Time to dive in

Anjali Jhangiani
Sunday, 11 March 2018

Olympian champion Rehan Poncha talks about how swimming is the perfect workout for the entire body, and why professional athletes, amateurs and fitness enthusiasts must hit the pool for flexibility as well as prevention and recovery of injury.

Rehan Poncha is an icon in Indian swimming. Apart from being an Arjuna Awardee, he has represented India at the Beijing Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the Asian Indoor Games and won multiple medals at the Malaysian, Singapore and Hong Kong Open, Asian Indoor Games and Asian Swimming Championships.

This three-time Senior National Champion, the Best Overall Athlete at the 2002 and 2007 National Games and a finalist at the 2010 Asian and Commonwealth Games, who currently holds 4 national records, has traded his swimming goggles for golf clubs. Though he is pursuing his dream of being a professional golfer now, he also mentors competitive swimmers, writes travel blogs, is a motivational speaker and a TV presenter.

Poncha takes time out from his morning practice sessions to tell you why you must take up swimming. 

Why should you swim?
Summer is here and just the thought of getting into a swimming pool to splash around can seem refreshing enough. But Poncha says that there are a number of reasons to encourage you to start swimming and make it a part of your daily fitness routine.

“If you’re in a gym, or you’ve had a long run, the best thing to do is to get into the water. If you’re swimming the right way and you’re stretching in the water, your muscles recover faster,” he says, adding, “World class swimmers and athletes get into an ice bath before a tournament for recovery. For anybody, not only athletes, swimming regularly is hugely beneficial for the heart. It improves your cardiovascular activity as you’re breathing in and out in a certain tempo as you swim lap after lap.”

He explains that the increase of cardiovascular activity while swimming is equal to that when you’re running on a treadmill, the only difference is that there’s less wear and tear in the body.

“When you’re running on a hard surface, you’re damaging your knee, which is not the case when you’re swimming. Swimming increases your flexibility and as you get older, it keeps your joints healthy and muscles supple,” he says.

Poncha points out how swimming is the perfect workout for the entire body. “You will hardly find a competitive swimmer visit other sporting arenas for improvement of cardiovascular activity or recovery of muscles. But you will always see other athletes coming to swimming pools for all these reasons. There is a huge section of sportsmen and fitness enthusiasts who swim for health benefits. They make it a part of their daily routine and take a certain number of laps of the swimming pool everyday,” says he, adding that doctors are advising injured sportspersons to get into the pool as a part of their physiotherapy. “Even though I’ve taken up golf now, I swim to keep my flexibility and fitness level on point,” he shares.

Swimming apparel and gear
There is a different set of swimming apparel and gear for competitive swimmers and those who swim for fitness.

“Competitive swimmers can go for high-end, top-of-the-line lazer swim suits, which are extremely tight and skin fitting. They increase your buoyancy by activating your core muscles. Also the material of the suit allows you to move through the water more easily as there is less resistance,” says Poncha. 

Apart from the right suit, professional swimmers can aid their practice with a range of swimming gear. “Like you’ve got shoes for running, there is a range of training gear including kick boards, pull buoys, fins or flippers, and hand paddles. These equipments help increase your speed and power in the water.

Then you also have training swim suits, which are called drag suits. They are a little loser, and collect water to make you heavier in the pool. For a competitive swimmer, this suit makes their workout much harder, and when they get into a lazer suit on race day, they feel lighter and perform better,” he says.

There is another line of swimsuits for non-professional swimmers. “I like boardshorts a lot because they come in funky colours with a variety of prints. You can wear them to hang out on the beach or by the poolside. Or on a cold day you can wear a tight wetsuit, which collects a lot of water but you can surf or sea swim in them. Then you’ve got jammers that go down to the knee in various levels of tightness,” says Poncha, adding, “Goggles with different levels of tint and clarity are available. If you’re swimming in the midday sun, you should wear reflective goggles.”

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