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Introduction to Swimming

Swimming is one of the all-around best activities you can do for your body. It works all the major muscle groups, gets your heart pumping, and puts little pressure on your knees and joints. Swimming is great for people of all ages. Swimming is often used as a rehabilitation therapy, because the water supports your body, placing very little stress on your joints and bones.

Competitive swimming started in Europe around the 1800s, mostly using breaststroke. The crawl, or freestyle, stroke was introduced in 1873 and swimming entered the Olympic games in Athens in 1896. Today, there are four main types of stroke used in the Olympics, butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. The other types of stroke commonly used in recreational swimming are the side stroke, and of course, the beloved dog paddle.

Gear

One of the nice things about swimming is you don't need much special gear, just a swimsuit and a pair of goggles (and of course, a swimming pool or body of water). If you're serious about swimming, you may want to get a competitive, skin tight swimsuit, as opposed to wearing loose fitting shorts that can produce drag and slow you down. You also may want to wear a swim cap to make you more streamlined in the water, and in some cases, keep your hair dry.

If you're swimming in open water, especially water colder than 65 degrees, you'll likely want to wear a wetsuit, and potentially an extra swim cap, or a neoprene skull cap to keep your head warm. The wetsuit will provide additional buoyancy, making it easier to swim in a streamlined position.

Technique

Your technique is probably the most important thing about swimming, because it will impact the efficiency with which you move through the water. There are tons of tons of books written on swim technique. If you're serious about improving your technique, take a lesson. There's no substitute to having someone demonstrate proper technique and point out your mistakes. One of the most important things to think about in improving your technique is body position. Your body should be streamlined (with your body in a flat, straight line from head to toe) and at the surface of the water. This will determine how much resistance you create as you move through the water. A strong scissor kick will help keep your body streamlined. Most of the power in your stroke comes from your arms. Make sure to keep your fingers together and use your entire arm, not just your hands, to generate power as you move through the water. Your swimming should be rhythmic- imagine climbing up a ladder one arm at a time. You should be pulling the water past you with each stroke in the same way that you move your body past each rung on the ladder. A good way to think about improving your technique is working to maximize your distance per stroke. You should be working to get the most out of each and every stroke. Count the number of strokes it takes you to get from one side of the pool to the other. The lower that number, the better.

Benefits

Swimming has a number of benefits - it's fun, a great workout, relieves stress and builds endurance and strength. Swimming regularly is an excellent way to keep your heart and lungs healthy, and reduce your stress. Swimming can also improve your posture and help you develop a strong, lean physique.