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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Almost PhD
6 years ago

Graceful, free, “flowy,” meditative, good practice at failing and at patience, science, emotion regulation aka “therapy,” cap-goggles-suit take up less space then running shoes while traveling, calling ice cream a health food because of its intrinsic nature of cooling the core body temp thus yielding it anti-inflammatory properties, the possibilities, because doing 5x 200 fly descend is a great ego booster at 5 am and leaves you in a great mindset to walk into an organic chemistry exam, because I’d rather smell like chlorine than sweat, and because you cannot beat the friendships you make on the swim team doing any other sport.

6 years ago

It reminds me that there’s a difference between working hard and working effectively. Simply thrashing and bashing harder through a swim will not usually make a person faster. Speed requires careful attention to technique as well as effort. (Maybe sprinters won’t know what I’m talking about)

Susan Huber
Reply to  Catherine
6 years ago

I am a sprinter and I pay meticulous attention to my form in all four strokes. I do see too many good swimmers with bad form- you may even go faster with better form. Even in a race, I will tell myself to keep the form. I prefer to train by myself to work on form that is good for my body. For me, swimming is an art not a sport. It is a life to be able to meditate in water.

6 years ago

I swim because swimming is the only think I feel apart of. I stress over school, about my future while swimming is the only thing that keeps me grounded, it’s the only thing I am good at. Yes there are times where I wouldn’t want to go to practice, but once I’m there I know that the pool is where I belong. I have shoulder injuries so sometimes I can’t even swim, which depresses me but I have amazing coaches who talk me through my “episodes” and then I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

6 years ago

I fell in love with the people at my pool first then I fell in love with the sport. Swim does nothing but good for me. It has taught the work ethic that I now use in and out of the pool on a daily basis.

6 years ago

A few years ago I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep swimming. Then I learned to swim slowly and easily, and fell in love with the sport all over again. I’ll never be very good, but I train
several times a week to challenge myself, and I do a little coaching part time which is wonderful. I love swimming because it is beautiful and graceful. I love swimming because those who reach the pinnacle of this sport have paid a frightful price in pain to get there. I suspect swimmers are unusually respectful of their opponents because of this. God given talent plays a role but there is no substitute for hard work, just like in life.

6 years ago

Swimming is my therapy. While swimming a mile in the pool, I do math problems (don’t know why as I don’t really like math), I sing (in my head) an I talk to God. And when I finish a workout I know I have accomplished something. Plus, I can eat cookies and not get fat! BONUS!!!

yon dao
6 years ago

I swim because water never judges, only accepts. It never gets hurt and always beckons for me to come back. And when I had a bad workout, on my way back to the pool the next day, there are times I could hear water whisper to my soul – “Feel me instead.” As I do, water becomes me. And I she. I don’t care if people call me crazy. In water, I am free.

Martha Ingham
6 years ago

I swim because it’s healing. Rejuvenates me more than any spa ever could. I think it takes us back to where it all began. That safe haven that allowed us to just be. The evidence of this rests with how few of us swimmers actually end our swim workout having felt worse than we did before we started our swim. Moreover, I’ve never ever met a committed swimmer I really didn’t like. Committed swimmers are smart, disciplined, have excellent work ethics, and are among the nicest and most genuine of people.

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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