There are many different swimming caps available, but the key is to find the right one for you. A swimming cap is there to protect your hair from chlorine, as well as to make you more visible in open water. They offer a streamline effect which allows you to swim faster and smoother, which is especially important in competitions.
Preventing the Problem
The best course of action is to wear a well-fitted swimming cap that prevents your hair from soaking up the water. Some swimmers will also wet their hair before putting on their swim cap. In doing this the hair is already full of water and is less likely to absorb any chlorine from the pool. There are a huge number of swimming caps on the market, and each offers something different. Whether you choose silicone, latex or fabric, the trick is getting a good-quality swimming cap that fits properly.
Generally speaking, if your hair is on the medium to long side, then you may find that a silicone cap is best. These last longer than latex swimming caps and are also more resistant to tearing. As well as this you will find that silicone caps do not tug at the hair and are easier to put on and take off. Silicone is also hypo allergenic which is a good choice for those who suffer with allergies. For those after greater protection there is Speedo Fastskin Hair Management Cap, which is designed to be used with the ultra hydrodynamic durable Fastskin 3 Silicone Swimming Cap. This is a great combination for long hair, creating a smoother profile under your swimming cap.
Alternatively, If your hair is short, then try a latex cap. It offers stretch and a great fit. Although with less give than a silicone cap, a regular sized latex cap will work for most swimmers with an average head size. If you are looking for a smaller size, junior sizes can offer a closer fit. You’ll know if it’s too tight as the cap will leave a line in your skin or leave your head feeling uncomfortable. The Kiefer Superflex Latex Cap is a good choice for shorter hair as it is still stretchy and durable.
Another option is fabric caps. Whilst these are not particularly recommended for serious swimming, they are perfect for gentle swimming or spa use. The Beco Womens Fabric Cap offers a soft foam rubber lining for a comfortable fit and its fabric is chlorine resistant. It is a good choice for those with longer hair and the rubber lining has a good stretch which prevents snagging.
A popular choice for team swimwear, especially swimming caps is customisation. This is an excellent option for swimming clubs, schools, teams, or an event to put a unique stamp on. Swimprint offers personalisation on a range of swimming caps, such as silicone, latex and racing caps with different designs and colours available.
A fear of water is also known as aquaphobia, and it is a very common phobia. The good news, however, is that it is possible to overcome this fear by working through a structured approach and certain exercises. Overcoming a fear of water is essential, as water safety is one of the most basic life skills. Additionally, being able to swim is a huge source of fun and fitness.
We will cover this topic in two blog posts. The first looks at the causes of this fear and at some basic exercises that can be used as a starting point to grow confidence. These exercises are suitable for all ages and abilities and can – and should – be done entirely at your own pace.
The Causes of Aquaphobia
Aquaphobia is one of the most common fears amongst non-swimmers. A fear of water can lead to a terrible feeling of being paralysed when off dry land, and it has a number of underlying potential causes. One typical one is an instinctive fear that exists on a very primal level: the fear of actually drowning. There is also a subconscious fear of the unknown and uncertainty about what is below the water, particularly in muddy, cloudy or deep waters.
Sometimes the phobia is linked to a traumatic earlier experience in life, often in childhood, or sometimes children develop a fear of water through their parents’ own phobias. Another common cause is an ingrained fear that has grown through stressful teaching methods from teachers who used inadequate training techniques in earlier years. The causes are complex, but they all lead to a very real fear that limits the individual in their life to some extent.
If you do suffer from aquaphobia, it’s important not to beat yourself up or believe that you are alone. Every individual will have a different level of confidence in the water, and this will adjust according to the context. Even experienced indoor swimmers will experience anxiety to a certain degree when they swim outdoors or in an unfamiliar location. This is perfectly normal. So the first point to remember is that you are not alone by any means and that you needn’t worry about ‘standing out’ for all the wrong reasons.
The trick to overcoming your fear is to practise a few simple exercises in the water. Go to your local leisure centre at a quiet time. If necessary, do a practice run first so that you see the changing rooms and swimming pool itself before you plan to go in. This will give you a degree of comfort beforehand and allow you to tackle one new thing at a time. Head straight to the shallow end of the pool, where the water is not above chest height. This means that your feet can remain on the floor, and you will feel secure.
A swimming pool is the best environment to start with because the water is clear. Wear swimming goggles so that you don’t need to worry about water getting into your eyes. With goggles you can relax because your eyes will be open and you will be able to see around you freely.
If you can, bring a friend with you who can stand next to you whilst you do the exercises. Ideally, pick a good swimmer so that you will have confidence about their ability to help. If you can’t find a suitable individual, ask the pool manager in advance if a lifeguard can watch you so that you have that extra support.
Just take everything slowly and focus on staying calm and comfortable. There is no rush. In some sessions you might just do one exercise, and in others you may have a rush of confidence and do a couple. Just follow your own pace, and if you start to feel that you are getting stressed or anxious, then slow down. Take baby steps and don’t put yourself under pressure.
Acclimatise to Your Surroundings
The first exercises focus on gaining a degree of comfort in the water. Start by sitting on the pool edge at the shallow end and let your feet and legs dangle into the pool. Sweep them over the water and enjoy the sensation. Scoop up water and splash your face with it so you become comfortable with the sensation of contact. Try splashing your face while you hold your breath, and keep your eyes open if you are wearing goggles. Notice that the water doesn’t go into your mouth or nose and that it feels refreshing.
If you are ready to enter the pool, use the ladder or steps in the shallow end and don’t go deep. Simply enjoy walking around and experience the sensation of the flowing water around you.
If you are feeling happy, then the following stages will help you to slowly put your head under the water comfortably in the shallow part of the pool.
To do this, hold your breath and then slowly bend your knees until your mouth is just floating above water level. Test how you feel at this point. Stand up if you start to feel shaky. As you practise this and notice your reactions, see if you get comfortable enough to put your mouth just under the water. Notice what is happening to your body and the fact that no water is getting into your mouth. If the water is still, then see if you can breathe through your nose while your mouth is under the water. Experiment with your nostrils touching the water – standing up between each ‘experiment’. As you do this, you’ll be learning that as long as you hold your breath, the water can touch your nose or go into your nostrils without any discomfort.
The next step is to bend your knees and crouch again, holding your breath, so that your nose also goes under the water, and the surface of the water stops just under your eyes. Your ears will be submerged at this point – just tip your head forward a little. You’ll notice that although some water will go into your nostrils, it will never go up very far, and it won’t hurt. Hold the position if you can and count to three before you stand up again.
Try it again, and move your head backwards slightly with a tilt. Gently move downwards until both your ears and nose are under the water but your eyes are above. Again, you are holding your breath so that no water will go into your mouth and just a little will go into your nostrils. Notice how the world sounds muffled when your ears are submerged.
The last stage is to move your eyes under the water too with your swimming goggles on. This will keep the water out of your eyes. Make sure you are still standing up to relax between each set, and take everything slowly. Once you are happy to gently put your face in the water, you can look at the strange underworld around you.
As you get more confident, bob up and down gently so that you experience the sensation of your head quickly dipping in and then back out of the water. This is the feeling you will have as you learn to swim the main strokes.
Learning to Blow Bubbles
Once you are at a stage where you can comfortably put your head underwater, you should congratulate yourself for achieving a significant milestone. The next step to tackling your fear is to learn how you can exhale comfortably in the water without any risk of water entering your mouth or nose. The best way to learn this is to blow bubbles.
To do this, simply remain in the shallow end, breathe in and hold your breath. Again, bend your knees and crouch so that your mouth goes under the surface of the water, but keep your nose above it. Slowly breathe out and blow a stream of bubbles. As long as you breathe out, no water can enter your mouth – in the same way that it can’t when you are holding your breath. To breathe in, stand back up again. Repeat the exercise but go a little deeper each time until you are happy to get your head entirely under the water.
At this point, you will have achieved two significant milestones. You will have learned to be comfortable in the water, and you will have put your head under the water and learned how to exhale. These are crucial steps in learning how to swim and achieve water confidence, so you should be very pleased.
You may want to get out of the pool at this point, or you may just want to remain in the water for a while and keep enjoying the sensations but without the pressure of needing to do more development exercises. Simply being in the water and experiencing what is happening to your body is a powerful route to learning confidence in the pool, so don’t rush anything.
In the next blog, we will look at another area of swimming preparation that looks frightening but is actually a lot of fun and involves minimal effort – floating
If you have health issues and want to swim, don*t worry. Many common complaints such as asthma, verrucas and eczema can be handled effectively in the pool, and the health benefits of swimming will always be there. Here is a look at some of the most common health concerns raised by swimmers strategies to manage them.
Asthma and Swimming
Swimming actually has huge benefits for asthmatics, and many sufferers excel in the sport. The controlled breathing that is required to swim helps asthma sufferers to regulate their breath and can reduce the number of attacks. However, it is important that swimmers do have an inhaler to hand if they have been advised to use one in the event of an attack.
The condition is very common indeed and affects 1 in 7 children in the UK, along with 1 in 25 adults. However, many asthmatics do become excellent swimmers. For inspiration you only need to look at fellow sufferers such as Adrian Moorhouse, who won gold in the 100m breaststroke event in the Seoul Olympics, or Rebecca Adlington, the four-time medal winner at the London and Beijing Olympic Games.
The key is to use the medication that your doctor has advised you to use. There are two main categories: asthma relief, and prevention. Both are delivered via an inhalation mechanism and have colour coding to assist with identification.
Relievers are coloured in blue – one common one is branded as Ventolin. These act to open the user*s airways and encourage easy breathing. They tend to be used following the appearance of symptoms but can also be used in some cases to offer a brief period of protection against certain key attack triggers, including exercise.
Users swimming competitively must be very careful to stay within advised levels of maximum dosage, using the WADA guidelines accordingly. The only exception is in an emergency. High levels of use may ultimately trigger a positive result in a competition situation for doping. In a sports context, the blue inhaler can also be used for preventative purposes if the user feels that training may lead to an attack. Ideally, this should be taken around 15 minutes before the start of training – for example, when arriving at the pool. The effects last two to three hours, so repeated use within a training session shouldn*t be necessary.
These products can effectively prevent the occurrence of an asthma attack by protecting the delicate airway lining and preventing it from narrowing. There are two primary types of product in this category. Inhalers based on steroids, such as beclomethasone (marketed as Becotide) are coloured brown. Cell membrane stabilisers using sodium cromoglyclate (marketed as Intal) are coloured white.
These products are not suitable for treating an asthma attack, as they will not provide immediate relief. With regular use, they can take up to 14 days for their effects to kick in. If the condition is triggered through an allergy, sodium cromoglycate is a useful product, and some doctors may also prescribe additional oral tablets or long-acting inhaler products as a back-up control measure.
To treat asthma, the British Thoracic Association sets the standard, and it offers a guideline plan to manage the condition. This essentially involves moving up different treatment levels until control is attained. The user is encouraged to step down a level if their symptoms are successfully brought under control, and over-treatment is cautioned against.
To test the medication you take, and its status within anti-doping regulations, a good resource to visit is www.globaldro.com
Remember too that the breathing taught in swimming will offer excellent preventative and management strategies for those who struggle with asthma, helping swimmers to stay in control of their breathing and manage it calmly and in a controlled manner.
Protecting the Skin
Prolonged periods of time in the pool can dry even the healthiest skin due to high chlorine levels. This can lead to itchiness, red patches and even eczema, particularly for those with allergies. Some people, including swimming legend Ian Thorpe, are allergic to chlorine and must take special care with their skin regime. Happily, there are several practical steps that you can take to enjoy healthy skin in the pool.
Firstly, remember that dehydration is a key cause of skim damage, especially when chlorine is present. You can prevent this by drinking water regularly before, during and after your training session. The easiest way to assess your hydration level is to check your urine. It should never be a darker colour than light yellow. Don*t overload your system with periodic influxes of high-volume hydration. Instead, drink little and often, and carry water with you. Some swimmers also like to use sports drinks, but your body simply needs water from a hydration perspective (and many commercial preparations offering high energy and performance boosts are simply full of sugar and caffeine).
After you swim, take a good long shower to make sure your skin is completely clean and that no chlorine is present on the surface. Also wash your swimming costume thoroughly after your session – this will prevent rashes and help your costume to last for as long as possible too.
Pay careful attention to any areas of rubbing and chafing – around costume edges particularly. If you find any, protect them with a good layer of Vaseline, or they will become susceptible to further damage.
You may also want to look around at different pools to find if some suit your skin more than others. Chlorine concentrations do differ, and some pools are even based on ‘Ozone’ systems, which have very tiny proportions of the chemical compared to standard pools.
Use a good-quality emollient on your skin to keep it soft, conditioned and hydrated. This needn*t be expensive – E45 or an Aqueous cream will do the trick. Other good brands include Dermol lotion, and your pharmacist may be able to recommend others as needed. Simply apply a liberal layer after your swimming session, and repeat this as often as needed. Rub it in well and allow the lotion to absorb into your skin before you dress. Just be careful with creams made from Lanolin, as some people do have allergies to them. If your skin is very dry and suffering from eczema, speak to your chemist about buying a preparation made from 0.5pc hydrocortisone. This will make a rapid difference. If problems still persist, go and see your doctor.
Dealing with Verrucas
Most swimmers will have had a verruca at least once in their life, and children seem to be the most prone to picking them up in leisure centre pools. They are essentially warts on the feet, and they are a real nuisance. They are highly infectious and painful, and a lot of effort has been put into trying to rid swimming pools of verrucas, but to little avail. Most pool managers and coaches view them as being a nuisance only. Like most types of wart, a verruca is simply a viral infection that affects the different layers of growing skin. the feet can be protected by using a latex swim sock. The virus attacks where the skin is damaged, which explains why children are more susceptible due to their developing immune systems and tendency to have small cuts and grazes on their feet, hands and knees. Skin on the feet is easily damaged when wet, especially when walking over foot mats.
Most people gain immunity in time, as with most viruses. Usually, by the time a swimmer is a teenager, he or she will no longer be getting verrucas. Some immunity may also be affected by hormonal control.
Most skincare specialists and dermatologists prefer not to treat these plantar warts, as they are also known. Many believe that there is an advantage in allowing children to get verrucas so that they gain immunity. This is why children are generally no longer encouraged to wear plastic socks at the pool or elasticated knee bandages. A waterproof plaster is generally felt to be sufficient
Most enlightened swimming professionals also are happy to allow children with plantar warts to continue with their swimming practice and other barefoot activities, knowing that the benefits of physical exercise and sport far outweigh the irritation of having a verruca.
There are some cases where it is worth treating a plantar virus, but this is only when pain or tenderness on the sole of the foot becomes intolerable. This is usually because the wart has an accumulation of hard skin around it. A simple pumice stone can help to treat this problem. Most expensive wart treatments on chemists’ shelves should be avoided, as they don*t work to any real degree. Warts do eventually disappear, and they cause no harm. If a doctor does assess a nasty verruca and problems with it that do require treatment, curettage is offered under local anaesthetic. This is only for a very small number of nasty cases, however. The vast majority of cases can and should be left alone.
In conclusion, there is no reason to let your swimming dreams fade away if you experience these common problems. With a strategy to manage them and conversations with people that need to know about your condition, particularly your swimming coach, you can enjoy your sessions in the pool and greatly improve your health and well-being in the process.
If you’re interested in swimming competitively, there’s bound to be something for you or for your child, if your little one is showing excellent promise. From grass-roots and fun competitions with an emphasis on community and participation to the upper echelons of achievement and the Olympic programme, there’s something for everyone to aspire to.
Swimming competitions basically fall into two main categories – short course competitions and long course.
The latter are held in a full-size 50-metre pool – the type you see at major sporting events. Short course events are held in the standard 25-metre pool that most people will be used to from their local leisure centre. The Olympic events are held in the full-size 50-metre pools, but some international competitions are also held in 25-metre pools, so it depends on the event.
The primary difference for the competing swimmer is that he or she will need to carry out more turns in short course events and can generate greater momentum during the race from the power-off move from the pool’s wall.
Events to Suit Each Athlete
Swimming competition programmes will include a range of events in each of the strokes – freestyle, butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke – in distances of between 50 metres and 200 metres. The freestyle also has a 400 metre event as well as a long-distance freestyle, which is 800 metres for women, and 1,500 metres for men.
There are also individual medley events for women and men which see competitors use each stroke for different lengths. Relay races are also included as a team event, covering 4 x 100 metres, 4 x 200 metres and 4 x 50 metres in short course competitions.
The UK competes in a variety of competitions annually. The main long course events are usually held in the summer, and the primary short course events tend to be held at the end of the year. Most swimmers will find plenty of national events to fill a season, with the primary event for seniors being the British Swimming Championships. For junior swimmers, the two highest events to aim for are the ASA Summer National Championships and the British Summer Nationals.
There is also an outdoor swimming discipline which became more high-profile after a 10-kilometre race featured in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. These marathon races can be held in any sizeable body of outdoor water, such as lakes, seas, canals, rivers and reservoirs. Most events will vary in duration from just one kilometre to an incredible 80 kilometres. However, at top competition level, the usual distances are 5 kilometres, 10 kilometres and 25 kilometres.
Although there have been marathon swim races throughout history, the world’s swimming governance authority, FINA, didn’t recognise it as a formal competitive sport until 1986, and at this point the events were added to the official international swimming competition calendar.
The Beijing 2008 Olympics saw a 10-kilometre race taking place, with Team GB taking half of the medals available. It’s interesting to note, however, that records for marathon swimming are not held by FINA because of the variations in venues, which include water temperature and conditions along with the weather.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.