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Swimming well: everything you didn’t know about swimming

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Swimming well: everything you didn’t know about swimming

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(CNN) – Few things can compete with a swim in the ocean or in a lake for its feeling of freedom and belonging to something greater.

But without the required ability, open water swimming can be a risky business.

Lifeguards naturally warn of the dangers of swimming without understanding the local conditions. Understand it, however, and there are profound benefits for mental and physical well-being.

Having the skills to move properly in the water can provide you with the perfect way, as John Cheever said in his classic short story “The Swimmer”, to “enlarge and celebrate the beauty” of a clear, calm day. . But they can also save your life and potentially the life of others when they run into trouble.

So why are we drawn to water in the first place? And what can keep us safe and free from injury when we take the plunge?

Swimming as we know it

Swimming’s historical past dates back to the Stone Age, around 10,000 years ago, with works of art from the period showing the first humans enjoying a relaxing swim. His status was cemented in Greek myth by Leander’s long swims across the Hellespont for his liaisons with Hero. And references to it can be found throughout ancient history, in the works of Homer as well as in the Bible and the Quran.

It wasn’t until the 19th century, however, that swimming as we know it took shape. After Lord Byron followed Leander’s breaststroke and swam the Hellespont in 1810, competitive swimming took hold. The first races were held in the 1830s in Britain after the opening of the first indoor swimming pools.

A boom in public baths and amateur swim clubs has led to the emergence of new swims, as swimmers around the world, including Native Americans and South Americans, have shown what we now call the crawl.

In 1926, Clemington Corson was the first mother and the second woman to swim in the English Channel.

New York Daily News Archive / Getty Images

And when Captain Matthew Webb became the first person to swim in the English Channel in 1875, that same year, the heroic Agnes Beckwith swam the Thames from London Bridge to Greenwich in just over an hour, swimming was become a common concern.

At the start of the 20th century, swimming was the cornerstone of the new Olympics, with major European nations all forming their own federations.

A boom in lidos, or outdoor swimming pools, followed, particularly in England and the United States. New York’s Classic Astoria Pool, used for the Olympic Trials, opened in 1936.

England’s most iconic art deco pools have fallen into disrepair, but in recent years they have experienced a kind of rebirth. The same goes for the idea of ​​“swimming in nature”: taking a dip in rivers, ponds and lakes for the greatest pleasure.

Swimming well: everything you didn’t know about swimming

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Tinside Lido at the tip of Plymouth Hoe in Devon, England was built in 1935.

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Benefits for the mind and body

Besides the essential fact that swimming can save your life if you fall in the water, it also has tangible benefits for the mind and body.

It’s great for cardiovascular fitness and endurance, without the high impact of a run. It’s also great for building muscle, improving heart and lung health, not to mention a great way for anyone looking to shed pounds.

Swimming in open water, which tends to be much colder than your average heated pool, is also increasingly recognized as having beneficial effects on mental health. Dopamine, a feel-good hormone, is released by simply dipping into cold water, which ensures a surge of endorphins that can lead to a soothing sensation that lasts for hours.

Research conducted by the University of Portsmouth in the UK has begun to examine the anti-inflammatory properties of cold water, with a growing body of anecdotal evidence showing that it can alleviate inflammatory responses that cause anxiety and the Depression. Simply being in a so-called “blue environment”, near the ocean or body of water, is known to reduce stress responses.

Swimming well: everything you didn’t know about swimming

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In 1951, Florence Chadwick, 32, of San Diego, Calif., Became the first woman in history to swim the Channel in both directions.

Jim Pringle / AP

Don’t make that mistake

While being able to stay afloat and swim a basic breaststroke can protect you, taking the time to learn how to swim properly can reduce the risk of injury and improve your chances of staying safe if you find yourself in danger.

“Swimming with good technique means you will be able to move through the water more efficiently, which will increase your speed and confidence in the water,” says Andy White of Ocean Set. White trains novices and experts in Brighton, UK, with a particular focus on improving their open water skills.

White says that for those looking to go faster and swim better, the front crawl is the stroke to work on.

“The most efficient stroke in swimming is the front crawl, so having effective technique will help conserve energy over longer distances,” he says.

However, the main thing that you need to focus on is not your arms or legs, but your breathing.

“Probably the most common mistake we see is when people hold their breath when their head is underwater. This means, among other things, that when you come back up to take in some air, you have to breathe out and inhale before putting your head back in the water. It can put your run totally off the beat. So the rule of thumb is that when your head is underwater you should breathe out regularly, so when you turn to breathe all you have to do is breathe in.

Swimming well: everything you didn’t know about swimming

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A woman swims in Lake Xhema in Albania on August 4, 2021.

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This goes hand in hand with learning bilateral breathing, which means taking a breath from both sides every few strokes.

“It can help prevent muscle imbalance, which is often a leading cause of swimming injuries.”

White adds that swimmers should look to build endurance over time, rather than attempting long distances with little to no experience.

“Swimming long distances requires the ability to build on a solid foundation, so it is essential to have a good grasp of the basics. Good, steady rhythmic swimming is important for long distances, as is the ability to change gears when you need to. Building your stamina over time will help cement good habits that will pay off when you get tired. “

Swimming well: everything you didn’t know about swimming

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The baths in Copenhagen’s Brygge Islands harbor offer a good way to swim in open water.

By Simone Lorenzo / AGF / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

In open water

Then there is the obvious and essential issue of safety when it comes to exiting the pool and heading into the open water.

“An indoor swimming pool can be a balmy 28 ° C (82 degrees F) while the sea often peaks at around 18 degrees (64 degrees F) in late summer in the UK. Lakes can be warmer depending on their size and the heat of the air. summer.

“Then there is the unpredictability of open water: at sea, factors like wind, currents and tides need to be understood before setting out. Unlike a swimming pool, there are no black lines at the bottom of the seabed to follow so having the ability to see and listen to the environment around you is vital. “

White says it’s best to gain local knowledge of the conditions and team up with another swimmer, ideally of the same ability or more, just in case you run into any difficulties. Wear a shiny cap to be seen by rescuers or boats and invest in a good pair of goggles, as well as a tow float to help you stay buoyant and a wetsuit if you feel the cold easily.

What if the worst happens?

“Remember, ‘float for a living’,” White said. “Lie on your back with wide legs and arms. Raise your hand and cry for help. ”

If you happen to find yourself caught in a dangerous backwash, White says it’s essential not to try and swim against him. Instead, swim parallel to the shore, then return to land once out of the tear.

“Always swim within your limits. If you are unsure of your abilities, use caution.”

Swimming well: everything you didn’t know about swimming

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A busy private beach in Ithaca, Greece where the water is good for open water swimming.

Harris Dro / Loop Images / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Some great places to put your new knowledge to good use

Swimming in the open air is one of life’s greatest pleasures, although it is probably best to get started with open water swimming in the warmer months. So, once you’ve figured out the skills required and found a friend, these are the places to take the plunge.

Loch An Eilein

This little loch in the heart of the Cairngorms in the Scottish Highlands comes into its own at the end of summer, when the flies die off and the crowds return home. A small beach at one end provides easy access, while the ruined castle on an island just offshore makes a great destination for your swim.


The warm waters of the Greek island of Ithaca have long been a mecca for outdoor swimmers. It is essential to take a tour or hire the services of a guide, who can take you on the best routes, keep you safe and tell you the story of Ulysses and Penelope. Odysseus’s swimming feats are among the most famous in Greek myth. Check out The Big Blue Swim to find out more.

Islands Brygge, Copenhagen

These classic harbor baths aren’t just the perfect way to unwind in Copenhagen. They also provide a safe environment to practice your outdoor swimming skills, as well as acclimatize to more icy swims in the winter. Appreciated by locals and tourists alike, the water quality is checked daily and is of the highest standard.

Top image: Two women swim in Lake Geneva on April 4, 2020 (Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty Images)

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