Swimming

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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 freestyle relay.

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.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/6/2014

Get helpful swimming safety tips.

Make Swimming Pools Safer

Medically Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Nine people drown per day in the U.S. That's the average. It does not even include drownings from boat accidents. According to the CDC(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), drowning rates have declined over the years, but drowning is still the second leading cause of injury-related deaths of children.

While most drownings of infants under a year of age occur in bathtubs, buckets, or toilets, most drownings of children 1-4 years of age occur in residential swimming pools. The facts surrounding the drownings of young children in residential pools can send a chill down any parent's spine:

  • Most children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home.
  • Most young children who drowned in pools had been out of sight for less than five minutes.
  • The majority of children who drowned in pools were in the care of one or both parents at the time.

If you have a pool at home, be sure it is as safe as possible. Never, ever, leave a child unsupervised in or near a pool.

The American Red Cross recommends the following steps to maximize the safety of home swimming pools.