Five Reasons You Should Be Swimming Laps

Running and cycling went out with powdered wigs. Put on some trunks and get in the water.

This week…

Five Reasons You Should Be Swimming Laps

For some reason, when it comes to aerobic exercise, swimming is always left out of the conversation. I don’t get it. I never have. It’s like continuing to use fossil fuels despite a substantial breakthrough in nuclear fusion. Swimming is the best all-inclusive form of exercise in existence. End of discussion.

Actually, no, wait. The discussion isn’t over. I need to convince you. THEN it’s over.

5. It’s fun.

This is arguably the most important aspect of becoming a swimmer. Some people have a great deal of fun while running and some love the elliptical machine but no matter how you look at those two exercises, they’re still very human. Swimming is not. And that’s awesome.

Humans are not aquatic by nature and so, just being in a pool is a bit of a strange, neat, and special feeling (dramatizations of Aquaman notwithstanding). No shirt! No socks! No shoes! You can't do a cannonball into a treadmill, can you? I didn't think so. Wearing a cap and some goggles basically makes you a crimefighter. You push off the wall and feel like you’re flying. When you finish a noteworthy lap, you can explode out of the water and put your arms on the edge of the pool and catch your breath as if you just escaped a shark attack — it’s all very dramatic. Running is good for many things but it has never sparked imaginations in the way swimming does (and continues to do, in my case).

4. It’s cool.

Whether you’re a novice or a lifelong lap swimmer, if you’re giving maximum effort in the pool, you are absolutely going to get tired (example: my heart rate routinely gets into the 180 range). However, due to the aquatic environment, you will not be drenched in sweat when your heart is pounding out of your chest (perspiration does occur while swimming, just not as much as normal and you barely even notice it).

Being submerged in water up to your neck while out of breath is a very weird sensation that actually becomes addicting. No need to lean against a wall or put your hands on your knees – the pool keeps you cool and gives you all the support you need, like a chilled omnipresent friend. Once you start swimming, you’ll wonder how anyone thought exercising without a pool was a good idea.

3. It’s peaceful.

Even in the event that you do your laps in a public pool of some sort, it’s very difficult to be disturbed while swimming laps. Your cell phone isn’t waterproof, so it won’t be in your pocket, down there. There is nothing worth looking at on the bottom of the pool, so your attention isn’t going to wander. With your ears underwater, most sound becomes nearly inaudible white noise and that’s even before you consider what earplugs and a swimcap will do to isolate your eardrums from the outside world even more. While underwater MP3 players are available and seem to be pretty cool, most people (myself included) go without them and I must say, it is rather nice to have a small part of your life that involves no music, television, or focused external stimulus of any kind. Swimming laps will develop into a sort of conscious, extensive hyperbaric chamber experience for you, I promise.

Like with any other exercise, swimming eventually pushes your brain to that point where your train of thought goes on ‘Autopilot.’ However, because of the insulated nature of being in the pool, the “clean slate” mindset experienced while underwater is especially unique and leads you to think quite clearly for the duration of your workout – several studies have shown that swimming increases bloodflow to the brain, explaining why so many swimmers conceive of solutions and/or great ideas while in the middle of a lap (I came up with this list while swimming, which is meta on like, four different levels).

Underwater, there’s no guy on the treadmill a few feet away yakking away on his Blackberry, no reflection of people walking back and forth in the mirror, nor a bank of televisions blaring Sportscenter for the third consecutive hour – it’s just you and your head, which is a rather rare and welcome treat in the year 2009.

2. It’s easy (on your body).

If you dig running or cycling and are struggling to find a real reason to look elsewhere for your daily exercise, don’t worry; the pool will quickly persuade you with its markedly gentle effects on your body. Swimming yields no shin splints, no sore knees, and no real stress of any kind, when it comes to joints and bones – something that cannot be said of jogging or jumping rope or anything else. The water will accommodate nearly all of your weight when you’re submerged, meaning no parts of your body are operating merely to keep you upright – they only need to focus on exercise (if you weren't sure, that is a good thing).

The risk of injury is extremely slim (though Swimmer’s Ear is a total pain) and even if it takes you some time to get your form down, the process of learning the stroke(s) won’t lead to you rolling an ankle or pulling a hamstring, as it may in other sports. As long as you don’t drown or drink a lot of the water, it’s a risk-free exercise to learn and then utilize on a daily basis.

1. It’s really good for you.

Provided your mechanics are all in order, swimming freestyle will not only work your shoulders and legs extremely well but your chest, back, core, and everything in between will show signs of real development in just a few days. Water has twelve times the resistance of air and trust me, you will notice that difference rather quickly, both in terms of fatigue and muscular definition. Swimming can essentially replace your routines of lifting weights and cardio.

On top of that, swimming is the only real form of exercise that lengthens the body rather than compressing it. Your back and neck will be looser than ever, your shoulders and knees stronger and more flexible (it’s not a coincidence that a lot of injury rehabilitation for most major joint/tendon injuries takes place underwater), and your wind will improve so quickly, it will blow your mind and the mind of anyone you challenge to a “who can hold their breath the longest?” contest.

If you want to whip your entire body into shape and don't want to struggle with the daily “I don't really feel like working out today” mind battle, give swimming a shot. Before long, you'll be as hooked on it as I (and millions of others) are. And if you end up not liking it, I will give you a full refund on this column.

Justin Brown

Justin Brown is an artist and writer living in Virginia. He channels most of his enthusiasm into making things for his online art shop, Artness! by Justin Brown. You can keep up to date with him, his worldly adventures, and his dogs by following him on Instagram and on Facebook