Everything You Need To Know About Swimming

Swimming is considered the perfect exercise. It is one of the oldest known human skills in existence that has been documented in ancient cave paintings. Man’s relationship with water has been one of the most progressive, creative, and in some cases, destructive. However, in terms of swimming, we have developed ways and means to work with water and improve ourselves.

Swimming in History

Swimming has appeared in written records, the earliest of which is estimated to have been made 7,000 or so years ago. Swimming has appeared in many ancient references, including the Bible, the Iliad, Beowulf, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Odyssey. Groups of people who were considered skilled at swimming were usually those who lived by bodies of water such as the sea, lakes, or rivers.

Swimming as a skill was considered an advantage during war or conflict. At one point, it was used as a strategic move by the Romans against the Celts who waited patiently across the river for the Roman army, thinking they could not cross the turbulent waters. Instead, the Romans deployed the Batavi tribe who could swim across the river fully armored with their horses, thereby turning the tide on the British Celts.

A Look at Swimming

Swimming is the physical effort to propel one’s body through water. The skill of swimming can be utilized for survival, exercise, recreation, or competitive sport. As a body movement, swimming requires the coordination of motion of the arms, legs, head, and torso. It also requires good timing in terms of breathing.

Buoyancy in the Water

Swimming takes advantage of the buoyancy of the body. This is referred to as neutral buoyancy, wherein the weight of an object in water is equal to the water it displaces. The propulsion of the body through the fluid is assisted by the horizontal position of the body and taking long, deep breaths along with the movements of the arms and legs.

Although neutral buoyancy aids in allowing the body to float, how well a person can float will depend on certain factors, such as:

  • Body Composition – In general, the more dense an object is, the greater its chances of sinking. A person with more body fat, for example, can float better due to lower body density.
  • Amount of Salt in the Water – The higher the salinity of the water, the denser it is. This explains why it is easier to float in saltwater than in fresh/plain water.
  • Lung Inflation – Lungs contain air spaces that aid in increasing buoyancy in the water during swimming. When air enters the lungs, it helps displace the weight of the water. This is exploited by divers to ensure that they are able to dive deeper without exerting too much effort.

Recreational Swimming

Recreational swimming is one of the most popular forms of swimming. It does not involve structures or rules, and the main focus is on the enjoyment of the activity. Safety and competitiveness are not considered as objectives or concerns. Recreational swimming may be performed anywhere there is a body of water, be it a natural water source or a manmade water source, such as a pool. Recreational swimming also includes swimming lessons, particularly those that are taught by certified and trained instructors. Recreational swimming is also performed by people around the world as a means to relax and have fun.

Competitive Swimming

Competitive swimming was introduced by Britain’s National Swimming Society in the 1800s. The main goal of competitive swimming is to beat competitors at specific events and set personal and/or world records. The swimmer undergoes a period of structured training, often tapered, wherein he trains vigorously for the first phases. At the later or last phase, his training is decreased to allow his body to receive some amount of rest.

Swimmers in competitive swimming often train for years and many of them specialize in certain swimming techniques. In this type of swimming, the swimmer has to find means to ensure the least resistance while he is in the water. This explains why high level competitors use specialized clothing and shave leg and arm hair to further reduce drag.

Currently the most popular event in competitive swimming is the Olympic Games, wherein the best male and female swimmers from all over the world congregate in a host country to represent their nations. In all, there are 32 competitive events recognized by the Olympic committee. The pools used in these events are typically long course pools measuring 50 meters in length. FINA or Federation Internationale de Natation is considered the international governing body for the sport.

There are also competitive swimming events performed in open water, often in a lake or sea. These events are open to male and female competitors and have designated distances, such as 5km, 10km, and 25km. The Olympics allows only the 10km open swimming event. In competitive swimming, there are usually only four swimming styles used: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly.

Competitive swimming is also a major activity for schools and universities. Many of the top swimmers from these events often go on to represent their schools or countries in national and international events.

Swimming Styles

Once ancient humans began to settle along the coasts, lakesides, or riverbanks, they likely began to enter the water. Based on cave paintings, cavemen ancestors used the dog paddle technique or something similar to the modern freestyle. It is also likely they used objects to keep them buoyant. Objects such as animal bladders, logs, or hollowed-out wood helped them stay afloat.

Modern-day swimming techniques or styles, however, are far better defined. These strokes are usually taught and used for recreational and competitive swimming. These include:


Freestyle, also known as the front crawl, is the most popular and widely-used swimming style. It is also the fastest means to propel oneself through the water. In the freestyle technique, the swimmer assumes the horizontal position in the water. The body should lie parallel to the water. The arms alternate using a windmill-like motion, with the hand pushing against the water and assisted with fluttering kicks performed by the legs. The legs are straight at the knee as they move up and down alternately.


The breaststroke technique is often one of the first techniques taught to new swimmers, particularly those who are not yet confident about keeping their head below the water. This is similar to the movement a frog performs when swimming. To perform this style, the swimmer lies parallel to the water and moves his arms simultaneously in a half-circle beneath the water surface. The legs are kept straight before they are bent at the knees and hips as he performs a whip kick. The legs move outward to the side to extend and are brought back together again.


The backstroke is another popular style used for recreational and competitive swimming. It is similar to the freestyle technique, except that it is performed while the swimmer is on his back. The body remains parallel to the water while the arms alternate using a windmill-like movement. The circular motion of the arms allows the body to move forward because the hands push the water while the legs perform flutter kicks. The swimmer’s head remains above the water surface.

In recreational swimming, the backstroke is often used by individuals with back issues because it offers a low-impact way to work out the back while lowering the risk of pain or further damage.


The butterfly technique is an advanced technique. It is more challenging for new swimmers and quite tiring but it is the fastest stroke in competitive swimming, second only to the freestyle. The swimmer floats in the water in a horizontal position. To perform the stroke, the arms move simultaneously over his head and into the water to push himself forward. As the arms break the water, the swimmer pushes his shoulders and head above the water. The propulsion is assisted by performing a dolphin kick. This kick involves both legs kept straight together and moving in a wave-like motion.

Elementary Backstroke

The elementary backstroke is a variation of the basic backstroke. This is often the first swimming technique that new swimmers learn, hence the name. The swimmer performs a reverse breaststroke kick as the arms move together underwater.


The side stroke is not seen in competitive swimming but is still used in recreational and occupational swimming, particularly by lifeguards during a rescue. To perform this technique, the swimmer is turned slightly to one side and moves forward using alternating arm motions and scissor kicks. This technique makes it easy to move in the water when the swimmer is holding on to something, such as a person or an object.


The Trudgen, named after John Trudgen (an English swimmer), is a variation of the sidestroke. To perform this technique, the swimmer swims on his side, alternately lifting one arm above the water and overhead while the legs perform a scissor kick.

Basic Skills Required in Swimming

To learn how to swim, an individual must develop 5 different skills. These are:

1. Breathing technique
2. Diving
3. Swimming or stroke techniques/styles
4. Coordinating different body parts
5. Gliding while the face is underwater

Health Benefits of Swimming

Swimming is a type of cardio exercise that also helps build strength. It is recommended by medical professionals as an effective and safe form of physical activity that not only helps in improving physical health but also improves emotional and mental well-being. It offers a number of health benefits, such as:

  • Effective Calorie-Burner. Swimming requires movement and effort using the major muscles of the body. The number of calories that one could potentially burn from swimming will depend on one’s weight, speed, and length of time spent swimming. For example, a person who weighs 150-160 pounds could burn around 400 to 700 calories per hour. A heavier person, say, someone who weighs around 240 pounds, can potentially burn 600 to 1000 calories an hour.
  • Weight Loss. Regular swimming effectively burns fat and strengthens muscles. This helps create a more pleasing physique
  • Low-Impact Activity. Water provides excellent buoyancy, which means the body floats because the water supports a good portion of the body’s weight. This makes swimming an effective exercise for people who have joint problems and health conditions such as arthritis, rheumatism, or certain injuries. Water provides gentle resistance that allows a person to move and perform even vigorous movements without suffering any damage or pain due to impact.
  • Whole Body Workout. Swimming involves all muscle groups. It requires good coordination of the muscles in the legs, back, shoulders, and neck. Depending on the swimming style used, it is also possible to target specific muscle groups.
  • Cardio Exercise. Swimming increases heart rate and improves endurance. The movements required to propel oneself through the water requires strength and endurance. While swimming, your heart has to beat faster to circulate blood faster throughout the muscle groups. The lungs also work harder as well, prompting the swimmer to inhale more oxygen. With regular swimming exercises, the heart and the lungs become stronger and more efficient.
  • Improved Mood. Vigorous swimming enhances the body’s production of endorphins. These are the types of hormones that improve mood and neutralize pain. This is why swimming is considered one of the best exercises for managing stress, depression, mood swings, and anxiety.
  • Better Sleep. Swimming promotes relaxation, which in turn promotes better quality sleep.
  • Enhanced Cognitive Function. Research performed in Australia that focused on young swimmers showed that those who regularly swam performed better at developing fine motor skills and master language acquisition and development. They were also more confident and had better physical development compared to non-swimmers in the same age bracket.
  • Longevity. According to a research performed a the University of South Carolina, swimmers had an impressive 50% lower rate of mortality than people who ran, walked, or did not exercise. The study involved men 40,547 male participants with an age range of 20 to 90 years. The study ran for a period of 32 years.

Swimming Equipment

Swimming is a relatively safe sport or recreation but it is not without its risks or limitations. Wearing the proper swimming equipment is necessary not just to improve one’s ability to swim but also ensure one’s safety while in the water. The most important equipment every swimmer must have are:


Swimsuits are designed to hug the body and reduce drag. The close-to-the-body design is also meant to ensure that no piece of fabric comes off to affect the movement of the swimmer in the water. A proper training suit, for example, is required for competitive swimming because these are comfortable, allowing the swimmer to move freely without any obstructions or distractions. Proper swimming attire such as swimsuits, trunks, and even rash guards are recommeded to ensure the comfort of the swimmer.

The choice of fabric is also a consideration. Synthetic fabrics such as nylon are often used because these are durable and comfortable. It is important for swimsuit materials to be lightweight even when wet to help the swimmer maintain his natural buoyancy.

Swimming Goggles

Swimming goggles provide protection for the eyes while in the water. Goggles help prevent prolonged contact with saline, chlorinated, or chemically treated water to lower the risks of discomfort, allergic reactions, or even infections. They also help maintain a clear view of the water, which is important especially for competitive or occupational swimming.

Swimming Caps

While not always required for recreational swimming, swimming caps help protect the hair and scalp while in the water. Caps are also excellent for keeping the hair away from the eyes and face while swimming.


Safety is a major concern for swimmers, particularly for those who are beginners. Safety precautions must be taken and implemented during any activity in and around a body of water to prevent drowning, injuries, and fatalities. Public pools and resorts impose safety rules and restrictions that all swimmers must be aware of and comply with to ensure safe and risk-free enjoyment of the activity.