Swimming: Techniques, Health Benefits and Risks

Jessica Lewis
November 22, 2016

Swimming is a recreational activity that anyone can enjoy, regardless of age. From young to old, everyone can take full advantage of this great way through which one can get in shape and maintain a fit body for all of one’s life. You might wonder what makes swimming so great. People want to lose weight and be fit as fast as possible. Unfortunately for many of them, hitting the gym might not be the most enjoyable thing to do. But here is where swimming interferes. In spite of it being a sport, it is one of those activities that do not require being a professional to be practiced. Regular people who want to feel better in their skin or aim to shed pounds in fun and healthy ways are sure to place swimming at the top of their lists. Swimming has become a regular thing in schools from many countries, and nowadays children are offered free lessons ever since kinder garden. This way, the benefits can be seen both on a physical and mental level.

The Mechanism of Swimming

Swimming is a mechanism of locomotion through water that a human being can perform with the help of the body’s natural buoyancy. More simply put, it represents people’s ability to move through the water. This can be done either as a means to relax, exercise or as a sport. The liquid has its own pressure that, pushing upward, counteracts that of the body’s, which functions in conformity with the laws of gravity (thus pushing downward).

According to the evolutionary theory, we have evolved from creatures whose natural environment was the water. While this might be hard to believe, judging by how hard it is for some of us to learn even the most basic movements, there is one thing that can convince even the most skeptic person. We are talking about babies. Chances are you have seen at least once on TV how kids can naturally hold their breaths and stretch their limbs for the water to sustain their weight. Of course, this is all done without instructions, but based only on their instinct and with a little help from an adult.

Even so, the mechanism behind swimming is a bit more complicated for grown-ups. While a child can learn everything from the scratch if he starts from a very young age, this is not the case with men and women.

The activity is strongly dependent on the body’s capacity to float in water (or any other liquid), the water’s salinity and one’s weight. The higher the salt levels, the easier will be for someone to float but swimming becomes harder, given these conditions. The laws of physics that stay behind swimming show us that the more fat content one has and the denser his bones are, the harder it will be for him to swim. Also, the less resistance one opposes, either through body posture or movements, the better it will be for him, both during the learning process and after it.[1]

However, swimming, if not correctly performed, can make one feel drained from all his energy. To avoid this, one should take into account the following:

  • It is important to pay attention to the body’s position when in water, and maintain it as horizontal as possible; this way, the liquid puts pressure against a wider surface, which means the water’s resistance is higher, so the swimmer can float easier
  • The limbs should be as stretched as possible, and the movements should be fluid and slightly rotative as to reduce the impact between the body and water

Due to it putting no significant strain on the joints and requiring the muscles’ involvement in accordance to everyone’s needs, specialists regard swimming as a low-impact activity that can benefit people in the long term, should they choose to practice it.

Swimming Techniques

Regardless if one is a professional swimmer who has tried all the possible movements or a beginner who can float in water only for so long, there are numerous techniques one will be introduced to as soon as he or she want to start taking lessons.

As of now, numerous stroke techniques are accessible to anyone. Therefore, whether you have just tried a pool for the very first time in your life or you have won multiple titles throughout your career, the movements a trained professional will teach you depend on your current level.

  • The front crawl, also known as freestyle, is one of the main techniques one will learn, especially because of how the body is held in water and how the limbs move in the liquid. Here, the swimmer stays on his stomach with the legs and arms stretches as to maintain a horizontal position. Using the shoulders and not raising the arms too high in the air are two pieces of advice any beginner should follow to avoid muscle exhaustion and possible injuries
  • The breaststroke is the second movement taught to a beginner and requires that neither the chest nor the torso should be moved. The head is held up high most of the times, which provides one with a constant oxygen supply
  • The backstroke is where the swimmer lays on his back which means he can breathe throughout the entire exercise
  • The butterfly is easily on of the most complicated techniques. While fairly similar to the front stroke’s speed, the butterfly requires that the limbs, chest, and head should be all out of water for the movements to be completed.

Various other movements can be taught of one wants so. Furthermore, certain techniques have been adapted for people with disabilities.

How to Start?

swimming_baby_400x278Unlike the force of gravity to which we become accustomed to from the first seconds of our lives, being able to float in water is not necessarily a capacity we are born with. Except for the cases where babies up to the age of six months seem to spread their limbs and swim innately, there are not many the situations in which someone could maintain balance in a liquid environment from the very beginning.

For this reason, taking swimming lessons is not only essential but compulsory. The length of time in which people learn the movements depends only on how willing they are to do so. The age and body weight are of little importance when it comes to this activity. In many countries, the lessons have been introduced in the child’s educational curriculum ever since kinder garden. However, there are cases of children that are taught how to swim from an even younger age. Most of these programs have been integrated into the schools’ regular programs, and the government funds many of them. When this does not happen, the swimming lessons are still cheap enough as to be afforded by the parents. Currently, in many countries, children are taught basic movements such as how to stay afloat or how to remain calm should they find themselves in a dangerous situation and no adult is near.

Swimming – a full-time job?

Swimming is one of those activities that, even if started as a hobby, can successfully be turned into a full-time job. No wonder that many of today’s athletes have begun swimming from an early age and they have done so not necessarily because they wanted to make a profession out of it, but only for sheer pleasure.

Even so, swimming is for many of us more than just a hobby.

Some occupations require this skill. People who work in the following fields need to know how to swim:

  • Workers who dive in search for abalone and pearls
  • Lifeguards
  • Rescue swimmers
  • Scientists who work in the field of marine biology
  • Recruits in the United States Navy and other military organizations

In 1896, swimming had been officially introduced to the list of Olympic sports, and, ever since, athletes from all over the world have participated in numerous competitions. Therefore, if there is a purpose behind it, then the activity can quickly become one’s job. Even better is that, if the athlete is talented and willing to become the best on his field, then swimming can bring a lot of money as well. The International Swimming Federation financially supports most of their activities. Still, this does not change the fact that the sport remains one of those that need permanent investments, whether we talk about the equipment or a coach’s salary. Moreover, professional swimming can be performed only for so long. After they reach a certain age, the athletes are bound to retire, but many of them remain in the field, either as trainers or teachers in schools.


swimming_underwater_350x189Swimming is popular among people of all ages especially because it is such a permissive sport whose movements can be adapted according to one’s health status. Whereas many people swim for recreation, some of them so do to maintain an active body and delay the aging’s effects on their muscular and bone systems. As of now, there are special pools designed for people with physical and mental disabilities. As a proof that the sport is gaining more followers by the day in this category as well, aside from the more popular Olympic Games, there are also the Paralympic ones where swimming has been a constant part.

Another aspect that needs to be mentioned is swimming’s role in helping individuals with cardiovascular problems to cope with the illness easier. Moreover, there is sufficient clinical evidence which points towards the activity’s positive influence in people who show signs of depression and anxiety. Swimming is also believed to provide relief from various symptoms related to chronic conditions. For people who have suffered injuries, it can hasten the healing process and improve their physiques by working the muscles but not affecting them or the joints in any way. 

Benefits of Swimming

Needless to say, aside from it being an entertaining activity, swimming is also full of benefits that people can take full advantage of ever since the first lesson.

  1. Total body workout: in case you are one of those people who love to stay in the water and want to burn calories in a fun way, then swimming is the right choice for you. What might strike you as interesting is the sport’s capacity to work all your muscles in the same way like a cardio session would. Furthermore, if you want them to become well-defined but not bulky, then forget about the strength training and buy yourself some goggles. Swimming requires constant movement or otherwise you will sink. For this, you will have to use the limbs, chest, and head at the same time for maximum efficacy. This might sound like a lot of work, but in fact, it is far from being as exhausting as cardio. Also, you can pick from the multitude of techniques, of which some are easier but will help you just as much.
  1. Keeps your body fit: as in the case with many other exercises, combining swimming with a healthy diet might be the best choice for your body in the long run. You do not have to go to the pool every day to obtain this. Four times a week is more than enough if you have decided to turn it into a permanent hobby. Give it a try for a few months in a row and you will surely reap the benefits and enjoy a more active and energetic self.[2]
  1. It is a low-impact activity: unlike the traditional workouts where you should lift weights or squat, which can put a lot of pressure on your muscles and joints, swimming takes place in the water. The liquid environment, while resisting the human body and putting pressure on it in its own way, is gentler, especially when it comes to injured people. Athletes who want to recover faster usually resort to it as an alternative to other types of exercises suggested by doctors. The movements can be as slow as needed as not to produce more harm, provided they remain fast enough as to make one stay afloat.
  1. Burns more calories: in just half an hour of swimming at a moderate pace, the body will burn approximately four hundred calories per hour which are almost equal to those burned during sixty-minutes pilates sessions. Taking into account that swimming is not even half as tiresome then you might as well enjoy your time in the pool rather than waiting for it to pass. Go for more challenging techniques that enable your entire muscular system such as the butterfly, and you will lose weight even faster, should you integrate swimming into your daily routin
  1. Boosts energy levels: every kind of physical exercise, if performed on a regular basis, is sure to help you feel more energetic. Such is the case with swimming that many people, including the older ones, pick as their favorite activity. This way, the metabolism rate will drastically increase, and all the body processes that were gradually becoming slower will improve in a way that will amaze anyone.
  1. It will help you feel more relaxed: a young mind sustains a young body. And how else can we maintain it as such if not through physical exercising? Whether we are talking about the daily stress, family issues or we deal with anxiety or depression, swimming can help us cope better with our mental condition. Studies show that going to the pool three times a week will reduce stress levels and make you feel more relaxed and at ease with your body. What swimming also does is offer you a better night rest, so if you want to sleep like a baby then swim for half an hour in the afternoon.
  1. You will not sweat: Naturally, if you stay in the water during a swimming session, your body will always be kept at a good temperature for it not to warm up. If you were used to sweating while doing the routine, then you might be surprised to notice how this does not happen at all when you are in the pool.
  1. Improves your body posture: when swimming, your body must be as stretched as possible, with your arms and legs facing opposite directions. When watched from above and depending on the technique, the swimmer looks like an almost straight, horizontal line. In time, your underwater posture is bound to influence your usual one, having the biggest impact on your back. After only a few months of practice, people notice a change in the way they carry their bodies. The position will be a naturally straight one, both when walking and sitting, and you will feel more balanced and in touch with your physical part.
  1. It helps all muscle groups: some exercises target some muscle groups while leaving all the others unaffected. This is not the case with swimming, which puts to good use every inch of our bodies, from head to toe. While in the pool, people turn into a mobile and flexible machinery where each of its constituents are enabled.
  1. Improves flexibility: Swimming is not only great for making your body stronger, but also for turning it into a more flexible version. All the movements integrated into the usual routine are continuous, so you will have to move permanently. Otherwise you will not stay afloat anymore. The limbs are in perfect harmony with each other and the water. As you will learn after a few sessions, the most efficient way to swim is that in which there is little to no opposition coming from you. This means the way you move has to be as fluid as possible.
  1. It will make you feel younger: people who exercise will look great regardless of age. Swimmers as well are included in this category. However, swimming will not only make you look but also feel younger. Researchers from Indiana University have stated that the cholesterol levels and the blood pressure were lower in individuals who went to the pool a few times a week. Their muscular system was more in shape, and they were able to deal with stressful situations better than all the other participants. The studies were conducted on a group of older people, which makes the results even more surprising and worth taking into account.
  1. Contributes to children being more creative: imagination is distinct to us, humans. Still, in children, it is tens of times more vivid and inventive than in adults. Many little girls dream of being mermaids for a day while boys might wish to be underwater explorers and find the hidden treasure. Swimming in a pool offers them all these in a safe environment so that they can turn their dream into reality even for an hour.
  1. It makes you competitive: this is more the situation of athletes whose primary target is to win as many medals as possible. Finishing the race faster, moving better, being more flexible and learning new techniques in no time are some of the goals they set, of which the majority is achieved through hard work and determination. No wonder they have such a strong mental attitude even when facing with consecutive losses.
  1. Pregnant women can try it: together with yoga, swimming is one of the most relaxing and easy to do activities that put no strain on the mother and doesn’t affect the baby. The good thing is that the soon-to-be mother can control everything, from the body’s posture, movements, intensity, and pace.
  1. Helps your other exercise routines: every physical activity that requires all the muscles can improve all the other workouts you might perform. Moreover, because swimming is so good for the joints and strengthens the muscles, you will do more repetitions of the same exercise while not feeling exhausted.
  1. It is good for your heart: because it impacts all the muscles in the body, it is only natural for it also to influence the heart, which is easily one of the most important ones. Thanks to the fact that it is far from being tiresome and they can swim at their own pace, people who have had cardiovascular problems in the past and still deal with them can benefit from it.
  1. It is good for your lungs: while it might not appear like that, judging by how often and fast one has to breathe during a session, swimming helps your lungs to a greater extent than any other physical exercise. It is exactly because of these short breaths that a better quality air enters them, which leads to a more improved oxygenation process.
  1. Helps your brain: a better oxygenation means more blood will flow towards the brain which is associated with a faster-thinking process.[3]
  1. It opens you up more: life is full of amazing experiences which include those that take place on earth, in the air or water. If for the first you only need to know how to walk and can count on a skydiving instructor in regards to the second, the third requires that you learn how to swim. Otherwise, you will never know just how magical being underwater feels like. One thing is for sure: a pool will never compare to the vastness of the ocean. Think about it when your friends do scuba-diving, but you are forced to stay on the side and only watch them having fun.
  1. You can swim almost everywhere: if it is not a pool, then you can always swim in a river (one that is thick enough), lake or even the ocean. Take into account only two aspects: the water should be clean and, if you decide to venture into the ocean’s vastness, make sure there is always someone around you to give you a helping hand just in case.

Every type of exercise is good both for the body and mind. Even so, if you want to turn your exercising routine in an entirely enjoyable one, then try swimming. Not only will it improve your physical condition, but will also provide you with a better focus and clearer thinking.[4]

The basics

Here are some mandatory accessories that you will have to bring with you on your visit to a pool:

  • Swimsuit: a one-piece is more useful in the case of women, while men can pick the swim briefs to the detriment of swim trunks (that are regarded as less hygienic)
  • Swim cap: best for children, people with long hair or those who fear that water will enter their ears
  • Googles: they will impede water from getting in your eyes while you are submerged
  • Swim fins, mostly used in the beginning
  • Nose clip: to be used by people who do not have a very good capacity to hold their breath
  • Ear plugs
  • Hand paddles
  • Pull buoys

If you want to find out more about how you can feel fully safe, then talk to a swimming instructor on your first visit and bring all the needed accessories the second time you go there.


In spite of having so many advantages to it, swimming is not devoid of dangers. Accidents can occur at any time either to an athlete or a regular person, so it is for the best to know from the very beginning that you do expose yourself to some risks:

  • Panic: when one finds himself surrounded by water from the first time chances are he will find it harder to calm down unless helped by an instructor. This is not something that happens in deep waters only. There were cases where people suffered significant mental damage while being in shallow waters.
  • Hypothermia: if the body is submerged in cold water for extended periods, its temperature can decrease which will put his or her life in danger
  • Exhaustion: this can happen either when one is far from the shore with no one around to help, or with children whose lungs are not fully developed, so they have to inhale and exhale more often which will prove to be tiresome at some point
  • Infections due to viruses and bacteria present in dirty water
  • Bites or stings from aquatic creatures such as sea snakes, jellyfish, electric eels or stingrays

Of course, if one uses proper equipment and avoids contaminated waters, then there should be no worries.



Swimming is a good way to get fit and stay so for as long as you wish. The good thing about it is that you do not have to go to the same place every day as in the case of gym workouts. As far as a swimmer is concerned, he can swim pretty much everywhere, as long as there is clean water and enough space for him to do so. Therefore, the pool is not the only place where one can repeat his favorite techniques. People can do so in a river or the ocean, provided that the water is deep enough as to keep the body from sinking. The best part about swimming is that it can be enjoyed with the close ones. So, whether people want to go to a pool party or have a lovely evening on the beach, they are sure to get in the water as soon as they can.[5]