This is the first in a series of columns designed to help you swim at your best at meets, or just appreciate your swimming more.

First up I thought it appropriate to remind you all how we got to this point and the range of reasons – and most important reasons – why we swim. Back in 1974 when I got seriously involved in competitive swimming, just about the only people who swam up and down swimming pools ‘following the black line’ were serious competitive swimmers. Public pools were for cooling off on hot summer days and playing games in, and it was very rare to even see a pool set up with lane ropes for lap swimming. When competitive swimmers stopped competing they tended to stop swimming altogether.

How times changed! The 1970s and 80s saw an ‘exercise revolution’ which was prompted by an ever-increasing awareness of the benefits of exercise, in particular its role in general health and wellbeing. Swimming was slower in becoming a part of this revolution as many took to the streets to jog or to the gym to exercise, because running and exercises were activities everyone was capable of doing, whereas swimming was a skill that many had not fully mastered. Gradually the word spread regarding the special benefits of swimming.

Studies show that swimming, along with cross-country skiing, is the best way to develop cardiovascular fitness and aerobic capacity. Swimming uses more muscle groups than many other forms of exercise and is excellent for keeping the body supple, and muscles and joints loose and mobile. A huge advantage is that one’s body weight is supported while swimming, meaning there is not the load-bearing strain on joints and muscles that occurs while jogging or performing other land-based activities. Hence injury risk is significantly lower for swimming than many other forms of exercise. A unique feature of swimming is that because most of your senses are less active with your head in the water, this relative ‘sensory deprivation’ means swimming can become a form of moving meditation that gives a feeling of relaxation and peace unlike that offered by other forms of exercise. And all you need is a swimsuit, goggles and a pool – or the ocean, a lake or a river! As the exercise revolution took hold, ex-sportsmen and women realised they didn’t have to stop competing either, and Masters competition began appearing in many sports, including swimming.

These days it is very heartening to see so many people of all ages keeping fit and testing themselves against the clock and against people of similar ages in many sports. I have been involved in Masters swimming since the mid-1980s and it has been remarkable to see the progress and the times swimmers of all ages are now capable of. If you want to be amazed, look up the Masters world records and check them out for your age. However, for both younger competitive swimmers and even more so for Masters competitors, the true worth of competition lies in the motivation it provides you to swim regularly – it doesn’t really matter how fast you swim – because swimming regularly will provide many lasting physical, psychological and character benefits that may well contribute greatly to the length and quality of your life.So whether you want to swim fast in pool, surf or open water, improve your swimming skills, keep fit and be healthy in mind and body, lose weight, practice moving meditation or just experience the delights of being able to move nicely through another medium – get in and swim! Swim for life!

Mark Morgan
October 19, 2017