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How to get into swimming safely for beginners
You might not think twice about the safety aspects of swimming, especially if you've been swimming for a long time or you were someone who loved diving into the pool on holiday as a child. However, like any physical activity, swimming poses risks so it's important you do it safely - it's much more enjoyable that way!
A newbie swimmer? Here's what you need to know to swim safely
"If you've decided to start swimming, you've made a great choice. However, it can be intimidating to get into the water if you are not confident,” says Dr Deborah Lee of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.
So, here's some safe swimming advice to get you off to the best start:
- Choose a time to swim when the pool isn't busy.
- Tell the lifeguard it's your first time and ask them to keep an eye on you.
- Don't feel ashamed to ask for lessons.
- Accept the support - need to use a float or armbands? That's OK!
- Make sure you read the pool rules and swim safely.
But what about my body?
Often one of the biggest insecurities when attempting swimming for the first time can be what you look like, but there really is no reason for it. Chances are, all those people you think are looking at you are more concerned about themselves.
"Try not to be overly worried about what you look like. Swimmers come in all shapes and sizes and once you are in the water, no one can see you anyway! Try to put this out of your mind. Besides, it's a temporary issue anyway. In a matter of weeks, you'll be stronger and your confidence will have grown. Everyone feels a bit self-conscious when they emerge from the changing rooms and before they hit the water for the first time, but don't let it stand in your way," adds Dr Lee.
The importance of warming up
She also stresses the importance of warming up before getting into the pool. You should always do this to swim safely and reduce your risk of injury, but it's especially important if you're a beginner and your form perhaps isn't as it should be. You don't want to be pulling a muscle after your first session!
A good warm-up might be five minutes of stretches or lunges.
Getting used to the water
"When you get in the water, practise putting your head under, holding your breath, and blowing a few bubbles. Get used to the feeling of the water covering your face, while holding on to the side in the shallow end," says Dr Lee.
A useful technique is to float on your back. If at any time you feel out of control or can't get your breath, remember that you can always roll on to your back and float easily, giving you time to recover and catch your breath.
Following a swimming programme
A good starting point is following an interval swimming programme, which looks as follows:
- Start by doing four lengths of any style - backstroke, breaststroke, crawl or butterfly. If this is difficult, hold a float to your chest and just kick your legs.
- Increase the number of lengths you do each time you swim. For example, over a period of four weeks, gradually increase to 20 or 30 lengths a session.
- Swim every other day for a week, then have a rest day.
- Do some basic fitness training to increase your physical strength in between swim days.
How to swim safely
Dr Lee stresses the importance of safe swimming and always being alert while in and around the pool.
Dr Lee's top tips for swimming safely
- Never swim alone - always have someone with you who can call for help if anything happens.
- Look for the pool safety information and read this before getting into the water.
- Don't jump or dive into any water unless you know the depth (it might look fun, but this can cause a ruptured spinal cord and paralysis or can be fatal).
- Don't swim if you have been drinking alcohol.
- Walk beside the pool - don't run.
- Stay within your depth.
- Wear a brightly coloured swimming costume and swim cap so you are visible in the water.
- If you develop pain while swimming, stop and rest and if it doesn't settle, get out of the pool.
- Keep well hydrated - if you are doing lengths, keep a water bottle by the edge of the pool, and keep drinking. You might not realise how hot you are getting since the water keeps you cool.
- Don't take any glass objects or electrical equipment anywhere near a swimming pool.
If you have a long-standing health condition (such as a heart condition), it's advisable to seek medical advice before taking up a strenuous exercise regime. A qualified personal trainer can also offer advice on getting back into exercise after some time away, and ensuring your activity levels are appropriate for your fitness.
Getting into swimming as a beginner
Venturing into any form of exercise as a beginner can be really daunting, but there are ways to ease yourself in. With swimming, you don't need to, pardon the pun, go straight in at the deep end. And, swimming isn't solely about doing lengths - there are other pool-based activities you might enjoy that still get your body moving and help you stay fit!
One way to feel motivated is to join an aqua aerobics class. Aqua aerobics classes are essentially like performing in the water. They are a type of resistance training that tends to be done no deeper than up to your waist, so it's perfect if you aren't yet a confident swimmer or just want a slow-paced exercise. You can find out about events on the website of your local swimming pool.
Likewise, a swimming club is great for that feeling of community and togetherness. Clubs are a good idea if you're feeling nervous about going back into swimming and need some moral support. Not only can you cheer each other on, but you can pick up tips from your fellow swimmers.
If you can't swim - it's never too late to learn and there's no reason to be embarrassed! Most swimming baths offer lessons with teachers who can help you perfect your technique and set goals, creating a real sense of achievement once you swim so many lengths or nail your form for breaststroke. Most local swimming baths will hold lessons for both children and adults.
How often should you swim to see the benefits of swimming?
There isn't necessarily one answer for how long you should swim - it all depends on your health goals and your reasons for swimming.
It is recommended that one 30-minute swimming session counts as part of your recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
Moderate-intensity exercise is any exercise that makes you feel slightly hot and sweaty and a little out of breath, so you should swim fast enough to feel like this. "Go for brisk breaststroke or slow crawl," says Dr Lee. "Swim clubs recommend that swimming for fitness requires 3-5 swims per week, of 20 minutes or more per session. You should be able to swim 20-30 laps of the pool in this time. This means fast swimming with different strokes such as breaststroke, backstroke and front crawl. As you progress, you can build this up to swimming for an hour twice a week. This is peak physical fitness!"
Dangers of indoor swimming
- Concussion/head injury from hitting head on walls/hard surfaces.
- Fatality from breath holding.
- 'Dry drowning' (after breathing in water and having it damage the lungs).
- Skin irritation from chlorine.
- Eye irritation.
- Slippery surfaces.
Dangers of outdoor swimming
All of the above also apply to outdoor swimming, as well as:
- Shock of cold water.
- Lack of safety equipment in an emergency.
- Unpredictable depths of water.
- Slippery rocks.
- Limited visibility of loved ones while they swim.
- Overpowering currents and tides.
- Changes in weather (heavy rain, hail, cold wind).
- Wildlife with the potential to attack or sting.
So, if you're thinking of becoming a regular swimmer, have fun! But, make sure to be safe and to swim safely.