Womean swimming in pool
Photo: Thinkstock
When you break it down, swimming has a high potential for embarrassment. It requires us to show grace, coordination and strength—all without the security of clothing. This didn’t seem to bother us back when we worked as lifeguards at the YMCA or as splash-happy counselors at Camp Good Times. But over the years, without regular access to a pool or a pond, many of us have grown tentative in the water.

It’s worth rebuilding our confidence, though, because swimming offers a total-body workout like no other. And as many athletes are discovering, this non-impact activity is an excellent alternative for joints that have become stiff from years' worth of pavement-pounding. It can help us feel weightless—and even ageless. "The water doesn't know what age you are when you jump in," said Dara Torres, who at 41 was the oldest woman ever to make the U.S. Olympic Swim Team. "So why not?"

While complete novices are best served by a class or private instruction, some lapsed swimmers just need a little push. We asked two professional coaches for advice on getting back in the swim.

Buy goggles that fit.

This is the best trick for avoiding those uncomfortable under-eye creases. "People think they need to have their goggles on really tight in order to keep the water out," explains David Marsh, the head coach of SwimMAC competitive swimming club in Charlotte, North Carolina. The problem is that tight eyewear not only presses into sensitive skin, but they also pull across the bridge of the nose, allowing more water to seep in. To find the best fit, treat goggle shopping like swimsuit shopping, and try on as many styles as possible. For recreational swimmers, Marsh is excited about Speedo's forthcoming Liquid Storm goggles, which will be available early next year. They have a silicone injection in the padding for a softer fit, and thicker double-straps that are less likely to tangle hair.

Build a strong core on dry land.

"Swimming uses every muscle in your body," says Coach Marsh, "and most of them connect through your core." To strengthen the muscles around the spine, Marsh recommends the Dead Bug exercise:
  • Lay on your back with your arms and legs up in the air, like a beetle that's seen better days. Press your back firmly into the ground.
  • Without arching or releasing your lower back, lower one leg down to the ground, then bring it back up. Your arms remain up in the air. Repeat with the opposite leg.
  • Work up to bringing the opposite arm and leg down at the same time. "There's no compression on the spine, so you can maintain the same line you have when swimming in the water," says Marsh.