Jump In, The Water’s Fine: Why You Should Try Swimming

By Lisa Rhea


Swimming burns the same number of calories as running, without the high impact.

As I discussed in my last post, I’m now training for triathlons, namely an Ironman 70.3 in a year, and recently learned how to swim. I’ve started to swim numerous times a week and absolutely love it. So like any fitness endeavor I fall in love with, I want to convince everyone to do it too.

Just like I attempt to get everyone I know to run races with me, I’m now on a mission to make everyone a swimmer. It really is a great form of exercise if you haven’t tried it.

Swimming is a full body workout that is easy on the joints and can be gentle or challenging. It’s one of the most versatile forms of cardiovascular exercise. And it’s effective – swimming laps burns as many calories as running.

Still unsure? Let me first dispel your fears about swimming, then I’ll get into the basics and gear.

Me in a Swimsuit? Um, no.

You’d love to swim, but you hate wearing a swimsuit, right? Well, here’s what I have to say about the first and foremost complaint about swimming – no one ever sees you in it!

When you’re swimming laps, you are literally exposed to the pool public for less than a minute. You walk from the locker room to the pool wearing your towel. You take off your towel near your lane. You get in the pool. Whallah. You are in the water and no one sees you. Then you get out and grab your towel.

Swimming is honestly one of the best exercise methods for the self-conscious. There’s no huffing and puffing in front of the cardio room audience. There’s no one watching you in the mirror in the weight room. The only one who may actually be paying attention to your swimming is the lifeguard, and that’s a good thing!

But I Don’t Know How to Swim.

First, you don’t have to look pretty to get a good workout, but if you’re really at a loss on how to cover the distance from one side of the pool to the other, you have a couple of options.

First, there’s YouTube. You can learn how to do almost anything on YouTube, and there are a ton of great videos out there to learn various swim strokes.

Second, the YMCA offers adult swim lessons. If you want to really know what you’re doing, don’t be afraid to seek out lessons. They teach adult students at all levels – from absolute beginners to those wanting to improve to be a faster swimmer.

But let me reiterate – if you want to be a good swimmer, form matters. If you just want a good workout, it’s less important.

I’ve Never Swam Laps Before – I Don’t Know Where to Start.

This is something I will say held me back. I didn’t really know where to begin. There are so many lanes – how will I know which ones are open? And what is the etiquette? I don’t want to look like an idiot… Well, I just learned all of this, so let me pass this on to you.


Learning how the lap system works is important.

First, the lanes. Usually, if a lane is set aside for something special, it will be denoted by signs. If it’s open swimming, it won’t be marked. The pool should have a schedule, but they can be confusing. If you have any concerns, just ask the lifeguard. They will quickly tell you which lanes are open.

But what do you do if a lane is taken? This also scared me. The lanes always seem busy, what do you do then? There’s lane sharing and circle swimming.

If there are two people swimming, they share the lane, swimming on their respective side back and forth. The lanes are wide enough to share. To be polite, simply wait at the end of the lane until the swimmer currently in the lane approaches. Make some contact, if possible, to alert them of your desire to share the lane. Pool rules require them to let you in.

What if all the lanes have two people in them? Now you need to watch the lanes to see which swimmers seem to be on par with your speed. Then signify your interest in joining their lane. At this point you will begin swimming in counter clockwise circles. Swim down on the right and back on the left.

If all this sharing makes you nervous, ask the lifeguards or pool managers what the off-peak hours are. If you can find avoid busy hours, you’re less likely to have to worry about sharing your lane.

What’s With the Speedos, Caps and Goggles?

So like with any fitness activity, learning the gear can help ease some discomfort. If you’re swimming for exercise, you only need three things – a suit, goggles and a swim cap (optional). Let’s explore each of these.

Women, look for a good one-piece swimsuit. Sure, you can wear a bikini, but you’re going to find that it’s not going to be the most comfortable thing. A one-piece will have you spending more time swimming and less adjusting and rearranging. I really like TYR suits and you can find them online for around $35.

Men, any swim trunks will work. Seriously – you don’t need a Speedo. Promise. Please, don’t wear one. We beg of you. If you must, spandex shorts will work.

The little cap is pretty important if you have long hair.

The little cap is pretty important if you have long hair.

Goggles are very important for swimming and make it so much easier. Keep the chlorine or salt water out of your eyes. You can find a good pair online for around $10. Depending on the stroke you’re wanting to swim, it can be nearly impossible to swim without them.

The hair cap confused me at first. I actually thought it was supposed to keep your hair dry. Yeah, I had no clue. The point of the cap is to keep you hair from getting everywhere and keeping you sleeker in the pool. If you have long hair, you’re going to want one. There are two types – silicone and spandex. Silicone is sleeker, but spandex is much easier on your hair. I personally prefer spandex for my everyday swimming. Again, easily found on amazon.com.

Putting It All Together

Now you have the gear, you’ve grabbed a lane at the local pool, so now what? Well, swim! Whatever stroke you want to do, start by going one lap at a time. Stop at the end and take a breather. And repeat. It’s that simple!

Once you have that down, you can start by swimming longer – say two laps at a time, then three, then four, etc. There are numerous sources for different workouts, if you want to shake it up. I usually pick a time goal or a distance goal for each swim.

I hope this post will help give you the push to check out swimming. Maybe it’s not your thing, or maybe it will be that form of exercise that just hits you the right way and reignites your fitness flame.

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