Swimming offers a ton of physical and mental benefits. It's a great way to stay active, improve cardiovascular fitness, build strength, and relieve stress.
However, whether you're taking a dip in the pool or venturing into the sea, it's crucial to prioritise safety, especially if you're new to swimming.
In this guide, we'll walk you through our key swimming safety tips so you can fully enjoy the benefits of swimming while minimising the risks.
Tips for swimming safely
1. Do warm-up exercises
Before diving headfirst into the water, it's essential to warm up your muscles and prepare your body for the swimming session ahead.
Swimming involves lots of repetitive movements that can put a strain on various muscle groups. But a quick warm-up can make all the difference. Light exercises increase blood flow, elevate body temperature, and help to loosen muscles, tendons, and ligaments. With your muscles warmed up and more flexible, you'll be less likely to experience strains, sprains, or other common swimming-related injuries.
Exercises like arm swings and shoulder rolls are excellent for warming up the muscles, preparing them for the swimming strokes ahead. Incorporating movements like high knees and side lunges also help to stretch and limber up the lower body, promoting flexibility and range of motion.
Aim for a warm-up session of at least 5 to 10 minutes before swimming. This time frame allows your body to gradually transition from a resting state to a more active one. And this is vital for preventing any sudden stress or strain on your muscles and joints.
Here's a simple warm-up routine you can follow before swimming:
- Arm circles — Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Extend your arms straight out to the sides. Begin making circular motions with your arms, gradually increasing the size of the circles. Do this for about 30 seconds, then reverse the direction.
- Shoulder rolls — Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Roll your shoulders forward in a circular motion. After a few rotations, switch to rolling your shoulders backwards. Repeat this for about 30 seconds.
- High knees — Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lift your right knee as high as you comfortably can, then quickly switch to lifting your left knee. Continue alternating knees, bringing them up towards your chest for about one minute. Maintain a brisk pace to get your heart rate up.
- Side lunges — Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart. Take a step to the right, bending your right knee while keeping your left leg straight. Shift your weight onto your right leg and lower your body into a lunge position. Hold this for a few seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the left side. Alternate between right and left for about one minute.
- Leg swings — Find a stable support, like a wall or railing, and stand next to it. Hold onto the support with one hand for balance. Swing one leg forward and backwards, gently increasing the range of motion with each swing. Do 10-15 swings on each leg.
2. Avoid eating before swimming
It's a good idea to avoid heavy meals or large snacks immediately before swimming. When you consume a significant amount of food, particularly foods high in fat or protein, your body directs blood flow towards the digestive system. The reduced blood flow to your working muscles during swimming means they might not receive the optimal levels of oxygen and nutrients they need to function at their best. And without this, they may become more prone to cramping or discomfort.
Aim to eat a light meal or snack around one to two hours before your swim session. This timeframe allows for proper digestion while ensuring you have enough energy to perform at your best.
Here are some examples of suitable pre-swim snacks or meals to fuel your swim workout:
- Fresh fruit — Fruits like bananas, apples, grapes, and oranges are excellent choices. They are packed with natural sugars, vitamins, and minerals, providing a quick energy boost without weighing you down.
- Greek yoghurt — This offers a combination of protein, great for muscle recovery, and carbohydrates, providing a steady release of energy.
- Energy or granola bars — These bars, especially ones designed explicitly for pre-exercise or sports performance, often contain a balanced mix of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats, providing sustained energy for your swim.
- Nut butter and whole grain crackers — Spread some nut butter (such as almond or peanut butter) on whole grain crackers. This combination offers a balance of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates for a satisfying and energy-rich snack.
3. Stay hydrated
When you exercise, your body naturally loses fluids through sweat and increased respiration. That's why ensuring adequate hydration leading up to your swim is essential for preventing dehydration and maintaining optimal performance in the water.
Hydration plays a crucial role in not only quenching your thirst but also in regulating your body temperature, lubricating your joints, and delivering important nutrients to your hard-working muscles. Without proper hydration, your body may struggle to maintain a stable temperature, increasing the risk of overheating.
Plus, when you're dehydrated, the fluid and electrolyte balance in your body becomes compromised. And this can disrupt the normal functioning of your muscles, leading to increased muscle fatigue and the likelihood of experiencing cramps.
Consuming fluids at least 30 minutes to an hour before your swim is essential to give your body time to absorb the water. It's also a good idea to take short breaks during lengthy swims to top up your hydration levels.
4. Walk, don’t run
As tempting as it may be to sprint towards the pool, it's crucial to remember that safety starts even before you dip your toes in the water. Avoid running around pool areas to prevent slips, falls, and potential injuries. Walk with caution, be mindful of wet surfaces, and use the designated walkways.
5. Check before diving in
Diving into a pool can be exhilarating, but checking for signs and markers indicating the water depth before taking the plunge is essential. Always ensure there's enough depth to avoid hitting the bottom and putting yourself at risk of injury.
6. Swim within your abilities
When it comes to swimming, it's important to know your limits and avoid venturing into water deeper than you can comfortably manage. The feeling of panic in deep water can be overwhelming and may cause you to lose control or struggle to stay afloat, compromising your safety.
If you're a beginner, it's best to stick to areas where you can touch the floor and gradually build your confidence. As you become more skilled, you can explore deeper waters at a pace that suits you.
If you do find yourself in trouble in the water, remember that floating can be a lifesaving technique. By floating on your back, you can regain control of your breathing and conserve your energy. This not only helps you stay afloat but also reduces the risk of panic and exhaustion.
7. Learn and practise your swimming strokes
One of the key aspects of safe swimming is mastering proper technique and taking the time to practise different swimming strokes correctly. Understanding techniques like freestyle, breaststroke, and backstroke will not only improve your efficiency in the water but helps you maintain a balanced body position.
Here are some helpful tips to improve your technique in popular swimming strokes:
- Front crawl — When doing front crawl — also known as freestyle — focus on maintaining a streamlined body position, extending your arms forward, and kicking from your hips to propel yourself through the water. Breathing to the side at regular intervals will help you maintain a consistent rhythm and prevent exhaustion.
- Breaststroke — Keep your body flat and streamlined, pull your arms in a circular motion while keeping your head above the water, and perform a simultaneous kick to provide propulsion. Ensure you coordinate your arm movements with your leg kicks to move through the water with greater control and stability.
- Backstroke — This exercise involves lying on your back and performing alternating arm strokes while kicking your legs in a fluttering motion. Keep your body aligned and your face towards the sky, ensuring that you maintain a relaxed and controlled pace. And remember to occasionally glance towards the end of the pool to keep your orientation and avoid crashing into the pool wall.
How to swim safely in the sea or open water
If you're venturing beyond the confines of a pool and heading towards open water, here are some additional tips to ensure your safety:
1. Swim in designated areas
Look for beaches or areas specifically designated for swimming, as these areas are usually monitored by trained lifeguards who enforce safety protocols and have additional safety measures in place. Lifeguards are well-equipped to respond swiftly in the event of an emergency, giving you peace of mind when in the water.
2. Be aware of currents
Open water bodies, including lakes, rivers, and oceans, may have currents that are both unpredictable and extremely powerful. One specific type of current that swimmers should be aware of is rip currents. These are strong and narrow flows of water that move away from the shore, and they can be especially hazardous, as they can quickly pull swimmers away from the safety of the beach.
Educating yourself about rip currents and learning how to identify their signs is crucial. Before getting into the water, look out for a noticeable difference in water colour, a break in the incoming wave pattern, or a channel of churning or choppy water. And if you find yourself caught in a current, it is crucial to remain calm and avoid swimming against the current directly back to shore, as this can lead to exhaustion.
Instead, swim parallel to the shoreline until you are out of the rip current's pull before swimming diagonally back to shore. You should also signal for help by waving your arms and shouting for assistance, but be careful not to exert yourself.
Remember, always check local weather and the conditions of the water before swimming and pay attention to any posted warnings. You can also check the inshore water forecasts provided by the Met Office.
3. Swim with a friend or group
Swimming with a companion is always a good idea, especially in open water. You can look out for each other and get immediate assistance if you get into any trouble, giving you peace of mind while you swim.
4. Check weather conditions
Before heading out for a swim, always check the weather forecast. It's crucial to avoid swimming in open water during storms, strong winds, or inclement weather conditions.
These conditions can create hazardous situations, including rough waters, increased currents, and reduced visibility, making it unsafe for swimming.
5. Be cautious of cold water
Open water, especially in colder climates, can trigger cold water shock, which occurs when the body is suddenly exposed to cold water, resulting in rapid breathing, an increased heart rate, and a potential loss of control. To acclimate to the water, enter slowly and allow your body to adjust gradually. Wearing a wetsuit also provides added insulation and protection against the cold.
Discover swimming at Fitness First
Discover swimming fitness classes like Aquafit, offering a gentle yet effective cardio and conditioning workout. Or, for a full-body fat-burning activity with little impact on your joints, try our H20 HIIT classes. Just check your local gym page for a complete list of clubs with swimming pools.
If you’re looking for some more inspiration, discover The Inside Track to read up on the latest fitness and nutrition advice from the expert personal trainers at Fitness First.