People ask me how I can stand the summers in Texas. But, I tell them that it’s no problem for me because I have watermelon, and I have swimming. I swim practically every day in the summer, usually in the late afternoon. And it completely relieves the oppression of the summer heat. I was a competitive swimmer in high school, and I have been swimming ever since. Swimming is my favorite fitness activity- that along with bicycling. And I swim all year long, although not nearly as much in the winter. Here in Austin where I live, there are public pools that are open all year, including ones that are non-chlorinated. My rule is that if it’s sunny and in the 60s, I’m good to go for swimming, whether it’s December, January, or February.
Swimming is surely one of the best exercises. It sets your whole body in motion and uses all of your muscles- although the upper body much more than the lower body. And, swimming is truly a natural movement. Swimming is a primordial activity, meaning that it was something that prehistoric humans (who were anatomically the same as you and me) were doing tens of thousands of years ago. It’s significant that American researchers found primitive people in the Amazon swimming the front crawl. And, Australian researchers found primitive people on the Solomon Islands swimming the front crawl as well- half a world away.
Today, it is common to refer to the front crawl as the “freestyle” but that’s really a misnomer. It started being called the freestyle because in competitive swimming, when you have a race in which any stroke is permitted, the crawl is the stroke that everyone chooses to swim because it is the fastest and most efficient stroke. But, the crawl is a much better description of what the stroke involves.
Let’s pursue that idea of crawling through the water. We know that when a baby crawls, it is a natural activity that is mediated instinctively. No one has to teach a baby how to do it. And it involves the same brain centers that control the natural cadence of walking. Swimming the crawl is to aquatic locomotion as walking is to terrestrial locomotion. Am I saying that swimming the crawl is as natural and instinctive to a human as swimming the dog paddle is to a dog? Not quite, but close.
Swimming does good things to your body. For one thing, it stretches you out, especially when you swim the crawl. When you reach that arm forward, you are stretching the distance between your hand and your feet. It’s the only common exercise I know of that does that. There was an episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer began swimming in the East River because the YMCA pool was too crowded. And he said, “An hour in that chop, and I come out two inches taller.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the general idea is true.
And swimming does good things for your mind too. It’s a stress reliever. When you swim the crawl, the natural cadence of the brain takes over. You focus on the movement. It takes over your mind. And of course, your whole world is different. You’re in this aquatic environment which is very stimulating and very different. Get into the water and start swimming the crawl, and do it earnestly. I don’t mean strain yourself, but really try to cut through the water diligently. Then see if you can worry, fret, and fume about something at the same time. You can't. It's impossible. Swimming clears your mind. You come out of the water mentally refreshed and renewed.
When I swim in natural water, such as a river or creek or lake, I feel closer to my ancient human roots than at any other time. In Austin, we have the Barton Creek Greenbelt, and with good Spring rains, the creek fills with fresh, soft rain water, and it’s fabulous to swim there. The college kids go there to mix and mingle and drink beer. But, I go there to swim. Sadly, there were no Spring rains this year, and the creek remained dry as a bone. But, I am already hoping for next year.