12 Reasons Why Swimming Is an Essential Primal Skill

12 Reasons Why Swimming Is an Essential Primal Skill FinalIn the US, summer is upon us. And it is damn hot. To keep cool and to get in a good stretch after lifting, I’ve been putting in a few laps a few times a week.

As a triathlete, my most hated leg of the race was the swimming. I hated being in cold water. I wasn’t the strongest swimmer, so it was—physically—the toughest part. But in recent years, I’ve come to embrace my time in the pool (at least as a post-workout stretch). Maybe it’s cause my cold tolerance has gone up. Maybe it’s that I’m no longer swimming miles at a time, instead doing dramatically shorter swims. Maybe it’s because I do it for pleasure, rather than training for one of the world’s most grueling events. All I know is that those few laps every week have worked out nicely. But for you water lovers out there, there’s a whole host of benefits that swimming has to offer. So if you’re suffering from the summer heat and looking for a great way to cool down while getting in a pretty extensive workout, swimming should be toward the top of your list.

So, what are some of some of the benefits you have to look forward to?

1. Swimming is tradition

Swimming is one of the most Primal skills. All throughout human history (and prehistory), people have settled in and around bodies of water. Rivers, lakes, and seas had the best food, the most important nutrients for building bigger and better brains, and we had to be able to handle ourselves in the water if we wanted to obtain those vital resources. Some populations have even developed physiological adaptations to a life in the water, like improved underwater eyesight. But even if you’re not a member of a seafaring nomad tribe, swimming is in your blood.

2. Swimming is low-stress

I can’t go out and run hill sprints or even bike sprints every day. I’ll hit a wall after a couple days of that after which the benefits cease and the negative effects accumulate. Traditional sprints on land are just too stressful. That’s why they work so well. Swimming isn’t like that.

You see, this is how elite swimmers train: every single day, often twice. Don’t use this as permission to overdo it. You’re not an elite swimmer, and you don’t need to be swimming for four hours every day. But what this does indicate is that swimming is overall easier on the body. You can recover quicker from it than other types of exercise.

3. Swimming is easy on the joints

Studies show that swimming is a great exercise for patients with osteoarthritis. Compared to cycling, swimming improves vascular function; both cycling and swimming reduce inflammatory markers and pain while improving stiffness and physical limitation in people with osteoarthritis. Turns out that the water is real easy on stiff, sore joints.

Swimming will keep your joints healthy by increasing motion, too. Since our connective tissues receive very little blood flow, they require conscious movement to shuttle blood, fluid, and nutrients toward and from them. Motion is lotion. Swimming is constant motion.

I wouldn’t only do swimming, though. You also need some stress on the joints to improve their strength and resilience.

4. Swimming works the entire body

Try it, guys. Hop in the pool, do a 50 meter sprint, and tell me how your muscles feel. It’ll be the best pump of your life. A pump so potent it’d bring 1970s Schwarzenegger to climax. If you don’t do this often, you’ll probably be sore the next day. Be warned.

5. Swimming is enough to keep your bones healthy

You might think that the gentleness of swimming and the perceived weightlessness of being in water would weaken the effect exercise normally has on bone. You’d be wrong, at least in rats. In rats subjected to three weeks of no exercise, interrupting their bed rest with swimming was enough to completely prevent loss of bone mass. The rats who didn’t swim progressed to full-blown osteopenia.

That said, it doesn’t seem to augment bone mineral density like high-impact sprints or strength training. Surveys of competitive swimmers find little evidence of increased bone mineral density, and some evidence of reduced density. Better pair it with more intense, load-bearing activity.

6. Swimming enhances blood flow to the brain

Exercise in general increases blood flow to the brain—it’s why a brisk walk can really get the creative juices flowing—but exercising in water boosts the effect. A recent study examined this. To avoid confounders, the researchers had subjects either do water- or land-based stepping exercises. Same type of movement and intensity, different medium. Those who stepped while immersed in water experienced augmented blood flow to the brain compared to landlubbers.

Even though the subjects didn’t actually swim, swimming will work. I don’t think there’s anything special about stepping. It’s the “being in water as you exercise” part that enhances the blood flow.

7. Swimming trains a very specific capacity you probably aren’t getting

One study found that adding weight training to a swimmer’s routine made them more powerful in the water (“tethered swim force”) but didn’t improve actual swim performance. Another found that only swim-specific lifts (bench press and pullover) improved swim performance. This means that swimming is doing something unique to swimming. It’s making you better in the water. It’s giving you a specific type of fitness that you can’t get elsewhere.

If your goal is total fitness and all around capacity, you can’t neglect swimming.

8. Swimming will keep you alive

If you’re a competent swimmer able to fluidly and efficiently tread water, float, and move through the water, it will be very hard to drown you. The world’s about 3/4 water. You’re really limiting yourself if you’re only comfortable on land.

9. Swimming builds lung capacity

Everything that taxes your oxygen use builds lung capacity. Lifting weights, running sprints, jogging, hiking, sex, and competitive hopscotch can all build lung capacity. But swimming is cool because it’s an environment where you often can’t breathe even if you wanted to. It’s not like holding your breath while running, where you just have to open your mouth and inhale. It’s too easy to let a little air slip in when you’re immersed in the stuff. Being underwater makes it easier to keep from breathing because you must actively choose to breathe. It’s an extra step.

There’s evidence that swimmers build greater lung capacity than runners. Swimming forces air restriction. Runners always have all the air they want, whenever they want.

10. Swimming may offer special benefits to asthmatics

Chlorine muddies the waters here; there’s some evidence its presence in pool water can worsen certain aspects of asthmatic function. But on the whole, swimming, particularly in non-chlorinated water, appears to offer special benefits to people with asthma and is less asthmogenic than other types of exercise. If it makes your asthma worse, don’t swim (or try a chlorine-free option), of course. You’ll know it if it’s getting worse.

11. Swimming is cold water exposure

If you’re looking for a way to expose your body to cold water, and you’re not one to idly sit in a tub full of ice water, swimming works. You’ve got a job to do. Swimming isn’t just exercise. It’s also cold (or cool) water exposure, provided you’re not in tepid bath water. Being in cool water forces you to burn more calories (via brown fat activation) to maintain your body temperature. If you can resist the massive spike in appetite many people experience after swimming, you’ll likely burn a little extra fat.

12. Swimming is joyful

There’s something special about swimming beyond the fun it provides. You dive down below the surface and enter another world, an alien world where your interactions with the laws of physics are different than you’re used to. It’s a “reset,” a literal change of perspective. The immersion one experiences while swimming isn’t just a physical consequence of being surrounded by water.

Has anyone else been spending more time in the water this summer? Why do you like to swim? Is it leisure time, training time, or both? Let me know down below!

Thanks for reading, all.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.


About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

67 thoughts on “12 Reasons Why Swimming Is an Essential Primal Skill”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. I’m battling a host of old sports injuries and part of the therapy I learned (for the groin and psoa rehab in particular) was a number of movements in a pool. I don’t like the water that much and not a great swimmer (although I did take lessons as a youth and even got lifeguard certification) but the routine they taught me is great. I always kind of snickered at folks with the water dumbbells, but gave them a try and you can really get an upper body burn / pump with them. Try treading water if you want to build endurance, and of course doing laps at a quick pace is a great way to get in your HIIT. I had foot surgery a month ago and I’m going to the pool today for the first time in a while. I’m in my 60’s now and the pool is going to be an integral part of my fitness program moving forward.

    Great article Mark thanks!

  2. Yes, good post! I love the water and used swimming to rehab from a knee injury in high school. There is something so pleasant about being in the water, whether swimming laps or just floating around. Two problems I have…I’m a complete baby when it comes to water temp. And chlorine really dries my hair out:(

    1. I have found that putting a light coat of conditioner on before getting in the pool has kept my hair in great shape.

    2. Elizabeth, there are shampoos specifically designed to counter the effects of chlorine. I have used them for years and they work great.

      I have been using swimming for a long time, Mark. Thanks for the article, I agree totally.

    3. Baby here also. I recently got a swim spa and keep it at 92. Delicious when I first get in, but seems to cool off fairly quickly. I stay in for about an hour exercising and just floating and playing. I am 65 and the outside temp hovers between 60 and 70 (if we’re lucky) in the Pacific NW.

    4. I got a swim cap – it’s bright blue – my smurf head. I love the thing – my hair stays dry with no greenish tint. And it’s nice to swim without having my hair everywhere – even tied up it gets tangled in the goggle straps.
      Get one that says it won’t pull on hair – mine was around $10.

  3. I haven’t swam in years. When I was younger I really enjoyed the polar bear swim. Around here though, the beach isn’t open during the winter, spring and fall months and lately they’ve been closing First beach down for e-coli.

    I used to love swimming at Reject’s beach as a kid though…cleanest beach on the island! (yeah I know…the name…called so because it was the “free” section of beach.) Can’t even remember the name of the “elite” side.

    I did get caught in an undertow at the age of 5. If you’re going to swim in oceans you really need to be aware of these. They can drown good swimmers who aren’t prepared.

  4. Even more so, there’s something so Primal about the ocean. Swimming in a pool has never really done it for me but when I get out of the ocean I feel so serene and invigorated. The bite of the salt, the eternal roar of the waves, and the expanse of glittering water hiding an entire world recalls a time when we were part of the natural world, seeped in it’s mysteries.

  5. I was never much of a swimmer, but this year has been different. A friend of mine got me into it and now I make a point to swim a few times a week. It’s been amazing. Great way to get in a full body workout. And it’s fun!

  6. There’s nothing more soothing than doing a dead man’s float after putting a lot of energy into some laps. Just the best.

    1. Ahh. Floating is absolute heaven. I float so well that I can fold my arms under my head when my neck gets tired. My husband can’t float he just sinks like a rock. I bet you can guess who has more body fat.

  7. Some of my best memories from childhood are swimming outdoors. Whether summer camp or the beach with my parents, swimming calls back to great days of leisure time. Still love it today.

  8. If you can afford it, having a saltwater system is a great way to avoid some of the drying effects of chlorine. With that in place, I’m much more encouraged to swim more often.

  9. Just wading in the water to get in a good stretch is amazing. Especially after a pulled back muscle or the like.

  10. You didn’t mention how wonderful swimming is for depression, but I guess not many of you guys suffer from that. Once in the water, you can’t answer the phone, run any errands, talk to anyone. After my son died I learned to swim. I was 58 and it was new found freedom for me. I feel energised when I get out of the pool. I do 32 lengths every morning when I can, which is half a mile. My muscle tone has vastly improved as has my mental clarity. I would advocate it to everyone! Great post.

    1. That’s a great workout Sheila, your endurance is much better than mine for sure!

      Condolences on the loss of your son. I can’t and don’t even want to imagine how painful that would be. I’m sure he would be proud of the positive steps you take to help cope.

  11. The downside regarding public pools: Kids pee in them. Maybe adults too. If that isn’t offputting enough, all the chemicals will make you think twice. A few experiences with the over-chlorinated rec club pools in my area left me with burning eyes and throat, dried-out skin and hair, etc. I can smell the chlorine the minute I walk in the front door, and it lingers in the nostrils for an hour after I leave. Yech!

    I don’t live near the ocean or even close to a clean swim beach, so I usually don’t swim at all, although I would like to. I’d love to find a swim place that’s wonderfully clean, unchlorinated, and doesn’t get heavy traffic. Maybe an alpine lake in the mountains, though not exactly convenient…

  12. Swimming: Check!
    Every Saturday and Sunday I swim 80 butterfly strokes in the beach. Started the tradition with 50 strokes. Been doing it for years

  13. Yes:
    I agree .I am swimming more now as a result of doing more overall variety in my fitness training. before when I was an avid cyclist, I did not spend as much time in the pool.
    I find swimming to be relaxing as I immerse myself in the water and let my mind wonder to wherever it need to without stress. It’s like being in another world where everything is carefree.
    So I do incorporate this exercise much more now along with the VersaClimber, walking on the treadmill, indoor cycling and core exercises and have become a much happier person

  14. This might be an overly finicky concern, but what are the effects of chlorinated pools on the skin microbiome? I used to be a competitive swimmer, and I loved it. But after marinating in it for so long, I got extremely sick of the chlorine smell and feel of pools. It felt like it was doing a number on my skin and hair, but it really is just a general aversion- the chlorine smell still bothers me. Now I only swim in lakes, oceans, and salt water pools when i can find them. (I’ve also been using mother dirt and trying to take care of my microbiome- and I love it.) Does chlorine do a number on the microbiome, or are its effects manageable?

    1. I think some of us are more sensitive to the effects of chlorine. I know I am. Whether or not it’s harmful to people in general, who knows? It could be years before problems crop up, and even then, how would you ever know if it’s chlorine-related? Personally, I think it’s a pretty good idea to just avoid the stuff as much as possible.

    2. I don’t like chlorine at all, either. I’ve spent most of my life in a place with abundant small lakes, which get quite warm in the summer. I loved the feeling of sand, rocks or mud underfoot, and swam as much as possible in the summer but not at all in winter. I now live in a lovely place near a (cold) beach, which also has a massive public heated salt water pool on shore! The weather has sucked lately but I’ll take a short bike ride to go for a swim later today. Unfortunately the pool’s only open for about 4 months of the year and I still don’t go to the indoor pools, but I’m making the most of it.

    3. If you shower before entering the pool you hydrate your hair and skin and it does not absorb as much pool water. One other technique is to rub you skin down with something like the coconut body butter from trader joes. The water just beads off you skin like a waxed surfboard.

      1. I agree. I use coconut oil on my skin before entering the pool. It creates a seal so my skin is protected and also has about an 8 spf. I swim outside so that is important. Also the girl who cuts my hair said to saturate your hair with fresh water before getting into the chlorinated pool as hair can only absorb so much water and that way it will be protected.
        I swim all summer long and find these two tricks to work great.

    4. Same here, competitive swimmer etc. And reading about the potential of the airborne combined chlorine in the air at the water surface causing cancer discouraged me even more. I was just sick of the smell, and the boredom of doing another 180 lengths. However, it seems pools in my area are switching to ozone, leaving only a small amount of chlorine, and now being in my 40’s, I am swimming at least once a week to do sprints, I just don’t like running.

    5. My friend is pioneering conversion of chlorinated swimming pools to swimmable non-chemical ponds which don’t require that you move or change the pool infrastructure. He is a Ph.D. microbiologist who is creating an ecology to establish and maintain a clear swimming pond. He doesn’t add any rocks or dirt to the pool, and many of his clients have had ducks, tadpoles/frogs, and dragonflies visit the pools. He sets up a filter system to eliminate mosquitos. And, in fact, he says that salt water pools are set up to generate chlorine–recall that salt is sodium chloride. Check out his website for more information: http://www.puravidaaquatic.com

  15. Thanks for the article on swimming. It is an excellent workout that is often overlooked. For anyone who feels they are not able to swim well, or who is a bit intimidated by the water, I would suggest they check out Total Immersion Swimming. I have been in the water swimming, scuba diving, boating for most of my 70+ years and I found TI to be the best way to learn how to swim well.

    1. Thanks for that suggestion. I’ve lived near the water for most of my life, but have never been a particularly good swimmer. I have a ‘healthy respect’ for the sea and never go beyond where my feet can touch unless I’m snorkeling. But I’ve always wanted to be a really great swimmer. Every year I tell myself that THIS is the year I master this skill. Perhaps with TI, that could be a true statement for 2016.

      1. Total immersion is a strange technique and I would recommend taking proper swimming lessons if you have access to a city pool that offers adult group or private lessons.

  16. I do exercises in a pool about 7 days a week and I love it. I work 60 min non stop. Good for my heart and I can do things in water I can’t do on land. I am 71 yrs old and if I miss a few days I find walking is difficult. It is so much fun and it makes me feel so good.

  17. Well the bit about being hard to drowned is just plain wrong.
    Most, something like >80%, of all adult drowning deaths were people who were competent swimmers if you believe what is reported.

    This may be because swimmers may over estimate their abilities, may venture further into deeper water and get caught in rips, swim alone, be less likely to wear a life jacket in a boat etc etc. Non or poor swimmers are less likely to take risks in the water, more likely to wear a life jacket and so forth.

    1. The bid danger there is hypothermia. If the water is less than 50 degrees and one is not protected with a wetsuit, it can be very dangerous. Your muscles can lock up as your body conserves all energy to maintain body heat. It can be hard to breathe as it feels like a weight on your chest.

  18. Love it! 1/2 mile freestyle in the pool is a go-to workout. Especially if I’m dealing with an injury, very easy does it workout. And the older I get the more I turn to it as its low/no impact w/ a big upside.

  19. As an adult, I’ve generally not been a recreational swimmer. But combine swimming with a snorkel, goggles, and a pristine reef in crystal clear water and now I’m hooked. Swimming for the sake of swimming doesn’t do it for me, but snorkeling is like a nature hike. And the breathing is very meditative.

  20. I’m not a very good swimmer, but I do love to spend time floating in the freshwater lake I live near. Bobbing up and down, stretched-out on a water noodle and gazing at the sky is as near to heaven as one can get in the heat of a Midwestern summer. In fact, that’s where I’m headed right now!

  21. I believe everything you say but even though I am/was generally a competent athlete, I confess, I am a terrible swimmer. I grew up at the beach but mostly avoided the water. Getting smashed by waves and sand where the sun don’t shine is not my idea of a good time.

    In college I was required to pass a swimming test. Failed the test and was told to get out of the pool before I drowned. Next I had to take a humiliating beginning class. We had to wear the most awful bathing suits imaginable and once the top came down as we were learning the back stroke. The lifeguard is probably still telling that story. Plus, first day of class I was told to dive in. No way I could do that. Okay, jump in. Nope. I had to crawl in. More embarrassment. On the upside, I did learn to float, and some basic strokes.

    As a Physical Education Major I had to take further swimming classes in my Junior year. My patient teacher tried her best to get me to be a decent swimmer but finally gave up. I am less panicked in the water than before but I will never be a swimmer. Fortunately, for myself and my students, the school I eventually taught in did not have a swimming pool.

  22. I know that chlorine pools are bad, I hate the smell. But I have also read that salt water pools turn the salt into chlorine. Is that true? I would love to turn my pool into a salt water pool but want to know it is truely better.

    1. There is a very small amount of chlorine in salt water pools, but no where near the amount in chlorine treated pools. In a salt water pool the chlorine is a by-product of electrolysis of the dissolved salt.

    2. A friend sent me a link to this site, and I had to reply to this particular post. I convert chlorine pools to non chlorinated Pond systems. All the filtration is done in external modules by plant systems. I have a website puravidaaquatic if you’re interested in more information.
      The best to everyone here.

  23. When my son was very young, I told him that I didn’t care what other sports he was interested in, he had to learn to swim. He loved the water but wasn’t interested in lessons and it took a bit of convincing to get him into structured classes, but I’m glad I did. I’ve always thought of swimming as a life skill, but apparently many children never learn to swim because of lack of access to pools or for financial reasons. It would make sense to include swimming as part of the primary/elementary school phys ed curriculum.

  24. Lap swimming can be monotonous. I have switched to more of a pool circuit workout instead of just laps. I do a 100 yard sprint then I do a series of pool based movements as follows: Deck ups: simply pulling yourself out of the water to your hips at the edge of the pool in one motion, drop back in and repeat. Vertical planks: holding a handstand in the shallow end for as long as you can hold your breath. Chin ups off the diving board or elevated pool edge. Torpedo squats: launching yourself off the bottom of the deep end with weighted object like a rubberized kettle bell or divers weight belt. the object is to get a breath of air and the weight above your head before submerging back to the squat position on the bottom and repeat. After each circuit take a 5-10 minute vitamin D break in a deck chair and repeat.

  25. How about a post about what you recommend doing in the water? I’ve always wanted to use swimming for active recovery or a good interval workout but have no clue how to execute it!!

    1. Lizzy, this is my workout: in a 25 yard pool:

      250 yards front crawl (5 laps), 50 yards backstroke (use that as your recovery, do the front crawl laps as fast as you can, comfortably, or alternate them between all-out sprint and slow speeds); I repeat this sequence 3, 4 or 5 times, alternating the backstroke intervals with kick-board intervals. You could also add some breast stroke laps in there too, depending on how comfortable you are with different strokes. Repeating the above 250 + 50 sets, four times, gets you to 1200 yards, which is a nice distance about 3/4 of a mile, and if you go at a decent but not crazed pace, should take you somewhere between 25 and 35 minutes, maybe less/more depending on how fast of a swimmer you are and how much you want to push yourself. If you’re just doing this for recovery/cross-training, then go for 750 yards/3 sets. If you’re doing this to seriously train, as cardiovascular conditioning, aim for 1500 yards (5 sets), which is just under a mile. Master’s swimmers – of which I am *not* one — do workouts of (I would say) generally 2000 yards, sometimes quite a bit more. (My gym has a Master’s team and I see their workouts written out on the whiteboard by the lap pool)

      1. Add a few laps of sidestroke and butterfly. Also try resistance walking against a shore current or in a river against the flow. Some pools have moving water in the little kiddies section that is good to walk against.

    2. Throw 5 or 6 pennies into a pool and then gather them all in 1 breath. After you break the surface, throw, gather and repeat until you are gasping for air. Your whole body gets a workout especially if you scatter the pennies far and wide.

    3. You tube has tons of clips on work-outs. I especially like the ones using pool noodles for strength exercises. One clip shows the skinnier noodle being tied in a knot and fitted over the hand for upper body exercises. I wish I could have my screen pool side. Hard to remember all the exercises. One good series of workouts is provided by “Pooja”.

  26. All I can say, is YES YES YES YES. I’m a relatively new triathlete whose favorite legs of the races have always been swimming and running — but a torn meniscus is forcing me back to the pool nearly every day — I’d kind of been neglecting the swimming piece, and right now it’s about all I can do — but the good news is — as Mark points out: 1) it really is a joyful exercise (before this it was making me really sad not to be able to run because of this injury, *especially* trail running) — but swimming is its own kind of meditative and quietly joyful movement – and 2) it’s SO GOOD for your joints! Wow does it help restore the range of motion to my knee (temporarily, alas, but there has been incrementalimprovement over the past week or two).

    If you aren’t a comfortable swimmer, I highly, highly recommend getting an adult lesson or two, or joining a group class. The Y is a great resource. Learning and practicing good form makes swimming SO MUCH MORE enjoyable. Like Jack above, I do a circuit kind of workout in the pool, changing up between sets of front crawl (sprint/recover); backstroke, kicking with a kickboard, breast stroke (not doing it yet because of my knee but I will be soon) and so on. Also, this type of workout uses different muscles differently with each stroke variation, not to mention being more fun. And before this Northeast summer is over, I’m going to break out my tri wetsuit and go for a couple of open water swims again!

  27. We are ALL adapted for the water. You know when your finger tips get “waterlogged”? That is not the result of water soaking into your skin. It is a neurological adaptation thought to improve the grip with wet hands. If certain nerves in the arm are severed, “waterlogging” doesn’t happen. Cool, ain’t it?

    1. Your fingertips will get waterlogged doing dishes too, which makes me pretty skeptical regarding your explanation.

  28. Great post thanks Mark. I have been living on an atoll and usually do 400m once or twice or more a week as well as a bunch of other water sports. According to Dr Butyeko one thing that restricted breathing does is allow the CO2 to build up and the ratio of O2 to CO2 improves to more ideal ratio for a lot of people, as a lot of people tend to over breath / have hidden hyperventilation. This could be why asthmatics improve with swimming. I recommend the small book ‘Close Your Mouth’ by Dr Buteyko. It is written for asthma (including techniques to reduce effects of asthma attacks) but is very useful for athletes also – I had many ahhah! moments. Unless sprinting (or swimming) I now only breath through my nose, this alone has many benefits. Restricted breathing exercises clear nasal passages nearly immediately and even helps with constipation (seriously, has helped me become regular for the first time in my life).
    These days the emphasis on deep breathing / big breaths has problems as it encourages people to over breathe and flush out CO2 which is vital for metabolising O2. At rest great athletes have nearly no breath, but they are still breathing from the bottom of their lungs i.e. “deep breaths”.

  29. Throw 5 or 6 pennies into a pool and then gather them all in 1 breath. After you break the surface, throw, gather and repeat until you are gasping for air. Your whole body gets a workout especially if you scatter the pennies far and wide.

  30. As a way to “mix it up” this summer, I am lap swimming. While I weight lift, run sprints, do yoga. I find swimming is therapy. I particularly love the Total Immersion swimming approach which has a mindfulness aspect to it. The TI approach focuses on learning to swim efficiently. It has made swimming a joyful experience for me every time I do it.


    Nothing else compares to the feeling of weightlessness and meditation 60 or more feet underwater.

  32. Swimming always makes me feel like a kid. Wish I lived somewhere where outdoor swimming was possible year round.

    Several years ago when I got into lap swim, I took a 6-clasd group lesson at the local pool to refine my strokes. Best $60 I ever spent. I do a mile a couple times a week.

    It was interesting to watch the Olympic trials the past couple weeks — the swimmers have such broad chests, it looks like they have giant lungs.

    The one thing I think Mark missed is that the rhythmic breathing of swimming is so meditative. It’s really hard to think about anything too hard when you’re doing it.

  33. I do the Aqua-Bike portion of triathlons (total knee replacement and must stay non-impact, so no running). I love swimming and participate in a Masters Swim program – usually 3000-3500 yards per workout. However, I just read your Primal Endurance book and I’m trying to reconcile my swim routine with the guidelines in the book. There are no “real time” heart rate monitors for swimming, so short of just dialing it down every session, I’m sure I’m above my black hole heart rate, which is pretty low since I’m 56. Any suggestions? Or am I fine since I don’t run? I don’t have a problem with body fat (very fortunate at 5 – 7 %), so fat loss and carb restriction are not an issue for me. Thanks.

  34. Nothing makes me feel as good as swimming does. I feel like I am scrubbed from the inside out. My whole body gets a workout, I feel long and lean, and nothing hurts afterwards. The meditative aspects can’t be beat. In yoga there is a term Pratyahara, which means to detach from the senses to help create tranquility of mind and swimming does this for me more than seated mediation. The water changes our relationship that our senses have with the world, muffling them, allowing us to go inward. Just beautiful, my favorite thing. Thanks, Mark!

  35. I love swimming and it has been a Godsend for my back and neck. I try to swim at least 3-4 days per week but I am now just starting to do actual laps. Starting small with 8-120 laps in the hopes of building it up to 20 by summer’s end.

  36. I’m 6 months pregnant right now, and, although I’ve loved swimming my whole life, it takes on a whole new level of enjoyment now! The cool water, the weightlessness, it’s a perfect combination to give my hard-working, baby-forming body a break. 🙂

  37. I spent 7 years in the water teaching swimming lessons and lifeguarding. When i moved on to other things i started not enjoying spending time in the water. I decided i was waterlogged. This year, (some 20 years later) sitting on the dock and watching the lake water sparkle like diamonds as the sun hit it, I found myself being drawn into its beauty. I felt like it was calling me. Weird i know. Being in the water this year was like reconnecting to nature, grounding me back to earth, my stresses seem to float away. I’ve missed that. I think I will plan to swim across the lake this year.

  38. Im an avid swimmer but funny how I despise cold water. What’s your preferred indoor pool temp?

  39. Hi. I am from India. I dont know swimming. My wife keeps on pushing me to learn swimming. After reading your article, i feel inspired to learn it quickly.

    Thanks for writing this post.

  40. I really appreciate this article. Just to briefly share my experience:

    I’ve been swimming for 5 weeks — after not being in a pool for about 30 yrs. With nothing else changing, I’ve lost 10 lbs.

    I’m still surprised how tough a workout it is. You use everything — I’ve been tempted to get one of those “Everything hurts and I’m dying” t-shirts. 🙂

    Best of all for me, though, swimming feels meditative and fun. I enjoyed putting on my running shoes and going out for a run, but putting on a swimsuit and hopping in the pool is so relaxing and enjoyable. Tough, hard, but enjoyable …

  41. I was a serious swimmer belonging to a “masters” (people over the age of 21) for around 20 years but unfortunately “burnt” out after doing 5 kilometre training sessions 3 times a week consisting of mostly sprint swimming. I developed rotator cuff problems from too much butterfly so am now restricted to mostly freestyle.
    These days my swimming is done in the ocean in a swimming enclosure as where I live we have box jellyfish in summer. Maximum distance is now 1 kilometre. Whilst I was very fit during my earlier marathon sessions I was constantly tired but since reading Mark’s articles I realized how unnecessary & dangerous it could be to train this hard.