Despite the British weather, swimming is a popular leisure activity enjoyed by people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures. This popularity is maintained by the relatively low cost to participants and the numerous swimming pools throughout the country, both publicly and privately owned. Many ‘leisure’ pools are now open. These pools are often creatively shaped, relatively shallow and incorporate wave machines and flumes to increase the appeal and excitement for recreational swimmers.
   Most people are aware that they should engage in some form of exercise or physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle. Swimming is ideal because it uses most major muscle groups and can develop, maintain and enhance aerobic endurance and overall mobility. The support provided by the water and the non weight-bearing character of swimming makes it preferable to high-impact activities such as jogging and aerobics, as the risk of injury is greatly reduced. For this reason, swimming is good for sufferers of back pain and arthritis, as well as being a comfortable mode of exercising during pregnancy.
   Learning to swim is not exclusive to children, although many schools provide swimming lessons within their physical education curriculum. Most public pools offer lessons for all ages and for different levels of competency. For those who wish to improve their swimming performance and possibly compete, there are a large number of swimming clubs that provide tuition, coaching and training. These clubs train most the UK’s competitive swimmers of all age groups. Masters clubs provide training and competition for swimmers over twenty-five. Swimming training is very demanding, especially for the young, as pools can only be given over to clubs when the public are not admitted. This usually means training from 5.30 a.m. and often again in the evening. Not only is this demanding for the swimmers, but it also requires a very high level of commitment from their supporters (parents, family, partners).
   There are few British swimmers who are household names. There are exceptions, however, including David Wilkie, Duncan Goodhew, Nick Gillingham and Sharron Davies (though the latter is possibly better known in her role as a television ‘Gladiator’). Nonetheless, a number of British swimmers regularly qualify for international and Olympic competition. Others, despite their early promise, never make it to this level. This may reflect a relatively high drop-out rate of young swimmers, as they realize that going out, relationships and parties are increasingly less compatible with the commitment and intensity that swimming traditionally demands, coupled with the unsociable hours.
   Pool swimming is only one option. Swimming ability and water confidence provide for a broad spectrum of alternatives. Among these are lifesaving, diving, open water or sea swimming, synchronized swimming, scuba diving and many related activities such as water-skiing, sailing, surfing, windsurfing and triathlon. Swimming brings with it benefits such as enhanced selfconfidence, greater socialization, improved health and, most importantly, enjoyment.
   Further reading
    Gorton, E. (1982) Swimming, London: Batsford.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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