The Home Pool
Before going by yourself to a swim facility, consider going with a friend. It's best that your friend is also water shy, or at least a non-swimmer. Second choice is someone who swims poorly and knows it. Don't go with a good swimmer! Experienced swimmers lose patience with those who are fearful and that first visit could depress you. If you really want to learn how to swim, DO NOT LET OTHERS DISCOURAGE YOU! Keep in mind that ANYONE can learn to swim in some way.
Having been the lifeguard for an adaptive swim class many years ago I can attest to the above statement. In the class there were stroke victims, partial and paraplegics, people with debilitating arthritis and one man severely stricken with cerebral palsy who was lowered into the water by a "strap-chair" which was attached to a pulley after attendants lifted him out of his wheelchair. This group had learned special strokes adapted to each one's ability. Most of them were able to swim twenty to forty lengths of the 25 meter pool during their hour long session. Some only managed to swim a few lengths slowly, but they could stay afloat and move in the proper direction. They all applied various combinations of body twists, floatation, arm, hand or wrist turning and leg movements. It takes courage to swim when not all of one's limbs are functional. Fear is also a paralysis and sometimes it takes even more courage to overcome it.
First, you need to locate a public or private pool. Local government places to call are city offices; the county seat; park bureaus; school districts; and colleges. Privately owned pools to contact are lodges; athletic clubs; country clubs; the "Y"; or even a friend with a backyard pool. Motel, hotel and apartment pools are also good but ONLY if a lifeguard is available. If you have a friend who's a member of a private club with a swim facility you may be able to use the pool as a guest. Do not consider open water such as rivers and lakes until you have learned to swim well. Searching for a pool with hours that are convenient for you strengthens your determination to take action. You will find that times for Open Swim are varied so you may need to plan a weekly schedule for different hours and days.
After deciding upon a pool, first pay it a visit, but ONLY AS A SPECTATOR. You may find that your desired time is crowded and wish to change it. Most pools have an adult lap swim and if it's not well attended one lane may be reserved for those who cannot swim or only practice water exercises, so that may be a good option for you. While there, go into the dressing room and familiarize yourself with the area. Talk to people who work at the facility and ask questions. These actions will make you feel more at ease.
SWIMSUITS: There are several items you'll want in your swim bag besides packing a suit and towel, but the major one is a swimsuit. For women, a plain light weight, one-pieced suit that feels comfortable is best. If you're a woman and you are wearing a suit which makes you worry about the straps falling off you'll be unable to concentrate on the lessons. Extreme French Cut and sexy suits are made for viewing, not for swimming.
Suits should be fairly thin but durable with no bows, ruffles or additions that drag in the water. The ideal suit is close fitting but not too tight--comfortable enough for you to hardly know you're wearing it. For wearability, the best material is 100% Nylon jersey. Nylon holds up well in chlorine and usually doesn't fade. The only drawback is that without an elastic material added to it (such as Spandex, Lycra, Antron, etc.) plain Nylon cloth will not hold in the tummy nor give you a smooth line. Most swimsuit material is a combination of Nylon and a stretch fabric. A swimsuit with over 15% elastic is usually more expensive but on average will only hold up about three months when worn in chlorinated water for an hour three or more times a week. The elastic then deteriorates causing the Nylon threads to sag. Because part of the material is gone what's left is so thin that you can see through it. I've found that 12% elastic is a good proportion and on average will last six to nine months under the above conditions. Heavier material will last longer, such as Orlon knit. I've found that Orlon is not only long wearing, but holds its elasticity very well. A good plus for Orlon is that swimsuits made of it are less expensive because it's not as light weight as other synthetics. Since I swim laps only for conditioning, I prefer Orlon, ESPECIALLY because of it's weight as it gives me a harder workout.
If you sew and decide to make your own suit it's best to buy a professional pattern designed for swimsuit material. Swimsuit fabric stretches FOUR ways, not just side to side like regular stretch yardage. For good and poor designs, see below:
The "Conventional Back" suit is on the Good list because this style is usually less expensive and it's easy to sew an elastic (or stretchy material) strap across the back at shoulder blade level to keep the shoulder straps from slipping. Pin it on first to make sure you can stretch the strap over your hips and chest. I've sewn many straps on suits like this and they work great.
MEN'S SUITS: There are three basic swimsuit styles for men--briefs, bikinis and boxers. Men should follow the guidelines for material by reading the above. Be sure to check the seams. They should be close-stitched and have at least double stitching if not triple or more. Some men prefer knitted suits. Old style knit trunks are heavy wool-mix and take a long time to dry but will last twenty or thirty years. To test, pull on them, then let go. If the material returns quickly to its original shape it's good quality but if it stays stretched out, or slowly returns, the quality is poor. See illustration below:
SWIM CAPS: Male or female, if your hair is below your ears you should wear a cap. Though few pools require them anymore due to new filtration methods there are still good reasons for wearing a swim cap. First, a cap keeps hair out of eyes, nose and mouth. It's unnerving for novice swimmers to lift their heads out of water and have hair covering their faces. Some people panic when they cannot get a breath right away because hair is in their mouths and/or nostrils.
Beginners MUST wear either caps or good hair retainers. Though most caps won't keep hair dry they do give some protection from chlorine, especially when hair is rolled up into a bun. Caps also give a sense of lightness. The head doesn't feel heavy in the water, which gives beginners a feeling of security. The latex competitive cap is best. It's light, comfortable and inexpensive. It will last six to eight months of swimming three to four times a week if thoroughly dried after each use and sprinkled with a bit of cornstarch to prevent sticking. The caps come in three sizes and many colors. There's no need to think caps are sissified. Observe lap swimmers and you'll see that most of the men and women wear them.
EARS: If, after towel drying your ears, you still have water bubbles in them, turn your head to the side and bend downward. If the water doesn't seep out try a gentle palming motion with your hand over the ear to burst the bubble and let the water escape. Occasionally, a swim cap may push water into the ear. If that's annoying, consider wearing ear plugs. A good type of plug for swimming is soft vinyl that molds to the ear. Most sport stores sell them. There are several to a package and they are disposable. I like them because they stay put and don't disrupt one's ability to hear.
This is rare, but If you are dizzy or feel faint after swimming, it may be due to an inner ear infection. It's difficult to diagnose because there is no pain and no symptoms other than a low-grade fever which many doctors, after seeing test results that show nothing wrong, will attribute to a cold or something less serious. It would be wise to see an ear specialist who's more likely than a general practitioner, to correctly diagnose it.
SKIN: Skin care is simple. Shower after each swim to wash off the chlorine. If you have an allergic reaction to chlorine, such as dry skin, redness or itchiness, use a non-perfumed, gentle soap. After toweling, the application of non-perfumed body lotion or scent-free oil may also help.
EYES: The first thing some swim instructors require of beginners is to have them open their eyes under water. For Water-Shy classes, I don't recommend it until pupils are over their initial apprehensions. Regardless of whether or not the water is heavily chlorinated, there is always a burning sensation until eyes become used to it. Those who wish to wear goggles should be encouraged. Goggles offer security because they make it easier to see under water. Without goggles eyes may be sore for awhile after leaving the pool. This may not be from chlorine. Often, beginner swimmers use certain products more frequently than they used to, such as hair spray; perfumed lotions and soaps; shampoo containing formaldehyde and other allergy producing cosmetics. People prone to allergies may also be affected If others in the dressing room are using such products. Most pool rules prohibit the use of hair sprays for this reason. A personal note: Several years ago after swimming, my eyes would swell nearly shut. While chiding the pool maintenance man for using too much chlorine, he asked to see my shampoo bottle. When he read the label he showed that it contained formaldehyde. When I changed to a shampoo without it, the swelling ended. Another allergen is talcum. An excellent substitute for talc is cornstarch which is soothing and prevents chafing.
GOGGLES: For general use, ordinary swim goggles are sufficient. Rims come in plain rubber, foam rubber; silicon and vinyl. Well known brand names usually fit better and last longer than than the dollar ninety-nine specials. There are two basic styles: two-pieced with nose adjustments and one-pieced. Both have good and bad points. For years I wore one-pieced goggles with silicon baffled rims. I then used a less expensive pair with foam rubber rims that adjusted over the nose. Both styles gave me a good fit. I now wear a more expensive goggle made of soft "ever-lasting" non-foam material which surrounds the eyes and adjusts for a perfect fit. Well known brands, such as TYR and Speedo have many different styles from which to choose. Aside from style preference, look for ease of adjustment; band width and thickness; and non-breakable fasteners.
Some goggles have plastic clips that "lock" over the bands. These may not lock tightly, come off, or get lost and break--in that case, bands can be looped through side openings and tied with a square knot. Buckles made of metal last far longer than plastic ones. Bands should be half an inch wide and as thick as heavy duty, wide rubber bands. Double bands or ones that veer out to form two bands will last longer. By adjusting the bands and nose bridge you should get a good fit. One-pieced goggles without a nose adjustment work because the baffled rims are wider and fit more snuggly around the eyes. The rims are made of soft vinyl or silicon and recommended for those who are allergic to foam rubber. Getting a good fit may take a while but it's worth the time.
TIP: If the band wears out before the goggles, buy a pair of cheap goggles and use its band.
Colored goggles are used either for various environments or for different moods. Dark goggles are for swimming in bright lights or sun; yellow brightens up a dark pool; blue and aqua improve visibility if the water is murky, and rose gives one a feeling of happiness.
SATCHELS AND BAGS: For women, the best bag for swim gear is a large satchel with double handles and a long zippered opening. It must have water proof lining and at least one extra compartment. It should also stand on its own and not collapse when a towel is removed. Upon opening the top, everything in it should be in view.
Suggestions to bring: a small goggle box or pouch to protect lenses from scratches, lotion, soap or shower gel, comb, shampoo, cream rinse, makeup, bobby pins, and body powder. It's handy to keep these items in the satchel so there's no need to re-pack for each pool visit. Do not bring anything in glass containers as most pool regulations do not permit them.
MEN will probably prefer taking a regular gym bag. In addition to comb and shower supplies they may also wish to bring shaving gear.
TIP: Don't bring valuables to any pool or gym. Lockers can be broken into. Leave jewelry and watches in your car trunk or ask the lifeguard to put them in a safe place. Don't leave clothing, wallets or purses on a deck bench where you can "keep an eye on them."
TRUE STORY: I once saw a woman put her purse on a bench near the end of a lane where she was swimming laps. A young man stepped over the retainer rope and grabbed her purse. She saw him take it and from mid pool swam to the side and climbed out. She chased him down the deck and outside along a busy highway where she lost him. It was a cold rainy day and she was in a swimsuit. People driving by stared and laughed. She was not happy.
The Home Pool
Chapter Two~Water-Shy People