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Swimming is movement through water, usually without artificial assistance. Swimming is an activity that can be both useful and recreational. Its primary uses are bathing, cooling, fishing, recreation, exercise, and sport.


Swimming has been known since prehistoric times; the earliest record of swimming dates back to Stone Age paintings from around 7,000 years ago. Written references date from 2000 BC. Some of the earliest references include the Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Bible (Ezekiel 47:5, Acts 27:42, Isaiah 25:11), Beowulf, and other sagas. In 1538, Nikolaus Wynmann, a German professor of languages, wrote the first swimming book, The Swimmer or A Dialogue on the Art of Swimming (Der Schwimmer oder ein Zwiegespräch über die Schwimmkunst). Competitive swimming in Europe started around 1800, mostly using breaststroke. In 1873 John Arthur Trudgen introduced the trudgen to Western swimming competitions, after copying the front crawl used by Native Americans. Due to a British disregard for splashing, Trudgen employed a scissor kick instead of the front crawl's flutter kick. Swimming was part of the first modern Olympic games in 1896 in Athensmarker. In 1902 Richard Cavill introduced the front crawl to the Western world. In 1908, the world swimming association, Fédération Internationale de Natation , was formed. Butterfly was developed in the 1930s and was at first a variant of breaststroke, until it was accepted as a separate style in 1952.

As recreation and exercise

The most common purposes for swimming are recreation, exercise, and athletic training. Recreational swimming is a good way to relax, while enjoying a full-body workout.

Swimming is an excellent form of exercise. Because the density of the human body is very similar to that of water, the water supports the body and less stress is therefore placed on joints and bones. Swimming is frequently used as an exercise in rehabilitation after injuries or for those with disabilities.

Resistance swimming is one form of swimming exercise. It is done either for training purposes, to hold the swimmer in place for stroke analysis, or to enable swimming in a confined space for athletic or therapeutic reasons. Resistance swimming can be done either against a stream of moving water in a swimming machine or by holding the swimmer stationary with elastic attachments.

Swimming is primarily an aerobic exercise due to the long exercise time, requiring a constant oxygen supply to the muscles, except for short sprints where the muscles work anaerobically. As with most aerobic exercise swimming is believed to reduce the harmful effects of stress. Swimming can improve posture and develop a strong lean physique, often called a "swimmer's build."

As occupation

Some occupations require the workers to swim. For example, abalone divers or pearl divers swim and dive to obtain an economic benefit, as do spear fishermen.

Swimming is used to rescue other swimmers in distress. In the USA, most cities and states have trained lifeguards, such as the Los Angeles City Lifeguards, deployed at pools and beaches. There are a number of specialized swimming styles especially for rescue purposes (see List of swimming styles). Such techniques are studied by lifeguards or members of the Coast Guard. The training for these techniques has also evolved into competitions such as surf lifesaving.

Swimming is also used in marine biology to observe plants and animals in their natural habitat. Other sciences use swimming, for example Konrad Lorenz swam with geese as part of his studies of animal behavior.

Swimming also has military purposes. Military swimming is usually done by special forces, such as Navy SEALS. Swimming is used to approach a location, gather intelligence, sabotage or combat, and to depart a location. This may also include airborne insertion into water or exiting a submarine while it is submerged. Due to regular exposure to large bodies of water, all recruits in the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard are required to complete basic swimming or water survival training.

Swimming is also a professional sport. Companies such as Speedo, TYR Sports, Arena and Nikemarker sponsor swimmers who are at the international level. Cash awards are also given at many of the major competitions for breaking records.

Professional swimmers may also earn a living as entertainers, performing in water ballets.

As a competitive sport

The aquatic sport of swimming involves competition amongst participants to be the fastest over a given distance under self propulsion.The different events include 50, 100, 200, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly, the 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 free and the 100, 200, and 400 Individual Medley (IM, consisting of all strokes).Swimming has been part of the modern Olympic Games since inception in 1896. Along with the other aquatic disciplines of diving, synchronised swimming and water polo, the sport is governed by the Fédération Internationale de Natation .


A style is also known as a stroke. "Stroke" can also refer to a single completion of the sequence of body movements repeated while swimming in the given style.

Several swimming styles are suitable for recreational swimming; many recreational swimmers prefer a style that keeps their head out of the water and has an underwater arm recovery. Breaststroke, side stroke, head up front crawl and dog paddle are the most common strokes utilized in recreational swimming. The out-of-water arm recovery of freestyle or butterfly gives rise to better exploitation of the difference in resistance between air and water and thus leads to higher speed.

It is possible to swim by moving only legs without arms or only arms without legs; such strokes may be used for special purposes, for training or exercise, or by amputees and paralytics.


Swimming is a healthy activity that has minimal impact on the joints. A swimmer benefits from a low risk of injury compared with many other sports. Nevertheless, there are some health risks with swimming, including the following:

Most recorded drownings fall into one of three categories.

    • Panic where the inexperienced swimmer or non swimmer becomes mentally overwhelmed by the circumstances of their immersion.

    • Exhaustion where the person is unable to sustain effort to swim or tread water.

    • Hypothermia where the person loses critical core temperature, leading to unconsciousness or heart failure.

Less common : though acknowledged as potential risk to near drowning victims is

    • Hyperventilation in a bid to extend underwater breath-hold times lowers blood carbon dioxide resulting in suppression of the urge to breathe and consequent loss of consciousness towards the end of the dive, see shallow water blackout for the mechanism.

  • Other adverse effects of prolonged immersion in water.

    • Exostosis is an abnormal bony overgrowth narrowing the ear canal due to frequent, long-term splashing or filling of cold water into the ear canal. (Also known as Surfer's ear.)

    • Chlorine inhalation in relation to swimming pools etc*

Adverse encounters with aquatic life.

Since rivers, lakes, seas and oceans are filled with numerous forms of aquatic life, all swimmers should be aware of the potential risks they face in terms of these environments.

In order of probability : minor injury though to death may arise as result of the following encounters.

Organizations publish safety guidelines to help swimmers avoid these risks.


A Styrofoam flotation aid can help children learn to swim.

Children are often given swimming lessons, which serve to develop swimming technique and confidence. Children generally do not swim independently until 4 years of age.

In Swedenmarker, Denmarkmarker, Norwaymarker and Finlandmarker, the curriculum for the fifth grade states that all children should learn how to swim as well as how to handle emergencies near water. Most commonly, children are expected to be able to swim 200 metres (220 yards) – of which at least 50 metres (55 yards) on their back – after first falling into deep water and getting their head under water. Even though about 95 percent of Swedish school children know how to swim, drowning remains the third most common cause of death among children.

In both the Netherlandsmarker and Belgiummarker swimming lessons under school time (schoolzwemmen, school swimming) are supported by the government. Most schools provide swimming lessons. There is a long tradition of swimming lessons in the Netherlands and Belgium, the Dutch translation for the breaststroke swimming style is even schoolslag (schoolstroke). The children learn a variant of the breaststroke, which is technically not entirely correct.

In many places, swimming lessons are provided by local swimming pools, both those run by the local authority and by private leisure companies. Many schools also include swimming lessons into their Physical Education curricula, provided either in the schools' own pool, or in the nearest public pool.

In the UKmarker, the "Top-ups scheme" calls for school children who cannot swim by the age of 11 to receive intensive daily lessons. These children who have not reached Great Britain's National Curriculum standard of swimming 25 metres by the time they leave primary school will be given a half-hour lesson every day for two weeks during term-time.

In Canadamarker and Mexicomarker there has been a call for swimming to be included in the public school curriculum.

Clothing and equipment


Standard everyday clothing is usually impractical for swimming and may even be unsafe. Most cultures today expect swimsuits to be worn for public swimming.

Modern men's swimsuits are usually briefs or shorts, either skintight (jammers) or loose fitting (swim trunks or board shorts), covering only the upper legs or not at all. Usually, the upper body is left uncovered. In some cultures, custom and/or laws have required tops for public swimming.

Modern women's swimsuits are generally skintight, either two pieces covering only the breasts and pelvic region (see bikini), or a single piece covering these areas and the torso between them. Skirts are uncommon, and are usually short when included, but in some cultures they have been required even to the point of a full length skirt being necessary.

Competitive swimwear seeks to improve upon bare human skin in order to obtain a speed advantage. For extra speed a swimmer wears a body suit, which has rubber or plastic bumps that break up the water close to the body and provides a small amount of thrust—just barely enough to help a swimmer swim faster. For swimming in cold water, wetsuits provide thermal insulation.


On coins

Swimming events have been selected as a main motif in numerous collectors' coins. One of the recent samples is the €10 Greek Swimming commemorative coin, minted in 2003 to commemorate the 2004 Summer Olympics. On the obverse of this coin a woman swimmer is depicted, preparing to dive from the starting platform, while in the background another woman athlete is just about to dive into the water in a scene from an Archaic bronze statuette.

See also


  1. River and Lake Swimming Association's Safety Pages
  2. Insurance Information Institute's Pool Safety Pages
  3. Safe Sea Swimming


  • Bender N. & Hirt N., Did Turkish Van cats lose their fear of water? Forschungspraktikum Evolutionsökologie, University of Bern, Bern 2002.
  • Maniscalco F., Il nuoto nel mondo greco romano, Naples 1993.
  • Mehl H., Antike Schwimmkunst, Munchen 1927.
  • Schuster G., Smits W. & Ullal J., Thinkers of the Jungle. Tandem Verlag 2008.
  • svin

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