Swimming 101

Expert tips to get started in swimming -- and maybe never stop.
Swimming 101

Where to Swim
The beach is great if you're not daunted by waves, currents or rip tides. If you're more comfortable in a controlled environment, opt for an indoor or outdoor pool. "The disadvantage of the surf is that often, after rain, storm water overflows into the ocean, increasing toxin levels and making you susceptible to ear infections," says Hodge.

If you're a confident swimmer, dive into a 50-meter, Olympic-sized swimming pool, where you can establish a rhythm without having to turn around as much.

When to Swim
"An invigorating, early-morning swim followed by breakfast is healthy and refreshing," says Hodge, "And it sets you up for the rest of the day." An after-work swim is a great way to release pent-up energy after eight hours behind a desk. If you're hitting the beach, be careful about choppy waves or the high-noon sun, unless you're slathered in waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

How Long and Hard to Swim
Start with 20 minutes, says personal trainer Christina Cestaro, and see how many laps you can do in that time. "If you can do 10, next time see if you can build it up to 11." Use the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) to set your pace. You'll know you're burning calories when you would describe yourself as working "somewhat hard" and you can talk but not sing. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend in the pool.

Who Is It Good For?
If your goal is overall fitness, lap swimming burns calories and develops muscle tone. It's also great for those wanting to strengthen specific muscle groups. Some teachers advise wearing flippers, goggles and a snorkel so you're not twisting your spine by lifting your head, or putting pressure on your lower back through incorrect breathing.

Beginners who join a class aren't as self-conscious because they can measure their progress against others at their level. Swimming is ideal for the overweight, adds Cestaro, because you're not putting impact on joints, and you're raising your heart rate in a cool environment. It beats sweaty pounding on concrete!

What to Wear
"Wear something comfortable and snug," advises Cestaro. "Bikinis are out, but one-piece Lycra suits are perfect." Swimmers with long hair should don a cap; goggles are great if your eyes are easily irritated by chlorine. When it comes to men's apparel, nothing beats the brief. Cestaro gives the thumbs down to board shorts. "They give too much resistance in the water. Wearing loose clothing means you're dragging, expending a lot more energy."

Technique Tips

  • Swimmers with a weak kick should wear flippers to increase their propulsion in the water.

  • Kick from the hips, not the knees; it propels you further.

  • Don't take in gulps of air. You only need enough for three strokes, or two or three seconds. Over-breathing can cause you to hyperventilate or become dizzy.

  • Don't exhale and inhale in the same movement when you come up for air. It ruins your rhythm. Let it out in one big blow or gradually ("trickle-breathing") while your face is underwater.

  • Minimize your splash. A good stroke should "slice" into the water.