Diabetes UK and Greg Whyte are here to help you through every stage, from your first training session to the final length. Here, we’ll give you advice on training, injury prevention and swimming techniques to really get the most out of your exercise.
Who is Greg?
Greg Whyte was national swimming champion at the age of 12 and has been in and out of the water ever since. A modern pentathlete for 16 years, he competed in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games and was a European and world championship medallist. Greg is a professor of Applied Sport Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University and has worked as a consultant physiologist for Premiership Football teams, Formula One and the British summer and winter Olympic teams. A brilliant teacher, Greg has turned his hand to training celebrities for worthy causes – he swam with David Walliams for his channel swim and trained the ‘Kilimanjaro Nine’.
As a whole-body exercise, swimming gives you a great workout and tones all of your muscles, thereby improving fitness levels. It also leads to improved health that can positively affect your physical, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing. Research has shown that increasing the amount of exercise you do and improving your fitness decreases the chance of developing a range of chronic diseases. In addition, swimming benefits your mind by improving your mood, reducing anxiety and increasing self-confidence. So swimming works from head to toe, and from inside to outside, helping you to look great and feel even better.
Diet and Hydration
In general, your muscles require carbohydrates as fuel for exercise. That's why it is important to make sure you have a full store of carbohydrates in your muscles and other parts of the body. If you are swimming regularly you should consider consuming carbs before, during and after your swim.
It always seems a little bizarre to be concerned about hydration when you are submerged in water. However, dehydration is very common in swimmers. Swimming requires a lot of energy and in keeping up with your bodys energy demands you produce heat that you have to lose in order to keep your body temperature within a safe range. The best way to lose heats is by sweating – yes, believe it or not, you sweat when you are swimming. That is why it is important to ensure you are fully hydrated before you swim, take a bottle to the poolside during your session and have a drink for when you get out.
Large meals should be eaten at least 1–2 hours before swimming, but you can eat small amounts of energy rich carbs, such as chocolate, fruit, biscuits or energy bars at any point before a swim.
Unfortunately it can be difficult to eat while swimming – not only is there little time to chew, but mixing food with chlorinated water makes it taste terrible! The best source of carbohydrates during swimming will be in the form of energy drinks which allow you to maintain your carb levels and rehydrate at the same time.
Try to consume carbohydrates within thirty minutes of finishing a swim – this period after exercise is the most effective time for your body to store carbs. Replenishing your carbs after swimming is an investment in your next session: if you don't fully replete your energy stores after exercise your next swim will suffer.
Warm up and down
It is essential to look after your muscles and joints. If you havent swum before, are returning to swimming or are swimming a large number of sessions, you may pick up minor niggles that can develop into more problematic injuries. Don't ignore soreness and pain that is localised in a certain muscle or joint – act early and you can often avoid injury. Take a couple of days off swimming before returning to the pool and build your swimming up gradually. Prevention is the best cure so make sure you stretch before and after each session to increase flexibility (Swim for life has further information on useful stretches for swimming).
How often do I hear this? And there is no doubt about it, swimming can be boring if you do the same thing every time you get in the water. However, there are a variety of different ways in which you can eliminate boredom and enjoy swimming every time you go.
Having a target to aim for is one of the best ways to eliminate boredom and motivate youself. Clearly identifying a goal you want to achieve, whether it's to lose weight, to swim a mile, or in this case to swim the channel, will be invaluable in making swimming more enjoyable.
When setting goals, you should have both short term and long term targets. A sensible short term goal, for example, would be to swim a certain number of lengths or meters in a set time. The more physical targets such us weight loss should form part of your longer-term goals. So make sure your goals are achieveable yet challenging and dont forget your overall target, to swim the distance of the English Channel.
Reward yourself once you reach your goals. Make sure it is something you really want, but do not allow yourself to have it until you have reached your goal.
Swim with others
Swimming on your own can sometimes be a lonely experience. A great way to enhance your enjoyment is to swim with others, because although you do spend much of the time with your head submerged in the water, there are still lots of opportunities to chat.
Having a swimming buddy can help you maintain your programme, encourage you on days when you dont feel like swimming and visa-versa, meaning you are much more likely to achieve your short- and long-term goals.
Swimming the same stroke for the same number of lengths is the quickest route to boredom! To increase interest, use all of the strokes. Don't be afraid of trying a new stroke for the first time – you may find it difficult but you will soon get the hang of it.
Swim4Life has a great section on stroke techinque and tips.
Taking care of yourself
Swimming is a great form of exercise because it uses all of your muscles and gives you whole-body toning. That said, it is worth taking some time to look after yourself when you are not in the water too. Ensuring you take good care of your skin, hair and equipment will mean that you look great as well as fell great.
Chlorine causes fabrics to fade quickly when not rinsed off immediately after swimming. It can also affect the elasticity of your costume, resulting in a sad, faded, saggy costume – not your most attractive look! Rinse your costume in fresh water and dry after every swim.
Swimming can really take its toll on your skin because of the chemicals used to keep the pool free of bacteria. Chlorine strips the moisture from your skin; it is therefore not unusual for it to become dry, itchy and irritated. Shower immediately after you have swum and wash your skin with soap, towel-dry whole body thoroughly and then moisturise your skin.