How to get over your fear of swimming
We tackle every excuse in the book. Take the plunge!
Know how you can make your favourite workout even better? Do it underwater. “You can kick higher, stretch further and since you’re working against both the resistance of gravity as well as water, your exercise becomes even more effective,” says Sucheta Pal, who conducts Aqua Zumba classes in cities across India. “The water provides a cushioning effect to your body, making it easier to push yourself.”
The pool is also a more inclusive place than say, the track: people with joint problems, arthritis and bone injuries can all get a good workout in here. “The physical properties of water, its viscosity and buoyancy, gives you a sense of weightlessness and removes the biggest limiting factor that manifests on land: pain,” says Dr Charu Eapen, associate professor at Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore. Chances are, though, that you already know swimming is good for you. No one who’s ever seen a topless picture of Milind Soman can possibly doubt that. So what’s keeping you from diving right in?
“I can’t swim.”
What if we said you could get your exercise in the pool and keep your hair dry and makeup on? Alternatives abound. Deepali Jain, who offers a variety of aerobics training classes in swimming pools, tells students they can come to her class with makeup on because the water stays below chest level. She’s says once they gain confidence in water, they’re swimming like fish in no time.
If you prefer to do laps, there are places you can learn and from the very best. The most prolific Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, and his trainers have designed a swimming program that’s been brought to India through Waveline Sports and is available in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Panjim and Jaipur. Aquatic director of the Michael Phelps program, Yusuf Chudesra, says, “Most people are hesitant to learn because they’re afraid of drowning, or of the humiliation of having to begin alongside young children. But this is deeply psychological and can be corrected with an encouraging coach.”
His oldest student is an 87 year-old woman, who joins her grandchildren in the pool, in her full-body swimsuit. “Give yourself time,” he says. “A 45-minute session burns about 790 calories and if you are not very fit, or if your posture is wrong, this can cause body aches.” So find a qualified coach and keep at it. It takes three to four weeks of daily practice to become a confident swimmer.
“I hate how I look in a swimsuit.”
“I tell my clients, I don’t want perfect bodies in my class!” says Pal. With every class, she finds that her students gain a new acceptance for their bodies, which is not surprising. Exercise has a powerful effect on body image. In fact, a University of Florida study has shown that working out can make you feel good about yourself, regardless of whether you reach any physical milestone at all. If you are still self-conscious, some increased coverage can take care of that. (PS: Here’s a guide to finding a swimsuit that’s perfect for your body.) For other non-swimming workouts, like aqua aerobics and Aqua Zumba, tights or full-length wetsuits are actually recommended. Jain explains why, “The added pressure helps improve muscle tone. Over time, my students see the difference between the areas left bare and those covered by the swimming tights.” “You can wear tights below your onesies,” says Mélanie Mary, 19, a regional-level swimmer from Kochi. “But you’ll soon figure out this slows you down, and that’ll take precedence over your body issues.” (Convinced? Good. Find the perfect swimsuit for summer here, and if you’re still into onesies we’ve got you covered too.)
“Isn’t chlorine bad for me?”
The chlorine doesn’t mess up your hair as much as the chloramines (chlorine-and-yuck compounds) do. The instructors we spoke to maintained that swimming for extended periods of time indeed does cause some damage, but an hour or so won’t hurt. Swimmers and trainers, however, follow a few skin and hair care routines to minimise damage. The chlorine and disinfecting chemicals in pool water tend to dry out your hair, which can lead to hair fall. To avoid this, wet your hair with non-chlorinated water before bundling it beneath a good swimming cap. Oil it lightly when you’re not swimming time to prevent it from drying out. After a swim, soap and rinse your body thoroughly as residual chlorine can intensify your tan, says Chudesra. He points out that swimmers are also prone to sinus problems and bouts of the flu. He reduces the chances of that by not going to sleep right after a swim, and by avoiding eating yoghurt just before and after a session.
“I’m not sure if the pool is clean.”
Public pools are crowded and clean, private ones are expensive. There isn’t much we can do about the problem, but some rules of thumb will help you make better choices. Whether you’re going to a small, upmarket swim club or to a public, Olympic-sized one, here’s what to check for before you sign up.
1. Check that the water is blue, clean and clear enough to see the drain and the stripes on the bottom. The water should be constantly lapping over the grills at the sides to be filtered.
2. The sides of the pool should be smooth, not slippery or sticky. Scoop some water in your hands, it shouldn’t “stick”.
3. Sniff the air. A light, chlorine-like smell is fine, but if the odour is strangely pungent, walk away. That could be chloramines you’re smelling, the compounds of chlorine, lotions, sweat and—brace yourself—bodily fluids, urine, saliva and faeces. These are what cause red eye, hair fall and diarrhoea.
4. While getting a membership, ask the maintenance staff questions about how often the pool water is tested for pH levels and chlorine concentration. These should be monitored regularly to prevent skin irritation and infection.
*If you’re lucky enough to have access to a lake and or any safe shoreline, you’re better off getting your exercise here than in a pool because natural water bodies are self-cleaning.
“But it’s such a pain!”
Most other cardio workouts, like running, are as easy as lace up and go, without the tedious pre-shower, post-shower and the skin-and-hair care routines. But here’s the thing: unlike running, which is a high-impact cardio exercise that can tire your joints, swimming is a full-body workout that places zero stress on your bones and muscles. As you grapple with the density of water, swimming gives you a solid resistance workout that keeps fat burning long after you’re done. Swimmers burn a whopping 25 per cent more calories than runners do.
Besides, it’s too hot to run anyway.