If you never learned to swim, the idea of starting now might feel like learning a brand-new language. But swimming can save your life: According to the Centers for Disease Control, nine people die each day in the United States from unintentional drowning. Plus, swimming is good exercise. But you need a few things before you get into the water.
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If you’re a woman, look for a well-made one- or two-piece swimsuit designed for swimming rather than for beach fashion. Avoid strapless suits or suits with spangles or beads that might come off with repeated washing. You might want a suit with a built-in bra for extra support. Men should look for either a pair of swim trunks or a Speedo-style brief. Men’s swim trunks often come with a mesh liner for added support and comfort, and zippered pockets for storage.
A swim cap will protect your hair from the damaging effects of chlorine or saltwater. It also will give you a streamlined form, making it easier for you to cut through the water. Look for a sleek, athletic cap; plastic flowers may have looked great on Esther Williams, but they aren’t very practical. Silicone caps will break down when exposed to chlorine over time, so choose a latex cap.
Goggles protect your eyes from chlorine and help you see where you’re going. Find a close-fitting pair that forms a tight seal around your eyes and has adjustable straps. If you’ll be swimming outdoors, consider a pair with UV protection to protect your eyes from the sun. Mirrored lenses also help reduce the sun’s glare.
Earplugs and Nose Clips
You should get earplugs if you’re susceptible to ear infections or if you just don’t like the feeling of water in your ears. Moldable silicone earplugs conform to the shape of your ear canal and prevent the water from entering. If you’re afraid of water going up your nose—a common fear for beginning swimmers—invest in a nose clip. Made of plastic or stainless steel, a nose clip lies across the bridge of your nose and pinches your nostrils shut.
Kickboards and Flotation Belts
A kickboard or a flotation belt can be a great tool for working on your kick. Kickboards are light, buoyant boards, usually curved at the front end, that you can hold onto while you kick. Some kickboards come with handles for a better grip. For pool exercises that require you to stay vertical, such as water running or treading water, a flotation belt worn around your waist can help keep you in the proper position.