without the bright yellow floats freely available from the kiddies’ pool) you’ll need to think about your stroke and your breathing; the two are as important as each other. Most pools and sports centres offer adult lessons for swimmers of different levels, and this is the best place to learn how to do it.

The breast stroke involves moving the arms and legs in two staggered loops, which is easier than it sounds. The front crawl means kicking with your legs as you pull yourself forward through the water with your arms, while the backstroke is pretty much the same but – genius – on your back. The butterfly is impossible. Find your local pool using the tool at swimming.org.

If you’re an adventurous, confident swimmer, or simply hate the smell of chlorine, you may want to try outdoor swimming for a new challenge. Check out wildswimming.co.uk for how to do it safely and ideas for places to go.

Health benefits

Taking the plunge has all sorts of health benefits – it’s an all-round, low-impact cardiovascular workout. Thirty minutes of steady-paced lane swimming burns at least 200 calories. The pressure and resistance of the water makes your body work that little bit harder, so half an hour of activity in the water is worth 45 minutes of the same activity on land (body-popping, perhaps?).

Swimming can be great for those who need low-impact exercise, such as pregnant women, the elderly, people with mobility problems or those who want to protect their joints.

Equipment, costs and practicalities

If you’re a complete beginner then, after picking up goggles and a cossie, you might want to invest in lessons. Check out your local council’s website to see if they run any adult programmes. Birmingham city council, for instance, runs 12-week programmes for kids, teenagers and adults, with all courses open to disabled people.

If you don’t want lessons, then you’re just paying for pool fees. Once you’ve mastered the art of front crawl, and irritated every single person at your local pool with your splash-tastic butterfly, you may want to get involved with competitive swimming and should think about joining a club. Try this directory.

Trendiness rating: 8/10

Name another walk of life where it’s the norm to wear spandex. Exactly. Extra cool points are awarded for being able to do the neat underwater turns at each end of the pool.

Inside line

Faye Callaghan, swimming.org: “Swimming is the best form of exercise for getting in shape and staying physically fit. It can be done by people of any fitness level and at almost any age. Regular swimming provides a gentle yet effective whole-body workout with many benefits, such as lowering your risk of diabetes and cancer, helping you relax and increasing your energy levels. Swimming for just half an hour can burn up to 350 calories too. Not only is swimming great for your body and mind, it’s also a fantastic social activity for the whole family to enjoy. Learning to swim opens up a whole host of other activities such as water skiing, surfing or sailing and it could ultimately save your life. 2.3 million people take the plunge every year – they can’t all be wrong.”

Find out more

swimming.org – everything you could ever want to know about swimming in the UK.

activeplaces.org – allows you to search for your nearest pool (and more specialised facilities).

wildswimming.co.uk – information on swimming outdoors.

greatswim.org – more advice on swimming outdoors, including a good safety section.

The Guardian expert’s guide to swimming.

You may also like

Diving, synchronised swimming.

You might hate

Fencing, football.

Over to you

Are you a keen swimmer? Help us build up this resource by sharing tips, videos, links to clubs and anything else that beginners might find useful.

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