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You Don’t Have to Be an Athlete to Be a Good Swimmer

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I was never an athletic child. I participated in gym class, but I was always the kid who ducked when the ball came near me. The idea of team sports terrified me. I did try individual sports, like ice skating and karate, which I was decent at, but I never continued at a competitive level.

Swimming was always something I enjoyed doing for fun. I took lessons when I was about five, when I learned the basics. I swam with my friends every summer at our town’s pool club, but I never swam any actual laps or joined the swim team. I enjoyed diving and joined the diving team one summer because I thought flipping and twisting in the air was awesome. But my actual “swimming” was sort of a combination of diving practice and what I like to call “interpretive synchronized swimming” (flipping, twisting, and handstand contests and routines with my friends).

I never had any interest in real swimming … until I threw my back out last spring. This happened several times over a very short period of time. Tests determined that I have two degenerating discs in my thoracic spine, which is not normal for someone my age. Doctors suspect that it was caused by a combination of a car accident I had years ago and carrying my babies in the baby carrier. I actually carried my little one until she was 17 months old.

Physical therapy was not a possibility because it was not covered by insurance at the time, nor was chiropractic treatments or acupuncture. The doctor said I had to strengthen the muscles or I would keep injuring myself. She said swimming was the only exercise I could safely do.

So off to the local Y I went. I jumped in the pool and somehow “swam” 25 yards without passing out. I literally had to catch my breath for a full minute. The lifeguards all focused on me, ready to jump in and save me since my “freestyle” actually resembled a person flailing around trying not to drown. This was not going to work.

Once I got home I scoured the Internet, looking for answers. That’s how I was introduced to the Total Immersion (TI) method. On amazon.com, I saw many books and DVDs on this method. After reading several reviews and comments, I decided to give the DVD Easy Freestyle Swimming and the book Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster, and Easier, both by Terry Laughlin (but with co-author John Delves on the latter) a try.

The DVD is filmed both above and under water, and breaks down every aspect of the freestyle into different steps.

You can watch it in order, or just watch the sections you feel you need to focus on; they include everything from rotary breathing to proper body positioning, baby steps to work up to full stroke, and full stroke. After just watching it one time, I was able to swim freestyle in a way that did not alarm the lifeguards, and was able to do continuous laps for 30 minutes, taking short rests only when I needed to.

The book explained the theory of why this method is more logical and effective than most conventional methods, and gave additional tips that were not addressed in the DVD.

I continued to improve, and with the help of the Breaststroke for Every Body DVD, also by Terry Laughlin, I now alternate freestyle laps with breaststroke laps. I can now swim the 30 minutes without stopping at all. I have lost more than 20 pounds in about six months without making any dietary changes, my back is no longer stiff and I have not had any more spasms.

I recommend swimming for everyone. It works the entire body, inside and outside, and is safe for nearly all ages and body conditions. You don’t have to be a naturally athletic person to swim well. You just need to learn a few basic steps to swim efficiently. The Total Immersion series makes it very easy. 

If you have never swum before, you can try Terry Laughlin’s DVD Happy Laps.  This will get you swimming, without worrying about the anxiety of getting the right stroke technique.

If you already have a workout regime, I highly recommend that you add swimming.  It will drastically enhance your results.  If you do not currently exercise, now is the time to start.  The Total Immersion method is an accessible, unintimidating way to swim your way to good health.

For more information about the Total Immersion method, visit  www.totalimmersion.net.

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About Rachael Pontillo