Considering a triathlon

I love my swimming, and recently I’ve been considering branching out on the sporting front and having a go at a triathlon. Swim, cycle, run for varying distances depending on how hard core you want to be; I’d be starting small, if I do indeed start.

There is more equipment required for a triathlon that a simple swimming competition; obviously a bike is needed but you also have to have a helmet, and shoes, and some kind of outfit that lets you swim, then cycle then run without chafing when you are still wet from the swim. There are a lot of choices to be made, and apparently the right bike is important; so I borrowed one from a friend to give cycling a go. I’ve not been out on a bike for many years, and had fond memories of freewheeling down hills with the wind in my hair; these are now shattered by the need for a helmet, inconsiderate drivers and all the hills I seemed to come to being ones that went up.  Cycling has changed!

I calmed down a little and gave it another go; cycling along a local tow path this time which was much more relaxing and actually enjoyable; however I think I’ll be giving the triathlon a miss, at least for now. I haven’t even tried the running as yet, but have a feeling I’ll like it less that the road cycling. I think I’ll stick to the swimming and probably get myself a bike for purely leisurely purposes, a gentle pedal along the canal to the pub and back is the perfect pastime on a sunny Sunday, and ideal for dog walking too.

Should swimming be taught to kids in school?

swimming poolThe short answer to this in my opinion is yes, it should.  There are loads of benefits to learning to swim, not just the exercise but also the confidence and safety aspects.

  • Safety first.  Being able to swim is an obvious benefit safety-wise in a number of situations. Slipping and falling into a lake, river or canal is a possibility for anyone; especially kids playing around near water, and the ability to swim can save their life or that of a friend who needs help. Holidays abroad, where there is no lifeguard at many pools, will be less stressful for parents who know that their kids can swim.
  • Exercise.  With kids in the UK becoming more unfit and overweight all the time, teaching them to swim could really help this problem as swimming is good cardiovascular exercise, as well as being safe for growing children as it doesn’t put stress on their joints.  Swimming is a fun activity and kids can take up all kinds of water based sports which also extends the range of exercise that they can get involved in, thus helping with weight and fitness issues.
  • Self-confidence.  Being able to swim can really help a child’s confidence; it is a skill that they have and they will feel happier and safer around water.  It is also a fun activity for all the family, and can lead to all kinds of activities.  Everyone is good at something and the more opportunities you have to try different things out as a child, the more chance you will find your niche as you grow up.

Swimming is a great activity.  I take my niece and nephew along as often as I can and we always have a great time, both at the big activity pools and at a local swimming pool.  That’s another advantage.  Swimming is a really cheap activity as most areas have a local pool supported by the council that will offer either free or reduced entrance fees to local residents.  The advantages of swimming for children and adults is huge, so it is definitely a skill that should be taught in school, but until it is, take your kids along for a swim and get them started on the right track.

Benefits of swimming

swimmingI am a huge swimming fan, as regular readers will know by now, and I don’t mean as a spectator sport.  I am an active swimmer and if I could get into the water every day, I would.  There are many benefits to swimming that people looking to take up a regular form of exercise should bear in mind.  The following points are just some of the benefits:

  • Unlike other forms of aerobic exercise, swimming offers a vigorous workout without a detrimental effect on the skeletal system.  In the water, the human body is lighter, so a swimming pool is a great place for exercising tired and sore joints and muscles.  Indeed, swimming is recommended as a form of exercise for those suffering from arthritis.  The lightness of the body in the pool also makes swimming a great workout for the overweight.
  • For boosting muscular strength and muscle tone, swimming is a great form of exercise.  As the swimmer moves through the water, they are engaged in what is known as a resistance exercise.  This is because water is around twelve times denser than air.  Resistance exercises are the optimum way of increasing muscle strength.
  • Compared to the type of exercise machines found in a gym, swimming offers a more rounded exercise regime because the body undertakes a broader range of motions that help to increase flexibility in the joints and ligaments.
  • Swimming has a positive effect on the heart.  As a form of aerobic exercise, swimming strengthens the heart and helps boost its pumping function, resulting in increased blood flow in the body.
  • With the country in the midst of an obesity crisis, it is worth pointing out that swimming is one of the best ways to burn off those extra calories.  It is a great way of keeping weight down.  A good way to increase the number of calories burnt in the pool is to structure a session so that you are swimming at your hardest for short intervals, followed by a period of seconds for recovery.

More people need to swim!

As you’ll doubtless already know if you’ve paid the slightest attention to the rest of my blog, I love swimming. I’d swim every day without fail if I could find the time.

I’ve tried other forms of exercise, but none of them do it for me. Spinning classes are the closest thing to torture I’ve ever experienced, and I find jogging painfully dull. Swimming gives you a full workout, but feels less excruciating than other forms of exercise. It uses muscles all over the body, and is actually quite relaxing once you’ve found your rhythm. Simply put, swimming is a great way to unwind while also burning a huge number of calories

We get it – you like swimming, Steve. Well yes, but I do have another point to make. Our country is in the grip of an obesity crisis. People are eating more and doing less. This sharp rise in obesity is causing health issues on a scale never seen before. It’s also draining an increasingly large amount of money each year.

The government needs to do more to encourage people to lose weight and be healthier. The other option is to run up even more debts down the line caring for people and funding operations. I’m always amazed when I visit the leisure centre and see how few people there are in the pool. I should also say that my local swimming pool shut down two years ago as a result of a lack of funding.

Surely public money would be well spent offering free swimming programmes and keeping leisure centres open? It may be expensive in the short term, but it will be nothing compared to the long-term costs to the country of inaction.

People often need to be pushed into doing exercise, but many don’t realise how enjoyable swimming can be.

I don’t know if throwing more money at the problem is the solution, but it’s about time a government actually faced up to this ticking time bomb of an issue.

Five easy things you can do right now to become a better swimmer

Want to be a better swimmer?  Of course, it takes practice, ideally with a knowledgeable and inspiring coach, but sometimes we can make little tweaks that make a big difference to our swimming.  Here are the top five tweaks that have helped me improve my swimming.  You can apply them today to your swimming, and you should see a difference pretty quickly:

Warm up

Warming up properly helps me get better results from my exercise.  I also use the swim warm-up to go slowly and focus on my stroke in order to perfect my technique.  I’ve found that it’s better to work on my technique now, before my muscles become tired and before I become mentally tired from the workout.

Enter the water

Whether I jump in or dive in, I try to make it pretty by pointing my toes, streamlining my body and minimising the splash.  I aim to make a tiny little entry hole and slip through it, into the water.  This gives me a faster, cleaner start to my swim.

Push off

When turning at the end of a lane, an effective push off provides more speed that lasts for a longer period of time.  I practise my push offs and try to push off properly every time I turn.  How do I do it?  I bend my knees at a right angle and set my feet about 20 inches below the water’s surface.  I line up my hips and shoulders toward the opposite wall, streamline my body, and then push with plenty of power.  I enjoy the glide as long as possible – no one can kick as fast as they can push off, so I try to get the most out of it.

Breathe right

Yes, we all need to breathe, and we all generally know how, but solid breathing technique keeps my oxygen levels high, which enhances my speed and endurance.  When I inhale, I take a good breath.  Next, I let just a little air out right away, and then gradually release the rest with a regular rhythm.  This allows me to maximise my oxygen intake and relieves the pressure of needing to exhale now.

Stretch

Stretching keeps me flexible, which helps me move more easily, recover more quickly from workouts and prevent injury.  A qualified swim coach was instrumental in teaching me how to stretch correctly, but to get the most benefit, I have to do these stretches regularly and correctly.

There you go – five things that, based on my experiences, you can apply right away to your swimming regimen to help you improve as a swimmer.  I’ve found that what I put in is what I get out, and I get better results when I just jump in and do it (pun intended)!

How to start your swim routine

I fully admit that I’m biased, but swimming is a great way to stay in shape.  It works so many muscle groups in just this one activity, and being in the water feels so relaxing.  As a low-impact form of exercise, almost anyone can swim or enjoy similar exercises in a pool.  And it relieves pressure on stressed-out joints like the knees, not to mention overall stress levels.  Many people have also successfully lost weight and developed a slimmer profile from combining a strong swimming routine with a well-balanced, nutritious diet.  For me, swimming regularly and eating a healthy diet has helped maintain a fit figure and a clean bill of health.

If you’re wondering how to start a swim routine, here are a few ideas that helped me when I first began:

  • Consult your GP before you start.  He’ll let you know if there any limitations you should keep in mind. If you have a bad shoulder, for instance, then the butterfly stroke is probably a poor choice for you.  If you’ve lived a sedentary lifestyle for a long time, he may also want to monitor your physical condition closely to avoid overworking and harming your body.  Mine gave me the go-ahead but wanted me to see him right away if I experienced any injuries or excessive soreness.
  • Start slowly.  Build up gradually.  When I’m not training for competition, how long I swim is more important than how far or fast I swim.  This is true, too, if you’re not looking to lose much weight.
  • Check your heart rate from time to time while you’re exercising.  This helps me make sure I don’t go over my maximum heart rate.  To calculate yours, subtract your age from 220.  I measure my heart rate during swim rests.  While looking at a clock with a second hand, I count my heartbeats for 15 seconds, and then multiply by four to get the heart rate per minute.
  • Add some variety to your routine by changing up the strokes, swimming time and rest time.
  • Don’t try to swim fast if you don’t want to, or don’t feel confident about doing so.  When I choose a pace that’s comfortable and enjoyable, it’s a lot easier to keep up the swimming habit.  If I can’t swim fast, like when I’m recovering from a cold, then I try to avoid entering a lane with fast swimmers.
  • If you can find a partner to swim with, then you each have someone who will hold you accountable and help you stick to your new resolution to swim regularly.  As I’ve found, it’s also often more fun to be with somebody than to always swim by yourself.