Why I Swim

For a lot of us swimming is beyond being just a sport. With the amount of time that we have invested into the pool it has become something larger than a hobby or a way to stay in shape. It has become part of our identity, part of our lives, part of who we are.

On occasion I get asked if I played football or rugby (thank you swimming for those shoulders!), and when I tell them, “Nope, swimmer!” the response is typically a furrowed brow and, “But, why?”

There are an endless number of reasons why I swim. Here are just a few of them.

It reminds me that anything worth having requires hard work. Swimming is a no-lie sport. You swim your butt off, look at the scoreboard and there is the result. There are no judges, no marks on technical merit or style, just the truthful, cold, digital numbers on the clock. There are no substitutions, no teammate to make up for your lackluster performance, no one to look to when things go poorly. The precise nature of the results in competition – and more notably, training – means that we can visibly see and feel progress as we improve, and can correlate the work we put in with the results we receive.

Reminds me to continually expand my horizons. I cannot count how many times coaches over the years dropped a gauntlet of a set, something that never in my wildest imagination would I think could survive, let alone complete. (We can be so melodramatic when those tough sets get scrawled up on the whiteboard.) But then what happens? You not only finish the set—but you leave the pool with a little pep in your step and a renewed sense of self-belief.

A good workout clears the mind. That feeling I just described? About feeling awesome about yourself after an awesome workout? Yeah, that. When we are pounding out a hard workout, our bodies recognize this as a moment of intense stress, and in response sprinkles a protein called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) all over your noodle. What does BDNF do? Improves the function of neurons and encourages new neuron growth. Which explains why you feel clear headed and happy after a big workout. (If you want even more of that good ole BDNF, get into some interval work. Research has shown that sprinters in particular experienced a greater surge in BDNF production.) There are obviously a lot of physical health benefits to swimming lengths, but it’s the mental ones that I notice most on a daily basis.

It’s where I go to meditate. No matter what is going on outside of the pool, for an hour or two I can unplug from everything. Whether it is work or school stress, conflict and drama with the people in our lives, whatever it is—swimming gives you the opportunity to shut it out. No cell phone, no social media, no nothing – just you and the black line.

I swim because there is a chance to be extraordinary. What extraordinary means for each of us is completely different. For some, it is to swim butterfly for 200 meters non-stop and not have their stroke collapse (okay, most of us), for others it is to swim collegiately, and others, to grace the podium in international competition. I swim because it’s an opportunity to challenge myself, to fight through pain and discomfort and emerge on the other side stronger and tougher.

That is why I swim.

What are the reasons that you show up and pound out the yards? Let’s hear them in the comments below.


Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer. He’s the publisher of YourSwimBook, a ten-month log book for competitive swimmers.

Conquer the Pool Mental Training Book for SwimmersHe’s also the author of the recently published mental training workbook for competitive swimmers, Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High Performance Mindset.

It combines sport psychology research, worksheets, and anecdotes and examples of Olympians past and present to give swimmers everything they need to conquer the mental side of the sport.

Ready to take your mindset to the next level?

Click here to learn more about Conquer the Pool.

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6 years ago

Why swimming is life
There’s just something so inviting about the pool. From the moment you see those inviting colorful tiles, to the moment that humid air hits you. Everything becomes calmer. Things move slower. When you hear the rustling of the water from waves made by someone in the pool, it sets off something inside of you that makes you want to be there. That tangy smell of chlorine in the air telling you to dive right in. The blue glass-like sheet of water enticing you. The organized nature of the lanes of the pool: the black tiles at the bottom of the pool, the flags overhead, the lanelines. Finally, once you jump in and that cool water… Read more »

Aussie crawl
7 years ago

As i suffer from anxiety it helps me alot.
Swimming upto 20km a week.

Weird Swimmer
7 years ago

I love the feel of the water ????And in my mouth.

7 years ago

Well swimming for me is above fitness or training. Its the feeling of weightlessness and contact with water. Just flowing with water gracefully and to concentrate on each and every body part gives utmost pleasure. Swimming is a feel sport and you always try to improve and flow with the water and get in touch with our inner fish. Afterall all living beings originated from water.

8 years ago

Swimming connects me to life. It provides a way for me to see struggles and hard work as a way of dealing with what we all carry. The water calms me and awakens my spirit. The exercise strengthens my body and the experience calms my mind. Swimming is my zen!

8 years ago

I swim because swimming is my therapy. I swim competitively- 50 weeks out of the year, 10 hours a week. Like any other swimmer, I have my days when I feel like pushing through a 7000 yard practice might actually kill me. But finishing a grueling workout is the best feeling and I feel accomplished every time. For 2 hours in the pool, I am allowed to block out everything: social media, friends, family, school, & work. For two hours, all I have to focus on is the clock, and the black line on the bottom. Also, when I’m having a rough day, swimming out my frustration / stress / sadness is the only thing that feels good. In the… Read more »

8 years ago

Encouraging article – thanks for sharing.

I used to swim competitively while still in school and used the skill to my advantage as a nipper and later as a lifeguard. Eventually a serious rotator cuff injury pulled me out of the water and I had to change sports to allow enough time for it to heal…I took up running (a sport I was never quite good at as a child but now find myself doing half marathons). Although I don’t compete anymore as a swimmer, when I jump in the pool it feels like I am back in the game. Every lap as if preparing for a race. Definitely a place for meditation. Swimming is a passion and a gift.

8 years ago

I swim mainly in open water. We need a mental attitude that in almost complete darkness alone 1-2 km swim in the water temperature of 8-14 C. But the feeling of confidence and pleasant tiredness worth.

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national-level swimmer, swim coach, and best-selling author. His writing has been featured on USA Swimming, US Masters Swimming, NBC Sports Universal, the Olympic Channel, and much more. He has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 …

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