Author: Richard Weil, MEd, CDE
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Introduction to swimming
Swimming is an activity that burns lots of calories, is easy on the joints,
supports your weight, builds muscular strength and endurance, improves
cardiovascular fitness, cools you off and refreshes you in summer, and one that
you can do safely into old age. In this article, I'll review the
history of swimming, the benefits, the strokes, how to get started, what to
wear, equipment you need, where to do it, and more.
What is the history of swimming?
Human beings have been swimming for millennia. According to Wikipedia,
Stone Age cave drawings depict individuals swimming and there are written
references in the Bible and the Greek poems "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" dating
back 1,500 to 2,000 years. There are even Egyptian clay seals from 4000 BC
showing four swimmers doing a version of the crawl, and the most famous swimming
drawings were apparently found in the Kebir desert and were estimated to also be from
around 4000 BC.
According to the Encyclopedia of Traditional British Rural Sports,
literature specifically related to swimming grew in the middle ages. It is
believed that the first book devoted to swimming was Colymbetes by Nicolas
Wynman written in 1538, and a more widely recognized text, De Arte Nantandi, was
published in Latin by Everard Digby in 1587. The encyclopedia also reports that
swimming was required of knights and that Romans built bathhouses and pools
wherever they conquered to serve as social clubs and places to exercise.
Organized swimming began in the 1800s and 1900s with the creation of swimming associations (for example, the Amateur
Swimming Association in 1886) and clubs
that competed against each other. There are reports from that era of swimming
clubs in England, France, Germany, and the United States. High-profile
events also contributed to swimming's visibility. For instance, Matthew Webb
swam the English Channel in 1875.
Competitive swimming continued to grow in popularity during the 1800s and
was included in the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. In 1904, the
Olympics in St. Louis included the 50-, 100-, 220-, 440-, 880-yard and one-mile
freestyle, the 100-yard backstroke and 440-yard breaststroke, and a 4x50-yard
By the 20th century, swimming had become mainstream. Indoor pools were
beginning to appear, most towns with populations over 20,000 had public outdoor
pools, and swimming clubs became increasingly popular for recreation. Women
participated for the first time in swimming in the Olympic Games in Stockholm in
1912, and Johnny Weissmuller (considered by many authorities to be the greatest
swimmer of all time and who later went on to Tarzan fame in movies) became the
first person to swim 100 meters in less than one minute.
Today swimming is the second most popular exercise activity in the United
States, with approximately 360 million annual visits to recreational water
venues. Swim clubs, recreation centers, Y's, and many other facilities feature
swimming pools. Many high schools and colleges have competitive swim teams, and
of course, swimming is one of the most popular Olympic sports. Millions of
Americans are swimming each year. Are you one of them? If not, the following
information may help get you started.