FEATURES,  View from the Water

Alternatives to swimming: the pros and cons

Does anyone remember those times before coronavirus? In that previous life, people would occasionally ask me, how do I find the motivation to do so much swimming? These were mostly non-swimmers, obviously. The question often arises from people who think you must be swimming for some greater purpose such as losing weight or getting fit. They don’t seem to understand that we swim because we love swimming. Staying fit and healthy are merely beneficial side effects – although it’s a curious thing that there is a positive correlation between your swimming fitness and enjoyment of swimming. A good day is a day when you can swim. And a good swim can set you up nicely for a productive work session or a relaxing weekend. Going swimming doesn’t require will power, just like some people don’t need will power to go the pub.

But now, we’re shut out of the water, I still want all those lovely swimming feelings, and I’m finding it hard going without. And I’d still like to stay fit. After spending a few weeks testing and reviewing the alternatives to swimming and making the best use of the time I used to spend in the water, this is what I’ve come up with.

General fitness home-based exercises


  • Maintain or improve all-round fitness
  • Some people might enjoy this type of thing
  • Be part of a nationwide trend


  • Boring (I might be expressing a personal opinion here)
  • Painful (ditto)
  • Lose swim specific fitness anyway
  • Be part of a nationwide trend

Swim specific exercises with bands


  • Maintain swim specific strength and fitness (to a degree)
  • Easy to do – can use theraband if you don’t have swim cords
  • Can also use bands for injury prevention exercises


  • Impossible to replicate full-body movement patterns of swimming
  • It isn’t swimming
  • Possible injury risk

Tethered swimming in an over-sized paddling pool


  • Closest you can get to actual swimming
  • Maintain swim specific strength and fitness
  • Can post videos on social media


  • Time and cost to set up and maintain
  • Loss of garden or garage space
  • Question of what to do with pool once we can return to normal swimming
  • Possible injury risk

Empty Lake From Katia Copy

The lakes are empty of swimmers for now

(c) Katia Vastiau



  • Almost as enjoyable as swimming (again, I’m biased)
  • Keeps you fit
  • Allows you to get outside


  • Swimming fitness is different
  • You might be mistaken for a triathlete
  • Injury risk

Netflix, wine and chocolate


  • Catch up on movies you don’t normally get time to watch
  • Requires very little effort
  • Feel like a normal person


  • Fast loss of fitness.
  • Aches and pains from not moving enough.
  • Feel like a normal person

Currently we don’t know how long before we’ll be able to swim again. It might be several weeks or even months. It’s therefore important to find something, or a combination of things, that you enjoy and want to do, rather than relying on willpower to push yourself to do something because you think you ought to. Many of the alternatives feel functional rather than fun, which means they will be hard to sustain. One thing that’s helped me is letting go of the desire to swim. Rather than dwelling on what I can’t do, I’m trying to focus on what I can. I’ve also stopped counting the days I’ve been out of the water. I’ve been away from swimming before. I know the first few weeks back will be hard but swimming fitness, and my love of swimming, will return.

Things I miss about swimming include the sensation of being in the water, the adventure of an exploratory outdoor swim, the excitement of a race, the shared experience of a tough training session, stories told in gasped half-sentences over the course of an interval set and coffee, cake and a chat afterwards. Most of that isn’t replicable in our current environment, but we will get back to it.

Meanwhile, I’ve settled on running, along with a bit of Netflix and extra chocolate as the best combination to get me through.

How about you?

Main image: Sport psychology consultant and Outdoor Swimmer Magazine contributor Helen Davis in training in her back garden pool. www.thinkbelieveperform.co.uk

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.