If you haven’t been in a pool since childhood, maybe it’s time you went back in the water, writes Chris Kane
Swimming is one of the most popular participation activities in the UK, with more than two and a half million of us enjoying it at least once a week. There are millions more who know how to swim but haven’t been in a pool in years and that’s something Scottish Swimming hopes to change with its “Swim Social” programme in partnership with Scottish Water.
Scottish Swimming chief executive Forbes Dunlop says: “Swimming starts out for many people as a life skill that they learn as a child, but we know there is a big drop in participation among teenagers. We start to see people coming back to swimming in their thirties and forties when they recognise they need to take more exercise. We’ve done quite a bit of work behind the scenes asking adults what we can do to help and the overriding message is that they want a little bit of teaching or coaching and so we’ve developed the ‘Swim Social’ programme.”
The programme delivers classes where adults can improve their skills. Mark Wilmott is one of the coaches, teaching two weekly classes at Glasgow’s Tollcross International Swimming Centre. “Most swimmers in my class can already swim, they simply want to swim better, so the first thing I ask is what they want to achieve from the session and what can I do to help,” says Mark. “We can make some huge improvements in just one session. One of the most common problems is caused by not putting your face in the water – if you’re swimming with your head out of the water, your hips drop massively and that means you are using a lot of energy just to push the water out of the way when you move forward. I want to get you swimming efficiently so you can direct your energy towards your goals – that could be getting fitter, swimming faster or swimming further.”
Swimming elevates your heartbeat in the same way as jogging. Ten minutes of breaststroke can burn 60 calories; it’s 80 with backstroke, 100 with front crawl and it’s 150 with butterfly. Instead of sweat dripping in your eyes, swimming keeps your body cool and comfortable while you work out. Focusing on the sound of your breathing also helps drown out other distractions, which can have a positive impact on stress levels. Swimming can deliver a gentle fitness session or a comprehensive aerobic workout. It is also low impact, meaning less stress on your joints and muscles – as 58-year-old David Atkin discovered when he took part in a recent Skills and Drills class.
David says: “I played rugby when I was in my late teens until I was about 40 and then running gradually became my main activity, but I’m at the age where injuries are more frequent than they used to be and swimming is a great alternative to keep my fitness levels up. I tend to splash around a lot and not go very fast, so wanted some tips from a coach. For my front crawl I learned my hands were crossing over and how to keep a much straighter stroke. The kick is important too, but it is difficult doing both well at the same time. I seem to be able to do one OK, but the other falls by the wayside when I think about co-ordinating both. It was great having someone who could tell me what was wrong because I couldn’t see it myself.”
There are also sessions capitalising on the growing popularity of outdoor swimming. Forbes says: “There are some truly magnificent places to swim outdoors in Scotland. Last year we held a Mile Challenge event at Loch Venachar, while at Loch Lomond more than 2,600 people took part in the Great Scottish Swim. Swim Social has also offered ‘come and try’ open water swimming sessions where you can try swimming in a wetsuit and learn outdoor techniques in a coach-led safe, supportive and fun environment.”
Outdoor and indoor sessions are held all over the country, at on average £6 for a one-hour session. Whether you’re a beginner or just want to get more out of swimming, there are chances to take part. So come on in, the water’s lovely.
• For more information, visit www.scottishswimming.com