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In the swim.Splash with style

fitness over 50 swim imageArticle by Steve Shipside

Swimming is one of the best all-round exercises known, but most of us, if we’re honest, are no better at swimming than we were at school. Learn to cut a dash as you splash.

Swimming involves your whole body. It works your heart and lungs, it increases strength, flexibility and endurance, but involves very little risk of injury.

It is often picked out as one of the few exercises where even a very hard workout leaves you feeling good and ready for the rest of the day.

When you signed up for your gym a lot was made of the fact that it has a swimming pool, right? It’s a big selling point for gyms, and often one of the reasons given for choosing one over another by new members all picturing themselves enjoying a refreshing dip and cutting a dashing figure as they surge up and down the lanes.

Six months later and those would-be dolphins are either forming hippo herds in the shallow end, or avoiding the pool altogether in favour of cardio machines they understand better. Unless you’re one of the dedicated few fish people it can be hard to make progress in the pool. The default option is just to flounder up and down a bit the same as ever. Which is fine but limited since it doesn’t lead to any improvement in style or strength. The real answer is a swimming coach, but since these aren’t always an option here are some thoughts about how to examine your own swimming, and some exercises you can do to improve it. At the very least they will make a change from the end-to-end plodding.

Getting a better workout from your swim

Break it down

Whether your favourite stroke is front crawl, back crawl, breaststroke or butterfly it has both an arm action and a leg action. Co-ordinating both actions was one of the hurdles you had to overcome when you first learnt that stroke but now if you want to get better you’re going to have to get uncoordinated, just for the moment. Swimming is a fairly complex set of movements and rhythms and it sometimes helps to break them down in order to focus on individual elements. Here we’re going to focus on just the arm, and then just the leg movements in isolation.

Floats and pull buoys

You’ll remember the humble float from your days as a learner. The pull-buoy may be less familiar but basically it’s just a float that’s shaped so it’s easier to hold between your legs. If your pool doesn’t have any pull-buoys a normal float will do – it’ll just try harder to get away from you.


Scissors kick, butterfly kick or frog leg strokes should all be enough on their own to propel you from one end of the pool to the other. Grab a float, hold it out in front of you with both hands and use only your legs to swim.


As with legs, only in reverse. Lodge a pull buoy or a float (you may need two depending on your natural buoyancy or lack of it) between your thighs. Now set off up the pool using only your arm stroke.

In both of these cases the aim is not to be fast, but to be comfortable. If you are tired after a length, then you may want to work on putting less effort into the stroke, and instead getting more out by means of better form .

Extracted from Gym Fitness by Steve Shipside. Published by Infinite Ideas (www.infideas.com). Available on Amazon Kindle for £4.47 .Gym fitness

Picture credit: digitalart


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  1. Lynne Gray

    April 2, 2012

    Thanks for sharing this Ceri, I love swimming but haven’t been for ages – basically I didn’t want to give anyone with a harpoon, a chance to throw it!
    Have now gained enough self confidence to say ‘This is me, so what?’ Must get back to the pool 🙂

    • Ceri Wheeldon

      April 2, 2012

      So must I Lynne. Its just a matter of getting in to a routine. We’ll have to encourage each other! 🙂

  2. Sheila

    April 7, 2012

    I tend to swim 4 times a week first thing in the morning at our local pool. It’s a great way to start the day, giving me time to either think about the coming day or just to empty my mind and be absorbed in the stroke. I would always recommend taking a course of lessons if you are a poor swimmer – it will do wonders for your confidence as well as your technique. Swimmings a great way to exercise as you get older, and I’ve met a great group of people. Oh and it’s never too late to start, I was over 30 before I learned to swim properly and there were ladies in my class that were over 50!

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