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How do I get started with swimming?
Take a lesson if you don't know how to swim! It's never too late to learn. Your local recreation center, Y, fitness center, or senior center might have a pool, and if they do, chances are they offer swim lessons (plus, if it's indoors, you can swim all year long!). You may have the choice of group or private lessons. Opt for a private lesson if you have a strong fear of the water and feel you need special attention, otherwise a group lesson will work just fine.
A qualified swim instructor will have some type of certification (for example, the American Red Cross-certified lifeguard and swim instructor) and will be willing to speak with you before you get started to explain how things work. Adults generally need one hour for beginning sessions, but that may vary based on your health and fitness level (children younger than 6 years of age need 15-30 minutes and 6- to 12 year-olds need 30-45 minutes). The instructor should use kickboards, float belts, or other flotation devices to assist you if necessary, and they should be sensitive to any fear of the water you might have. When you first start, you should expect to learn breathing and stroke techniques separately, and then the instructor will integrate your lessons as you get more comfortable and skilled. You might start in the shallow end where you can stand and work on breathing techniques, by the side of the pool and hold on while you kick, or perhaps hold on to a kickboard and kick across the pool to work on kicking strokes. Depending on your skill and comfort in the water, you might move quickly to a float belt or other flotation device and start working on your arm strokes and coordinating them with kicking. Your instructor will know how quickly to progress.
What if I already know how to swim?
That's easy! Join a local pool and get started. Swimming is a tough activity and even if you've been working out for years running and biking and using the Elliptical, you may be surprised by how much endurance swimming requires. If that's the case, then it's probably due to poor stroke and breathing technique (swallowing water will slow you down every time), which is to be expected if it has been years since you last swam. But it will come back with practice.
One way to get started is to pace yourself with intervals. By that I mean swim for five to 10 minutes, or as long as you can manage without stopping, take a breather, then get right back to it and swim again until you need another break, and then go again. Or you could do as I suggested earlier with kickboards by leaving it on the pool deck and swimming until you're tired, but instead of stopping, pick up the board and continue to kick. Or you could use a float belt or similar device to help you float so that you can continue to swim or slow down to work on technique.
Whatever method you choose to get back into it, swim consistently, and in just a matter of weeks, your fitness for swimming will improve.