Low impact exercise in water
FOR a nation that’s practically surrounded by water, Malaysians are, surprisingly, not very good swimmers. Take me for example: I can float and I can splash around in the water but that’s about it.
It’s unfortunate because according to Peh Gin Hai, swimming is a fun, easy way to exercise. The former national swimming coach now runs Advanced Aquatics, a swimming school with classes in the Klang Valley and Kuala Terengganu.
“There is a perception that because you’re in the water and you don’t sweat, you’re not exercising. However, depending on your strokes and how vigorously you swim, you can burn up to 1,000 calories an hour in the pool,” he says.
There are four major swimming strokes — freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly — with recreational swimmers preferring the first two.
Freestyle is where the arms alternate front and back while the legs paddle up and down. It’s good for working out your shoulders and core. You also have the option of exercising or relaxing your legs as you swim.
Meanwhile, breaststroke is sometimes called frog style because the hands and legs move simultaneously. It’s a good workout for the legs, back and shoulders.
“The great thing about swimming as an exercise is that it’s low impact, so it’s suitable for all ages,” says Peh.
“My great-uncle, who is turning 80, has been swimming three times a week for many years. And it’s something that he can do without difficulty, unlike say, badminton.”
With swimming, your body weight is supported by the water, so there is very little stress on your joints because you’re not pounding the ground like running. The risk of injury or muscle strain is also lower.
Swimming is a great option for people with weak joints, or for those recovering from injury. It’s also found to be especially effective for arthritis sufferers to help relieve stiffness and reduce pain and fatigue.
“For those who are overweight, swimming is something they can ease into. It’s a gentler workout. The water’s buoyancy counteracts their weight and allows them to move more freely,” says Peh.
Chiropractor Dansen Wong has seen quite a number of injuries in his time and he is more inclined to recommend swimming rather than other types of exercise.
“For example, runners often have knee injuries. So I advise them to swim instead. In the water, you have the weightlessness, so you are not compressing your knee. But you still have resistance in the water, so you will still build up muscle. And when youíre stronger, you can swim a different stroke or intensify the workout,” says Wong.
However, there is still a danger of injury, if you don’t exercise properly. “For patients who say they know how to swim, I still ask them to seek a coach for technique correction,” he says. “Because even if you’re doing it slowly, if you do it often enough in the wrong position using the wrong technique, you can still hurt yourself.”
A more serious aspect of swimming is how vital it is as a life skill. Drowning cases are not uncommon, and while we love to spend our weekends on the beach or near a waterfall, fatalities do happen.
One factor is accessibility. There are less than 10 public swimming pools in the Klang Valley. There may be pools in condominiums and some housing areas as well as private clubs and gyms, but learning to swim safely is still inaccessible for many people.
“The sooner you learn to swim, the better as this will mean less fear of water. Also, adults tend to be shy about learning something new. They fear they will be laughed at,” says Peh.
It’s not a good idea to learn to swim in the sea, because of the waves and currents. And he advises wearing life jackets when snorkelling, even though that is not commonly done.
“Anything can happen. You ingest a bit of water and you panic. It’s best that you know how to swim before taking your diver certification because again, anything can happen,” he says, adding that we should never swim alone. “You may get a heart attack in the water. So make sure there’s another person there. Even if they’re not swimming or can’t swim, at least they can run and get help.”
The now retired Michael Phelps may be the most famous swimmer in the world, but you don’t need to be a decorated Olympian to benefit from swimming.
You can start off young but it is never too late to learn to swim. Photo courtesy of Advanced Aquatics.