Saturday April 8 2017
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Dive into the Pool

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Swimming is one of the most popular recreational activities in the world. But it is far more than just a sport.

“Sport? Swimming is a way to keep from drowning,” late comedian George Carlin once joked.

While swimming is indeed a potentially life-saving skill, it’s also a great physical fitness activity, tremendous source of fun, rehabilitation tool, confidence builder for kids, life-time hobby for adults, and ultra-competitive sport.

"The main benefits are… well, they’re endless,” said Mike Gallagher, director of Fast Lane Swimming in Strongsville, OH, and assistant swimming coach at Brecksville High School.

As an aerobic exercise, swimming strengthens the heart and promotes better blood flow throughout the body. With childhood obesity becoming more and more prevalent among American youth, swimming is a great way to get in shape and stay fit.

Swimming is also one of the few exercises that can “fool” kids into exercising. You don’t have to swim laps to exercise. Playing water games with friends, racing, retrieving rings or other items, etc., puts kids through a workout that very few other forms of exercise can rival.

“It's a full-body sport,” said Gallagher, who has an MA of Science in Sport Psychology and is certified by the American Heart Association as a Safety Training Instructor.

As swimmers propel themselves through the water, the arms move in wide arcs, the abs and hips are engaged as the legs kick through the water, and the head and spine are in constant motion. “Total core training,” says Gallagher.

Because water is far denser than air, every kick and every arm stroke is a resistance exercise – which is the best way to build muscle tone and strength.

"Swimmers that consistently come to the pool are usually in pretty good shape and look more fit," said Gallagher. "If kids look fit, most likely they feel fit."

Swimming’s impact on the skeletal system is low. There's no ground impact, so the joints are protected from stress and strain.

The body becomes lighter when submerged in water. A body in water up to the chest bears just 25 to 35 percent of its weight; when immersed to the neck, the body bears 10 percent of its own weight. The pool handles the other 90 percent.

The absence of wear and tear on the body is what makes swimming such a great form of exercise for young children as well as senior citizens. It also provides a great form of rehab for injured athletes.

"If someone has an ankle injury, just walking around the pool or doing deep water exercise takes a lot of pressure off of the ankle,” says Gallagher. "We've had athletes who are injured playing other sports, and when they start swimming their rehab is so much quicker."

While injuries occur far less in swimming than in most land sports, injuries tend to increase as athletes get more competitive.
Shoulder injuries are the most common among swimmers.

“Sports that demand overhead motions, such as baseball, tennis, gymnastics or swimming, can put an athlete’s shoulder through the same motion over and over,” said Paul M. Saluan, MD, a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health. “This can place significant stress on the shoulder, leading to overuse injury.”

Teaching young swimmers the proper techniques reduces chances for injury.

"Most of the injuries that happen in kids are because they weren't doing it the right way," Gallagher said. “If a kid has a shoulder injury, we don't push through it. We'll have them kick with their arms at their side until the injury heals."

The physical and mental benefits to swimming are practically endless. Kids can start swimming as young as 4 or 5—sometimes even earlier with the proper instruction and supervision—and continue throughout their entire lives.