Exercise 101: Everybody in the Pool

aquabikingBefore you say anything about not getting your hair wet let me just say ‘so what’. I swam in high school and my hair turned out perfectly fine. And secondly let’s do away with the myth that black people don’t swim. While it’s true that 70% of blacks don’t know how to swim it’s not because they can’t or don’t want to. It may simply be about having access to recreational activities that include swimming. When you grow up in the suburbs there is no shortage of pools, not all places are so lucky. A team at the University of Memphis looked into this disparity.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s focus on how you can include swimming (or at least water aerobics – no wet hair) in your exercise regimen. You are more likely to stay engaged with your workout routine if you change it up a bit. Also changing your routine confuses your body. Swimming is a low-impact sport that improves your endurance and strength as much as running again.

Don’t know how to swim. You have one of two choice, learn to swim from an instructor or stick with shallow-end water aerobics that don’t require swimming skills.

Why should you start swimming?

  • Swimming is great exercise. The amount of calories burned varies depending on the effort, the style (freestyle, breast stroke, etc.) the distance and your weight. A 150 pound person could burn ~400 calories in 60 minutes; a 200 pound person may burn twice as much. Heavier people burn more calories.
  • Learning to swim saves lives, mainly your own. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) nearly 10 people drown everyday.
  • Debunk the stereotype. I’m never one for doing something to prove a stereotype isn’t true. What I mean is by learning or starting to swim it prevents the self fulfilling prophecy. We see so few black women swimming for various reasons, so assumptions are made as to why. Fear is a big anti-motivator. When a parent doesn’t know how to swim there is an 87% chance the child will not learn how to swim.

If you think you shouldn’t learn how to swim because you don’t live near water change your mindset. You never know when you will need to use the skill of swimming. The earth is covered by 70% water.

If you know how to swim, but haven’t done it in a while get to a pool and start out with a freestyle which is the most common form. You can also try the breast stroke without the head dunk. This allows you to keep your head above water and get more comfortable before including the breath component. Some will say start off with the front crawl. I’m not a fan of this approach. I was a swim instructor and we were told not to teach children the front crawl because it creates poor form for doing the freestyle stroke. You essentially have to un-teach it.

I found several resources to help get you started. In the famous words of Nike…Just Do It.


Real Talk | Real Things | Real Results


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  • www.usaswimming.org
  • Irwin, C., Irwin, R., Martin, N. & Ross, S. “Constraints Impacting Minority Swimming Participation. Phase II”. 2010, May 26.


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