The Gift of Swimming

Stepping in to a swimming pool or any type of deep water, opens up your body to a powerful mix of reactions to benefit both body and soul.

Water Can Tone Certain Body Parts

muscles

Swimming is well known for being an excellent form of exercise, and regular swimming will see you improve your cardiovascular fitness, tone up and probably drop a couple of pounds in the process. As a muscle-building exercise, the resistance will see you becoming leaner and denser, as muscle is less ‘fluffy’ than fat pound for pound and creates that beautiful athletic shape that everyone desires. However, one other great fact about swimming is that its supports targeted toning of ‘trouble spots’ for those that feel they have them. For example, breaststroke works your legs, hips, bottom and groin and your arms too. Butterfly is a powerful and high-energy stroke which works your upper body and core in particular. Kickboards will strengthen kick technique and build strength in your legs. In the same vein, a pullbuoy between your thighs will focus on your pulling technique and work your upper body. To improve your catch through the water and add extra resistance for toning your arms and shoulders, try paddles, available for all levels of resistance training and hand sizes. Mix it up  and enjoy a full body workout every time.

Water Can Confuse Your Body

Your circulation speeds up when you are in water. The circulatory pattern between your heart and lungs and your arms and legs will go faster, which will have a strange effect overall and make you think you need to wee. Why? Because this faster movement makes your body think that you must have drunk a lot of liquid, and so your kidneys begin to automatically produce greater amounts. Most swimmers will recognise this need to go for a wee the minute that they get into the pool. It’s not just psychological. Don’t risk allowing yourself to become dehydrated, though, in a bid to reduce this effect – it’s always far more important to stay adequately hydrated and drink during training to allow for maximum performance benefits. Bring a bottle to training sessions and sip on it occasionally. Try water with a pinch of salt and sugar and some fruit juice mixed in for taste. This acts as an isotonic drink to rebalance your electrolytes without your needing to spend money on expensive – and often highly calorific – commercial drink preparations. For recipe ideas check out these healthy DIY Isotonic Drinks.

diy isotonic drinks

Water Cools Your Body Down Faster Than Air

Your body is naturally familiar with water and air, but both elements act in varying ways. For example, on a spring day when warmth of around 20 degrees hits your skin, the conducting effect rapidly takes this warmth away – up to twenty-five times faster than air does. This is because water conducts heat quicker due to its greater density. This will give you a refreshing and energising cool sensation on a warm day and will act to boost your circulation and help you to warm up. Cold-water swimming also offers similar benefits – as you get out of the water, there is a rapid drop in core body temperature. This means you need to dry and get dresses rapidly to avoid the risk of hypothermia. Always dress appropriately if swimming outdoors – a wetsuit is usually recommended unless it’s the middle of summer and particularly hot.

Your Muscles May Cramp Up

When cold water comes into contact with your warm body, your blood supply rapidly slows and your blood vessels constrict. This leads to the painful sensation of cramp, or muscle spasm. There is nothing worse than getting into the pool and experiencing cramp in your legs or feet. It can also be dangerous when people are wild-swimming and in challenging conditions or deep water. To reduce the risk of it occurring, make sure you are taking enough sodium and potassium to keep your blood vessels open and fully functioning. Most of us get enough sodium, or salt, in our daily diets, but very hot weather can deplete levels through sweating. Lots of heavy exercise will have the same effect, which is why you can also cramp up after a long training session. Potassium is found in various foods, but bananas and coconut water are both very good choices. Try taking a broad-spectrum multi-vitamin too.

leg-cramps

Water Works Your Whole Body

Swimming works your entire body at once, with your lower body, arms and core all needing to engage to deliver the stroke. This means that it is a total cardio workout, and this alone sets it apart from other sports such as walking or running, which tend to focus on your legs, bottom and thighs. It also allows you to work at your own pace. You can be a complete beginner or an Olympic-level athlete and you will get a superb workout – without any equipment or kit required beyond a few absolute basics. Yet another reason to love swimming.

It Is Low-Impact

Swimming doesn’t strain joints like other forms of sport or exercise can. People who start running on the road regularly often experience pain in their joints, particularly the knees, and this is due to the high impact of running and jogging, especially if you do so on hard surfaces or in poor shoes. Swimming works the whole body in different directions and offers a powerful resistance workout but without jarring movements. The buoyancy is the key to reducing the impact on your joints, and this makes it a great form of rehabilitation exercise or beginner’s exercise, as well as an ideal choice for elderly people, pregnant women and those looking to get fit from scratch or get strong again after an injury.

Swimming Is Mood-Boosting

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When you swim, your body releases endorphins which make you feel good. Swimming is a particularly strong influence on mood because of the combination of warm water and the sensation that comes with being weightless. Studies have showed that there may even be an evolutionary reason for this powerful mood boost, but certainly the sensation of being warm, supported and comfortable is a powerful means of feeling good. Capitalise on it by enjoying some purely relaxing sessions at the pool and enjoy a good shower and wind-down afterwards with beautifully scented products that provide an additional boost. Lavender is great for winding down in the evening, and peppermint or grapefruit can be a wonderful energy booster to help capitalise on your exercise-induced high.

Water Protects Your Heart

Incredibly, being in the pool also has protective benefits for the heart. When you dive into water, your heart effectively switches into a type of ‘power-save’ mode, switching down a notch to around 60 bpm from around 80 bpm. This is because it knows that water doesn’t provide oxygen, and it compensates by using as little as possible in order to preserve stores.

Water Is a Powerful Healer

Water has long featured in many cultures for its ability to heal and replenish. The Japanese love natural and heated outdoor pools, which are usually heated via geothermal or volcanic energy. The Swedes love saunas and steam baths, and the British love Jacuzzis. From the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, hydrotherapy treatments were greatly in demand and respected by doctors. Mineral waters gave great benefits to the body and mind, and natural sources led to towns such as Buxton and Bath becoming hugely popular destinations with those wanting to ‘sample the waters’. Even today, hydrotherapy is used for mainstream therapies such as spinal injury treatment, nerve weaknesses and cardiac problems.

spa

Water Has Powerful Mental Benefits

There is a powerful connection between the brain and water, which has been explored by neuroscientists and is a growing field of research. The state of ‘blue mind’ represents the meditative state that the brain enters into when a person is in the water, bringing a sense of peace, well-being and unity. Scientists explain that because the human body is made up of around two-thirds water, the brain goes into a powerfully beneficial state when it is near or within water. The water effectively works to give the brain a break from the stimulation that dominates our life – both visual and auditory. An escape from gravity also allows your muscles to rest and relax. Remember that over three hundred muscles are needed simply for you to stand up.

woman-relaxing-in-water

With your brain in relaxation mode, the network that governs insight and creativity is naturally activated. This can lead to new insights, benefits to health and also peak performance. It may be hard to find relaxation in a busy pool during training night or at the weekend, but if you can find a quiet pool to swim in when it is peaceful and half-empty, you will really feel the benefits. Remember too that even having a calming deep bath provides valuable benefits. Try using Epsom salts in the water to give your body lots of valuable magnesium and other minerals and to detox heavy metals and the chemicals that your body regularly comes into contact with when swimming in a chlorinated pool.

So next time you get into the pool, think about the myriad of powerful health and well-being benefits the water is having on your mind and body, and remember all over again how you love the waer and how it loves you right back.

Is the future of British Swimming in danger?

 

Becky Adlington winning gold at the Beijing Olympics
Becky Adlington winning gold at the Beijing Olympics

 

Former Team GB Olympian and retired champion Rebecca Adlington has said that recent figures showing a drop in swimming participation are worrying and that action needs to be taken to ensure school children learn this vital life skill.

Sport England released an Active People Survey that found almost 250,000 fewer people are swimming once a week or more, with the figures showing a year-on-year decline from 2013 to 2014. The figures were a surprise to the industry, which would have expected to see a spike in participation rates following the ‘Olympic effect’, particularly with a number of the swimmers from Team GB becoming inspirational household names.

A similarly significant drop was shown in children’s swimming participation rates. Adlington, the winner of two gold Olympic medals, has said that she would support moves to make swimming a compulsory part of school education.

School swimming should be compulsory
School swimming should be compulsory

A Life Skill

She has said that swimming is a life skill and the only sport that allows participants to gain the skills needed to save a life. She added that this was far more important than the winning of any medal and said that she felt ‘shocked’ that Britain’s inhabitants lived on a tiny island where water was never further than 70 miles away and yet nearly half of all school children were unable to swim.

It is essential for all children to know how to swim
It is essential for all children to know how to swim

Adlington’s comments came as she appeared on the Sky Sports Sportswomen show. She explained that nearly half of all children are currently unable to swim even 25 metres – one length of a pool – before they are 11. To tackle this, she has set up the Becky Adlington Swim Stars programme to help young people learn how to swim. There are already 3,000 under 11s on the programme, which started after the London Olympics.

 

Different Expectations

She added that an expectation gap also remains a problem, with many parents believing that swimming-lesson provision was the responsibility of the school and with schools believing that it is the responsibility of parents. It’s a challenging balance, and other countries are taking the teaching of life skills far more seriously than the UK. Adlington also pointed to countries such as America and Australia, which teach swimming as a compulsory part of the school education.

 

School swimming should be part of the school curriculum
School swimming should be part of the school curriculum

 

The same survey also showed that the figures for women who swam regularly also dropped by 10pc, which is another area of concern.

Jennie Price, the CEO of Sport England, expressed her concerns about the figures and the fact that the Amateur Swimming Association had no conclusive insights into the drop in participation figures – particularly after the London 2012 Olympics, when a spike would have been expected.

 

There has even been a drop off in Women that swim regularly
There has even been a drop off in Women that swim regularly

 

The next stage for the sport will be trying to understand the reasons behind the drop. This could be because of lack of access, the cost of swimming lessons, a general decline in sports participation or the closing of pools. Further research will now take place to assess the depth of the problem before strategies are developed to promote the value of swimming to the nation, position it firmly within the educational system and ensure that the government provides the right funding support to facilitate this work.

 

Too many pools and lidos have been closed down
Too many pools and lidos have been closed down

 

Some of the Greatest Olympic Swimmers

The next Olympics will be held in Rio 2016, and the world’s swimming elite are already training hard for this ultimate event. With a global audience of millions, Rio promises to be a truly spectacular event. Records will undoubtedly be broken in the pool, and a new crop of athletes will become household names. The major games since London have already seen some of 2012’s times smashed, so the prospect of Rio is extremely exciting indeed. While we gear up for the big event, it’s a great point to remember some of the greatest swimmers of all time and wonder which new names will be added to this list in just one year’s time.

Mark Spitz – USA

 

Mark Spitz – aka Mark the Shark – was born in 1950 and is one of the most iconic swimmers in history. Now retired, he achieved an incredible seven gold podium spots at the Munich Olympics in 1972. This record was only ever beaten by Michael Phelps, when he swept up eight gold medals in Beijing – more of which below. Mark Spitz took nine Olympic gold medals during his peak between 1968 and 1972. He also took a silver and a bronze medal, as well as a haul of other titles, including five Pan-American gold medals, eight US National Collegiate Athletic Association honours, thirty-one Amateur Athletic Union awards and more. During his competitive swimming years, he managed to set an incredible 33 new world records, and his name in the hall of fame was assured when he was awarded the ‘World Swimmer’ accolade three times – in 1969, 1971 and in 1972.

Michael Phelps – USA

 

Born in 1985, Michael Phelps is also known by his nickname of the Baltimore Bullet. He has already won an incredible sixteen Olympic titles, as well as six silver medals and two bronzes, which he took home from the 2004 Olympics in Athens. At the next Olympics – the 2008 event in Beijing – he swept the board with eight gold podium spots, consolidating his place in the history books. By achieving this haul, he has equalled the record for eight medals at just one Olympics – twice. This record is shared by Alexander Dityatin, the Russian gymnast who also took home eight medals from the 1980 summer games in Moscow.

By taking home eight top spots at the Beijing Olympics, he managed to nudge the legendary Mark Spitz into second place, as he only managed to win seven gold medals at 1972’s Munich Olympics. In terms of total medals won at the Olympics, there is only one athlete ahead in the league table – another gymnast from the Soviet Union. Larissa Latynina has taken an awesome 18 medals – included nine gold medals – in three Olympic Games.

Phelps’ performance, persona and athleticism have helped him to win the coveted World Swimmer Award no fewer than six times. He has also taken home the annual American Swimmer award on eight occasions. In total, he has been awarded a jaw-dropping 59 international competition medals, of which 50 were gold medals. These were won at the Olympics, the Pan Pacifics and the World Championships.

Ian Thorpe – Australia

 

The Thorpedo adding to his medal haul
The Thorpedo adding to his medal haul

 

Born in 1982, retired Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe is better known as the Thorpedo, and today he is a well-known commentator and sports personality. The former legendary freestyle swimmer has the Australian swimming medal haul record, having won five Olympic golds. At the World Aquatic Championships in 2001, he also took home six golds, earning him another record. He has gained 11 golds at the World Championships, which puts him in the second spot when it comes to records. He has also been honoured as the Swimmer of the Year on the world stage on four occasions, and he is the first person to have been honoured in this way. When it comes to the Australian Swimmer of the Year award, he held the top spot every year during 1999 to 2003. His incredible achievements have made him a hugely popular and well-known athlete in Australia and beyond, and he has also been given the Young Australian of the Year award in 2000.

Grant Hackett – Australia

 

Born in 1980, Grant Hackett is a retired swimmer who was famous for his performance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, taking home the gold in the 1500m freestyle on both occasions. This achievement secured his place in the record books as one of history’s greatest distance swimmers. He also took home another gold at the Sydney games for his place in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay. He is particularly well regarded for his versatility across different events, having won world records in the 800m freestyle, 1500m freestyle, and second and fourth places in the 400m and 200m events respectively. He still dominates the 1500m event and has taken home a cool ten gold medals at the World Championships.

Johnny Weissmuller – Austro-Hungarian

Born in 1904, Weissmuller was one of the best swimmers of all time and also a legendary actor. He was hugely well known in the 1920s for his swimming achievements and won five golds at the Olympic games, as well as 52 medals at the American National Championships. At the same time, he set an incredible 67 new world records in the sport. After he retired from the sport, he became famous for portraying Tarzan on the big screen and took on the role in 12 Hollywood films. He is still the best-known actor for his portrayal of Tarzan and his trademark distinctive yell is still copied today.

Krisztina Egerszegi – Hungary

Not forgetting the girls, Krisztina was born in 1974 and is one of Hungary’s greatest modern Olympians, with a former world record under her belt. She took home five gold Olympic medals across the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympics and also jointly holds the record for winning the same event across three consecutive games.

Deborah Meyer – USA

Born in 1952, Debbie Meyer was legendary at the 1968 Summer Olympics for winning three events – the 200m, 400m and 800m races at Mexico City. By taking three golds in a single Olympic games, she got a world record – and all at the tender age of 16, as she was still a student at the time.

Kristin Otto – German

 

Born in 1966, Kristin Otto took the accolade of being the first female swimmer to sweep six gold medals at one Olympic Games – at the Seoul games in 1988.

Matthew Biondi

Born in 1965, Matt Biondi won 11 medals over three summer Olympics – 1984, 1988 and 1992. He took eight gold medals, two silver medals and one bronze. He also managed to set seven new world swimming records during his career in the 50m freestyle and 100m freestyle events. At the Seoul Olympics in 1988, he took home five gold medals and also confirmed his legendary status by setting new records in the relay events and 50m freestyle.

Rebecca Adlington – UK

And who could forget the well-loved Rebecca Adlington, who turned 26 this year. Rebecca shot to fame as a household name after she took two gold medals at the 2008 Olympics. She won two bronze medals at the London 2012 event – in the 400m and 800m freestyle races. She also held the 800m world record for freestyle at 8:14.10. She retired after the London Olympics and is now a well known personality.

Swimming Around The Globe

The 1968 Hollywood film, The Swimmer, starred Burt Lancaster as the man using a series of private swimming pools to travel across Connecticut in the USA. There aren’t enough private swimming pools in the UK to enable keen swimmers to recreate the movie in real life, but don’t let that put you off the idea completely. Why not try swimming around the world, taking in some of the most spectacular pools you could hope to experience?

Even if you don’t fancy a complete round-the-globe trip, it’s still possible to take in some of the most beautiful, astounding and take-your-breath-away swimming pools that other countries have to offer. Next time you’re planning a holiday, try checking out the pool arrangements in the country you’re heading to. You never know – you might discover a hidden gem.

Here’s our pick of some of the most stunning pools that are on our ‘To do’ list.

 

Scary but dreamy swim balcony
Scary but dreamy swim balcony

 

San Alfonso del Mar, Chile

If we could only visit one world-renowned swimming pool in our lifetime then the pool at the Chilean resort of San Alfonso del Mar would be our chosen destination. Set alongside the Pacific Ocean in Algararobo, the lagoon-style swimming pool at San Alfonso is absolutely vast. It’s the longest swimming pool in the world, so if you’re planning on attempting a few lengths, then you’ll need to make an early start: at over a kilometre, one length of this pool is the equivalent of swimming the length of 20 Olympic swimming pools.

Just the 2 lengths today
Just the 2 lengths today

Covering an area of eight hectares, the San Alfonso pool holds a staggering 66 million gallons of water, which is around 250 million litres. Seawater is pumped from the ocean, treated so that it maintains its clarity, and then heated to a luxurious 26 degrees for optimum comfort.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

If you ever find yourselves on a stopover in Singapore, then make it your mission to book in for at least one night at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Head for the 57th floor and prepare to take a dip in one of the world’s highest swimming pool – the SkyPark Infinity Pool.

 

You can swim up to the edge in the Marina Bay Sands
You can swim up to the edge in the Marina Bay Sands

 

The SkyPark gives visitors to Singapore the chance to take in a stunning 360 degree view of the city. There are restaurants and gardens to explore but the main focus of everyone’s attention is the astonishing infinity pool. If you’ve got a head for heights, then you’ll love the sensation of swimming among the skyscrapers, but if heights really aren’t your thing, then you’d probably do well to steer clear of this one!

 

 

Hanging Gardens, Ubud

Another sky-high pool can be found in Ubud in Indonesia, but this one is far removed from the cityscapes of Singapore. The infinity pool at Hanging Gardens is one of the most photogenic swimming pools in the world and has won numerous accolades. Both Conde Nast Traveller and Trip Advisor have given the pool their coveted Number One slots, on lists of the world’s most beautiful pools, so this is one which should be on every swimmer’s bucket list.

 

Chill out above the trees
Chill out above the trees

 

The split-level infinity pools allow swimmers to ‘float’ – quite literally – above the surrounding trees, so that they are completely immersed in the jungle. The romantic setting makes this a popular destination for honeymoons and even weddings, so if you’re planning on getting hitched soon, then it might be worth planning a visit.

Huvafen Fushi, The Maldives

Another top romantic spot, Huvafen Fushi is a swimmer’s paradise. Many of the resort bungalows come with their own pool attached, and the whole resort is surrounded by the beautiful blue waters of the Indian Ocean. The swimming pool at the resort is one of the largest on all of the islands that make up the Maldives, but it’s at night that the pool really comes into its own. Fitted with a myriad of lights, the pool twinkles every bit as much as the night sky. The resort also boasts the only saltwater flotation pool in the Maldives, so you can relax and chill when you’re tired from all the swimming.

 

Relax for hours in waters at the Maldives
Relax for hours in waters at the Maldives

Bondi Icebergs, Sydney

You might reasonably assume that keen swimmers paying a visit to Bondi Beach in Sydney would immediately head for the famous surf, but in fact, there is more to this beach than the sea. The Bondi Icebergs is one of the oldest and most established winter swimming clubs in the city. Since 1929 die-hard Sydney swimmers have been braving the cold waters and taking part in winter swimming competitions. The only licensed pool in the city, visitors can swim in the pool adjacent to the sea but protected from the sharks and the surf.

 

Just a pool wall separating the ocean
Just a pool wall separating the ocean

North Sydney Olympic Pool, Sydney

Still in Sydney, an absolute ‘must swim’ destination for any swimming enthusiast has to be the North Sydney Olympic Pool. The Art Deco building is a piece of art in its own right, but it’s the incredible views that make this pool such an outstanding place to visit. With unrivalled views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the neighbouring Luna Park, locals recommend visiting after dark, for an impressive, illuminated view across to the iconic Sydney Opera House.

 

Famous North Sydney Olympic Pool
Famous North Sydney Olympic Pool

If you can bear to tear yourself away from the views, then you will probably appreciate the Olympic dimensions of this pool, where history has been made. No fewer than 86 world records have been set by some of Australia’s finest swimmers.

Amirandes Grecotel Exclusive Resort, Crete

Of course, you don’t have to travel all the way to the other side of the world in order to visit an outstanding swimming pool. Closer to home, in Greece, the Amirandes Grecotel Exclusive Resort is a swimmer’s paradise. Many of the resort’s suites and guest villas come complete with their own pool, but that’s not the end of the story. The resort has an Olympic-sized saltwater swimming pool, designed to resemble a Minoan palace, so you can swim to your heart’s content surrounded by history and serene views.

 

Olympic size swimming pool surrounded by historical beauty
Olympic size swimming pool surrounded by historical beauty

Mardan Palace, Antalya

Turkey is an extremely popular holiday destination within easy reach of the UK. Thousands of British visitors head there every year, but far too few of them know about the country’s world-class swimming pool at the Mardan Palace in Antalya. You may need to save up for a while if you’re planning to visit though, as it’s reputed to be the most expensive resort in all of Europe.

Largest swimming pool in Europe
Largest swimming pool in Europe

The principal feature of the hotel’s landscaping is the huge outdoor swimming pool. It’s the largest in Europe and is built to resemble an oasis, but with the addition of a ‘canal’ running alongside, complete with gondola. The pool is spanned by an elaborate bridge based on a design by Leonardo da Vinci, which he intended to span the Bosphorus but which had never been built until now. Within the swimming pool is a separate fish tank, which gives the impression of swimming among tropical fish, rays and even sharks.

Molitor Hotel, Paris

Just a Eurostar trip away, Paris is the home of the Molitor Hotel, which began life as a public swimming pool complex. Situated adjacent to the Bois de Boulogne, the building was opened in 1929 by Johnny Weismuller of Tarzan fame, who also happened to be an Olympic swimmer.

Built in the Art-Deco style, the complex was intended to represent an ocean liner and it quickly became a fashionable spot for Parisiens, with Louis Reard showing off his new design of the bikini in 1946. With an indoor pool featuring three tiers of cabins and an outdoor pool which had its own sandy beaches, the Molitor Piscine, as it was known, was a thriving part of the city’s leisure and sporting industries. Sadly it fell into disrepair, and following a brief incarnation as an ice-skating rink, it closed its doors in 1989.

Sadly these wonderful pools fell into disrepair and was a haven for graffiti artists
Sadly these wonderful pools fell into disrepair and was a haven for graffiti artists

The buildings became home to a group of graffiti artists, before being declared a historic monument. Nowadays, it is enjoying a transformation into a boutique hotel, and the two pools have been restored to their former glory. Every keen swimmer should make an attempt to visit this important destination and swim in these two pools.

Now restored, the Molitor is a must see for all swimming and Art Deco lovers
Now restored, the Molitor is a must see for all swimming and Art Deco lovers

Aquatics Centre, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London

Proving that you don’t have to travel far from home to experience superb swimming conditions, you only need to travel as far as East London, to take a dip in Britain’s best known swimming pool. Built as part of Olympic Park which hosted the 2012 Olympic Games, the Aquatics Centre is now open to members of the public for the first time since it was built.

 

A fabulous swimming pool in our own back yard - London Olympic Style
A fabulous swimming pool in our own back yard – London Olympic Style

 

If you’re a confident and experienced swimmer, then you’ll want to head straight for the 50 metre competition pool, divided into lanes so you can swim as many lengths as you wish without fear of collisions. Younger swimmers, beginners and those lacking in confidence can improve their skills in one of the two 25 metre pools. Classes and training sessions are available in addition to public swims, and you can even enrol in the Tom Daley Diving Academy, if you’ve got a head for heights and a yearning to try a dive off one of the high boards.

Learning to swim, fitness swimming or diving with the best
Learning to swim, fitness swimming or diving with the best

Whether you’re a keen amateur swimmer or a seasoned professional, there are opportunities to indulge your passion all around the world. So next time you’re planning a holiday, remember to check out the pools at your destination – you might just find something unexpected!

Basics

Most swimming coaches will tell you to do the same things again and again, and sometimes it’s the basics that really trip us up. It’s tempting to look for complex reasons as to why we can’t achieve our target times or distances, but the simple fact is that failure to reach our full potential in the pool is usually because we’re forgetting to work on our foundation movements. So if our coach could give us their key tips to swimming better than ever, what would they be?

Listen to all the tips to help you become a great athlete
Listen to all the tips to help you become a great athlete

Focus on Your Breathing

Breathing whilst you swim is one of the first lessons of all, and it is also one of the most complex for beginners, who tend to over-breathe or, even worse, accidentally get water in their mouths and choke. Learning to breathe in a controlled fashion and in time with the stroke is key to success. But even the most experienced and dedicated of swimmers can fall into lazy habits, and it’s very easy to forget about timed and controlled breathing and simply take in a gulp of air whenever you fancy it. Breathing is to be controlled at all times, especially into and out of the turns and at the finish.  If you can do this, you can improve your overall time.  When your coach tells you to work on your breathing, it is for good reason – time and efficiency. Good breathing equals maximum oxygen intake and exhalation, without distracting from the efficiency and speed of your stroke. If you are struggling to get your breathing right, go back to basics and work on those drills.

 

Try to control your breathing into and out of your turns
Try to control your breathing into and out of your turns

 

 

When Going Past the Flags, Make Sure You Dolphin-Kick

There are some exceptions to this rule, primarily if you are swimming a fast 100 metre breaststroke. But in most instances, dolphin-kicking past the flags will work to your advantage. If you have watched swimming legend Michael Phelps in the pool, you will know that this is his signature technique and one that he employs during each race as a secret weapon. In fact, this move has helped him to win medals all over the world. So if you are serious about competitive and advanced swimming, and want to have something in common with one of the most legendary of swimmers to date, make sure you perfect the kick that competitive and professional swimmers use.

 

Try to dolphin kick beyond the backstroke flags rules permitting
Try to dolphin kick beyond the backstroke flags rules permitting

No More Than Three Breaths for Your 50-Metre Freestyle

You don’t need to breathe endlessly for a short freestyle race. Most coaches will tell their pool sprinters to take around three breaths only for a fifty-metre race. You certainly don’t need to knock out ten breaths. By adding extra breaths, you will lose momentum from the minute you start and from when you turn. All fast competitive swim sprinters know that it just takes one breath to lose the race to a more efficient swimmer.

Take few breaths on a 50m sprint
Take few breaths on a 50m sprint

Don’t Breathe into the Finish

Have you noticed how much focus on breathing your coach wants you to put? For sprinters and distance swimmers alike, most coaches will say that there is no need to take a breath into that finishing stroke. A great athlete to watch to really understand this is Michael Phelps, ideally when he did his 100-metre butterfly final in the Beijing Olympics. He kept his head down on the final stroke and took home the gold medal.

Head down and no breathing into to finish makes all the difference
Head down and no breathing into to finish makes all the difference

Follow the Correct Breathing Pattern

Yes, more breathing. It’s the key to swimming success, especially in competition situations. Make sure you listen to the breathing pattern that your coach is setting for you. Don’t breathe on every third stroke if your coach is telling you to breath five, seven and nine. Do it right the first time and you’ll save yourself a lot of grief, as coaches will continually drill this into their teams via endless practice if they see mistakes and laziness occurring.

Controlled swimming

Keep Your Stroke Going Whatever Happens

We’ve all experienced the stress of trying to train for our butterfly in a busy pool full of other lane swimmers. They get frustrated and annoyed by the disruption, especially if they are just doing a few lazy laps of breaststroke, and you feel uncomfortable and unwilling to rock the boat. However, you need to train to improve this vital stroke, and sometimes that means being a little selfish. Don’t sell your training short by breaking your stroke, unless you are genuinely worried that the pool is too busy and you are in danger of hitting an unsuspecting fellow swimmer. If this occurs regularly during your practice, look at alternative times to train. A lot of pools will have advanced training session times with ability lanes, or be open very late or early to allow serious swimmers to train in a quieter environment. Ask the leisure attendants for advice on the best time to attend, or see if there are opportunities to train at a local school, college or private pool.

 

Try not to break stroke on butterfly, you're only cheating yourself
Try not to break stroke on butterfly, you’re only cheating yourself

Don’t Do a Circle Swim in a Race

If you circle-swim in a competitive swimming environment, you increase your total distance swam. The distance may be minimal, but it is also very likely to see you lose the race to someone just a second or so faster than you. Remember that every advantage counts in high-performance competitive swimming.

In a race swim up and down the centre line - don't swim in a circle
In a race swim up and down the centre line – don’t swim in a circle

Keep Kicking

This is a funny one, but most coaches comment on it. As swimmers, we tend to focus on our arms, but our coaches want us to kick more. It’s vital to kick hard and fast and get into a good rhythm, and you’ll really feel the difference if you activate your glutes and hamstrings to take on the work. Practise kick drills with floats if necessary to build that strength and speed – don’t be too proud to go back to basics and really work on that technique. Running and lower-body strength training can also give you an edge and help to get those leg muscles firing efficiently in the pool. Using your legs effectively is particularly crucial for long-distance swimming, where your arms will get tired if they are doing the majority of the work.

 

Keep kicking, it's vital not to overload and over tire you arms
Keep kicking, it’s vital not to overload and over tire you arms

Commit to Your Training Programme

If the set that your coach has programmed for you isn’t to your taste, you’ll need to just get on with it if you want to achieve your full potential. Remember that competitive swimming is meant to be tough and challenging. Your coach is there to work on your weaknesses as well as your strengths and will have the ability to coach accordingly. Don’t keep questioning it or complaining. If you don’t push yourself and feel out of your comfort zone, you certainly won’t find yourself setting new PBs or winning races. The best swimmers are constantly challenging themselves and seeking new ways to swim better, harder and faster and this usually means training for longer, more frequently and at a higher intensity than their competitors. It also means being ready to hear criticism and respond to it by fixing issues rather than moaning.

Try not to argue with your coach. Work in harmony but work hard
Try not to argue with your coach. Work in harmony but work hard

 

Make Sure You Cool Down Properly

At the end of your swimming training, it is natural to want to get out of the pool as quickly as possible and go and eat lots of food. Many seasoned swimmers find themselves cheekily cutting down their 400 metre warmdown to just a short lap of the pool, along with a few underwater moves. It is fun to relax and wind down, but remember that after a serious training session you need to flush out lactic acid build-up within your muscles by keeping them moving and gently cooling down after hard training. If you don’t do this, you will be tight and sore the next day and unable to train to your best ability.

Swimming down after racing is essential. If there is a pool available - do it and don't cut it short
Swimming down after racing is essential. If there is a pool available – do it and don’t cut it short

 

Eat Right After a Workout

If you are serious about training, you cannot work hard in the pool and then nip to a fast-food joint on the way home. Your body needs protein to recover and rebuild torn muscle fibres, and your glycogen stores need topping up to give you energy for your next session. A protein shake is a great way to get a rapid infusion of necessary amino acids, vitamins, minerals and carbs, and you can whiz one up with your fruit after training for rapid recovery. Be serious about nutrition and you will really notice an improvement in your performance. It is also equally important to be hydrated before and during your swim. Conversely, eat poorly and fail to hydrate and you will watch other more committed swimmers sail past you. Consult a nutritionist to help you build a food plan that supports your training needs if necessary, and stick to it.

 

Refuel after racing and training with quality protein, avoid junk food and quick fixes
Refuel after racing and training with quality protein, avoid junk food and quick fixes

 

So these are some of the most common coaching cues given by coaches, and many competitive swimmers will recognise them and nod ruefully as they remember being shouted at in the pool. Bear these in mind and focus on getting them right at your next training session and your coach will appreciate your commitment.