In a city as steamy and polluted as Bangkok, what could be more pleasurable than jumping into a cool, fresh pool to do some exercise? Besides burning off the calories, you’ll feel refreshed and re-energised afterwards as well.
"Swimming provides many benefits – it improves your cardiovascular system, your blood pressure, it strengthens your muscles," says Bancha Nonpolgrang, assistant manager of the JW Marriott’s health club, which recently introduced swimming classes. Unlike most other forms of exercise, swimming works all of the body’s major muscle groups.
Swimming is also a non-weight bearing activity. "That means if you’re pregnant or overweight, or have joint problems, it can still be a suitable way of exercising," says Debbie Jackson, manager of the Sukhothai’s health club. "That’s why swimming is used in so many rehabilitation programmes." So that sore back, aching knee or weak ankles – or even that arthritis – can no longer be an excuse for being lazy.
You can, however, do more than just swim in the water – aquaaerobics, for instance, might be more suitable for people who find aerobics difficult due to joint injuries. "The water supports about fifty per cent of your weight," explains Bancha. "If you weigh 50kg and jump on land, you’re putting about a 100kg impact on your joints. If you jump in water, you halve that to about 25kg."
For many people, swimming is also a kind of meditation. "Being in the water can enhance your sense of well-being and reduce stress," says Jackson.
Regularity is the key
Bancha recommends that people who want to get some real aerobic benefits from swimming train three to four times a week. "Beginners should swim for 20 to 25 minutes – that’s non-stop swimming, without relaxing. Intermediates should aim for 30 to 40 minutes, and advanced swimmers can gradually increase from there."
Jackson emphasises that you really do need to work hard in the pool to get the same sort of calorific output as other forms of exercise, such as running or cycling. "You need to look at doing 80 laps or so, because the intensity is just not as great as other activities. You’ll find that 90 per cent of people can’t swim at a steady rate – they’ll go for ten minutes, and collapse."
If you are really serious about burning off weight, there’s always sea swimming, which Jackson says is much more intense. "You’re dealing with tides, currents, waves, so you’ll burn off more weight."
But if you don’t live near the sea, you may prefer to incorporate swimming into a cross-training programme. "You can still make swimming the major focus of your programme, but cross-training will give you better results."
Take a class
If you are serious about swimming to stay fit, consider taking a class to improve your technique and style. Even those who have been swimming for years can benefit from taking a class, says Bancha. "Many members who swim here still don’t know how to swim smoothly. You need to learn how to move properly – everybody has different problems."
Jackson, too, advises taking swimming lessons to get the most from your time in the pool. Your teacher can then give you drills to work on, and start to improve your weaker strokes. Getting proper instruction can also help prevent the injuries that might be sustained if your technique isn’t quite right.
Now try finding a pool
Despite the heat, unless you join a gym in Bangkok, live in a condominium with a pool or have your own, pools aren’t as easy to track down in Bangkok as many other towns. Nevertheless, there are some around, so pick one close to you, grab your swimmers and towel, and get ready to embark on a new fitness regime.