So You Want to Be a Swimmer

Swimming is something that I love. I love everything about it. I always have. As a kid I was a total water baby. I excelled at swimming lessons, I was briefly on a swim team at the local pool. I even did synchronized swimming.


As a kid some of my fondest memories have been in the water: swimming in Blue Lake in Eastern Washington…the cool lake water, feeling the seaweed on my feet and the sand between my toes.

North Santiam River

Or swimming in the North Santiam River every summer at my aunt’s house.  The trek from her farmhouse down the several mile trail through the woods to get to the river…being hot and sweaty and ready to jump in feet first; the feel of the river rocks under my feet…Most of my happy memories are around water, come to think of it.

At "The River"

Swimming is something I recommend to everyone who asks me how to lose weight. I understand it’s not for everyone. Some people are just not natural swimmers, and some people simply do not like the water. I understand that. But if there’s any part of you that ever enjoyed swimming I really suggest trying it for fitness. It’s something FUN that doesn’t necessarily feel like a workout.

Swimming is full of good things and maybe some not so great things.  A few things you should be prepared for.

It’s Addicting.

Be prepared! Once you start swimming and get good at it, you’ll love it. There is something relaxing and meditative about swimming laps. For me it’s time to get in a workout at the same time as I relax and think about things that are going on. Once you get to a point when swimming isn’t a struggle, you can lose yourself in the silence of the water, lose yourself in the repetition of the down and back pattern.

It’s Great Fitness

Swimming works your whole body. It increases your stamina, breath, builds muscle, burns fat, improves the way your heart and cardiovascular system works and relaxes you at the same time. It’s a great exercise for people with joint pain, back problems, injuries, and people who are too obese to do other activities. At 250 pounds the idea of starting a running program never crossed my mind–swimming, on the other hand, was the first thing I thought of. Not only is it healthy and fun, I’m weightless in the water! I’ve also read that it’s a great activity for pregnant women but that’s not something I know much about.

Swimming is the perfect form of exercise. Period.

Weight Loss Will Happen

The weight started melting off my body as I started my swimming program. It was only 2-3 days a week for less than 45 minutes at a time and I was losing about 6-10 pounds a month because of it.

50 Pounds Gone

 

If I had to break it down, I’d say that I lost 60 pounds solely from swimming. It wasn’t until I lost that weight that I started doing other things: the elliptical, the treadmill, etc.

Body Changes Will Happen

I wasn’t prepared for the changes that my body would go through when I started swimming to lose weight. Sure I started to see progress, 10 pounds gone, then 20 pounds…and so on. It wasn’t until I got closer to my goal weight that my body truly transformed. What I noticed the most were my shoulders. Who knew I even had such broad shoulders? I never did before. But swimming laps transformed my body into a V shape. It’s very common for swimmers to develop this shape: the broad shoulders, the really narrow waist.


The reason behind this is because when it comes to swimming the part of your body that does the most work is your shoulders, arms and back. Yes I kick my feet as I swim but it’s not much. The act of your shoulders and arms pulling your body through the water will develop muscles you never knew you had.


That’s not the best picture to illustrate how my body changed but it gives you a good idea.

And Now the Not Great Stuff to Consider:

Itchy Skin

The one drawback to swimming is the chlorine. I always smell like chlorine. 🙂 In fact if I run the day after I swim I sweat chlorine. Chlorine is a necessary evil. Sure it smells bad to some people (I love the smell) but it really is a good thing. I’d much rather have the pool chlorinated and killing icky germs than not. If you can find a salt water pool I recommend that. It’s a different experience in salt water–not only is it less drying on the skin and hair, plus it’s easier to swim in salt water! Salt water is denser and more buoyant so less of your energy is expended keeping afloat and more is used to propel you along. The good thing about swimming in a chlorine pool though is that you get a better workout as a result of having to work harder.

Chlorine is very drying. My skin is pretty itchy as a result of it. There are lots of tricks to get over this.

I live by Vitamin E Oil.


First, I shower immediately after swimming and I use a body wash that will alleviate itchy, dry skin. Oatmeal and Shea Butter are good options, Vitamin E Body Wash, and Aveeno are excellent. After I dry off I slather myself with Vitamin E oil and often use additional dry skin lotions or body butters.

Drinking a lot of water also helps replenish my body. At the end of the day I also use lotion again. As you can see I obviously buy my moisturizer at Costco.

Dry Hair

Chlorinated pools can dry out your hair too. I have a few tricks up my sleeve for that. First, I often work in Vitamin E oil or Conditioner into my hair, or at the very least the ends of my hair, before I put on my swimming cap. This helps a lot. You can also get your hair wet before putting on the swim cap. The hair follicles soak up the water and expand and they don’t soak up as much chlorine. Noticing a theme? Swimming Caps! My hair always gets wet even if I wear a cap but it helps a lot.


Another tip is to use special swimmer’s shampoo and conditioner.  I used Ultra Swimmer. It runs about $5 a bottle at Fred Meyer. I don’t use it anymore because I switched to a salt water pool and didn’t have the same issues with my hair drying out. The gym changed from salt water back to chlorine but it’s not as strong as the community pool I used before.

Avoid blow drying your hair. I’ve never been much for blow-drying. I prefer to let my hair dry naturally. Not only is my hair curly and it tends to frizz if I do, it’s just healthier than blow-drying.

 

Now for the links!

Swimming Tips for Beginners

Lap Swimming Etiquette

How to Swim Breastroke

How to Swim Freestyle

Benefits of Swimming

QUESTION: Have any of my posts inspired anyone to try swimming? What are your favorite childhood memories?

 

20 Responses

  1. It is so interesting to me to read about what others love to do. I don’t care much for swimming. I like to paddle about a bit, but when I did my triathlon in 2009, I hated the swim and the swim practice LOL! That’s why I switched over to duathlons – no swim 😀

    1. It’s definitely not for everyone! And if I did a triathlon (which at one point I REALLY wanted to do–pre-running injury) the swimming part is where I’d excel. And it would definitely be my favorite part of training. 🙂

  2. I would love to learn to REALLY swim. I can swim, but not well, and the breathing part always messes me up. There is a huge pool at my gym, and they offer adult swimming lessons, but, I’ve always been too chicken to take one. It’s one of my goals but I keep putting it off. I shouldn’t!

    One thing I’m curious about–I always recommend swimming to a friend of mine who has a lot of weight to lose and knee problems, but she always says she has trouble finding suits that are supportive enough, large enough, and don’t make her feel totally self-conscious. How did/do you deal with that issue? I would imagine that for someone who has a lot of weight to lose, getting in a swimsuit is a huge challenge in and of itself. I am in pretty good shape and it still freaks me out!

    1. Basically I sucked it up. I was humiliated at the idea of getting into a swim suit but I knew I HAD to do it to lose the weight. I wore a swim suit for “plus sized” people. It had a little skirt attached to it so I could sort of hide my thighs and butt. But honestly, once I got in the water it didn’t matter. No one could really see me.

  3. I LOVE to swim. Unfortunately, I screwed up my shoulder 10 years ago while swimming. I developed bursitis because I was overusing 2 of the 4 muscles that our shoulders are made up of which the orthopedic surgeon told me was a common injury in swimmers. So it is important for people who swim ALOT that they make sure to also do strengthening exercises for their shoulders and CONTINUE to do them every now and then. They are actually pretty easy-I’m just lazy so I didn’t keep up with it. I re-injured my shoulder in January while trying to do the strengthening exercises so I’m taking it easy again. My favorite memories aren’t from childhood because I did not learn how to swim until high school but I remember at my best I could swim 30 laps in 30-35 min. I consider 1 lap as going one way and then back the other way. I envisioned myself as a happy dolphin and for those 30+ minutes completely forgot about the world around me. I’m 39 now so I highly doubt I can get back to that fitness level but I would like to strive to get as close to it as possible. I love the feeling of being in the water and can’t wait to get back in. =) I do agree with Lisa that because of the chlorine one does get itchy skin and dry hair, but one just gets used to it and with the products she mentioned, it isn’t that bad.

    Lisa, I can’t believe that you lost 60# solely from swimming. YOU go girl!

    1. I am so sorry about your shoulder. Especially in light of your ankle too. Swimming would be THE perfect exercise for you. Has your doctor given you any hope that swimming is something you could eventually do again?

      As for the shoulder injury…what kind of strengthening exercises should a swimmer do to prevent injury? Is weight lifting/shoulder presses etc something that will help?

  4. I used to swim three times weekly and this information was something I had to slowly learn overtime. I wish I had this information back then. Maintaining moisture was the most important part. I had quite the dry skin during the wintertime. That, and moving further away from the pool, ended my regular water exercises.

    It was nice to get my shiny hair back, but do miss my extra manly V-shape.

    1. Me too Matt. I kind of learned all these things a long the way through practice and trial and error. It took a long time to realize that special shampoo would help with the dry itchiness.

      I love my V-shape, even though it’s not very feminine on women. 🙂

  5. I love to swim in Spring/Summer/Fall (Hey, it’s Georgia, it’s still warm then!) I can’t for the life of me get to the pool when it’s cold out though.

    One thing I love for swimming — Sallys Beauty Supply has a spray on conditioner that deactivates the chlorine. I use that a lot, especially if I can’t get straight into the shower or am headed out for a swim/bike brick.) It’s pretty cheap, too.

  6. This post made me realize that I “gave up” swimming while in school when my eyesight got bad, and I started to wear contacts. Now that I’ve had Lasik (7 years ago), I have no excuse! I was looking at old pictures the other day, and it looks like I was learning to swim when I was about two. A little later on, my mom had taken off my water wings and gone to answer the phone (this was the 60’s. It’s amazing any kid survived), and I jumped back into the water. Guess that was my sink or swim moment. I’ll have to go get a new suit and get back into it. I’m a little worried about my hair, since it’s colored (What? No!), but we’ll see. I’m guessing a cap keeps your hair mostly dry, right?

    1. It wasn’t until I was 24 or so that I finally got contacts. I just walked around not being able to see very well and only wore my glasses when driving. Silly, I know. But I swim with my contacts (goggles of course) and I also swim without them. I guess it depends on how bad your vision is but with Lasik you should be good.

      I OFTEN wonder how little babies learn how to swim and hold their breath under water. How do they just know?

  7. I have a question for you. I know its not ideal, but I was thinking about doing a little swimming in my pool at my house but it is realatively small. Do you think I would benefit from it, or should I really look at finding a pool that has lanes where I can acutally do laps? We are tight on money and finding ways to exercise with out actually paying for memberships is what we have to do right now.

    1. That’s a hard one to answer. I’m a lap swimmer. If you can figure out how to do water aerobics in your small pool that might work. But I honestly don’t know how much of a workout water aerobics is.

  8. I’ve always loved the water – playing in lakes, oceans, rivers – I’m surprised it took me so long to start swimming laps, but open water swimming will always be the preference for me.
    My shoulders really start to pop out when I’m swimming a lot.

  9. Hey! I recently started swimming laps about 4 months ago for the first time ever. I haven’t seen any weight loss yet which sort of sucks, but I know that I’ve gained muscle, so that’s why the scale hasn’t moved I guess. I just wish my belly would melt off haha. Anyways, are you still swimming? Also, I use this shampoo/conditioner called Ion’s for Swimmer’s that I like better than the one you mentioned in your article. They also make a leave-in conditioner, so if someone wanted to just use that along with their normal shampoo, it’d be perfect. Just thought I’d drop in and say I liked your blog 🙂

  10. I swim 5X a week and what saves my skin and hair is coconut oil! I slather it on all over right after my shower and in my hair (ends) under my cap as well as after my shower. It smells great (in my opinion) and keeps everything from drying out. I also have scalp psoriasis and the chlorine/coconut oil combo seems to keep it in check.

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