As an often embattled swimmer, I have mixed feelings about Swimming for Total Fitness (Dolphin Books/Doubleday & Company, Inc., $10.95) by Jane Katz, Ed.D., with Nancy P. Bruning. My unease arises from the fact that, compared to jogging trails, swimming pools are finite; not the number of pools necessarily, but the number of swimmers who can profitably be squeezed into any one pool, not all of whom subscribe to the belief that swimming isn't a contact sport. The problem is that Katz—or Dr. J, as she sometimes styles herself—is such a persuasive advocate of the virtues of swimming, so eloquently hymns the praises of water, that I have an almost apocalyptic vision of pools so densely packed with true believers that no one can swim a stroke, much less practice the intricacies of the S-shaped bent-arm pull.
Hearken to Dr. J on water: "...swimming's overwhelming advantage over other physical activities is that you do it in water, and this brings me to what, for some reason, is one of the best-kept secrets in the universe: water feels good and is good—for your body and for your soul. In water, our bodies seem to defy gravity, and we come as close as we ever will to the feeling of flying. And water is a wonderfully sensual medium; just being in it is relaxing and exhilarating at the same time."
Katz cites a study which indicates that "swimming actually helps one feel 'sexier' temporarily by affecting the body's hormonal balance. A study made of 258 swimmers (108 women and 150 men) found that 20% said they enjoyed a higher rate of sexual activity after they'd begun to swim regularly."
Swimming for Total Fitness is then both a why-to and a how-to book. The bulk of it is a lucid and engaging instructional, which takes the reader from the fundamentals of breathing through the techniques of the various strokes, racing dives and turns, to a "Swimming-for-Fitness Progressive Workout Program," which advocates the benefits of interval training vs. "garbage yardage," or long, slow swims that do little for conditioning.
But even here, the "why" underlines the "how." For example, the inestimable worth of the aforementioned S-stroke in the crawl—which can be likened to the sketching in the air of the contours of a voluptuous woman, only with one arm at a time—is explained by reference to Newton's Third Law of Motion. As Katz says, "Swimmers move forward by pushing back against the water (instead of pushing up and out as many do). The greater the resistance of the water, the greater the forward thrust. And since still water provides greater resistance than water that's already moving backward, the old straight-arm pull isn't the most efficient way to swim. The most effective stroke, instead, is one that's curved so that you're always pushing against a column of 'new' or still water."
Dr. J, who teaches aquatics at Bronx Community College and is a world-record-holding Masters swimmer, also addresses herself to less weighty matters, such as why one has the urge to urinate while swimming, why wearing shower clogs is a useless precaution against athlete's foot, why one gets thirsty during and after a swim and why swimming contributes to weight loss, besides burning up calories.
For the answers, read Swimming for Total Fitness, but, please, don't everybody get in the pool at the same time.