Have you always enjoyed swimming?
Jessica: As a Piscean, I’ve always enjoyed swimming and it’s been a big part of my life. Even while travelling the world, or on business trips, I always made it a priority to stay in a hotel with a swimming pool. I had a very glamorous auntie who lived in Italy who always wore the most fabulous swimming hats at the beach – she has definitely inspired our look. It’s lovely when people say we’ve brightened up their day.
Nicola: I swam competitively at school, but I took a break from swimming for about 25 years. Jessica encouraged me to get back into it after telling me about Brockwell Lido in Herne Hill. It was a shock getting back into cold water for the first time, but my swimming journey from then until now has been amazing. In light of the pandemic, I can safely say that I’ll never take swimming for granted ever again.
Where do you find the motivation to swim every day?
Jessica: I never even think about it. I simply get out of bed, put on my swimming costume and can’t wait to get into the pool. For me, it’s very much led by passion. As soon as I get into the water, I feel amazing. The benefits, both physical and mental, have been extraordinary. Of course, I sometimes have off-days, but I very rarely have to force myself to go to the pool – I just can’t wait to go.
Nicola: Jessica is a huge motivation for me. When the pools were open, she’d pick me up in the car every morning and we’d head to the lido together.
Why did you start the Lido Ladies?
Nicola: It was our passion for lidos and their retro architecture and bygone glamour that made us want to start the Lido Ladies. Of course, our love of swimming was a big factor, too. It’s a different, but incredible, experience swimming in an outdoor 50m pool, as opposed to an indoor one. We’re both in our mid-fifties and we’ve hugely benefited from swimming, so we wanted to inspire other people, particularly more mature women, to get involved. We started our Instagram account in January 2020 to encourage women to get into the pool, but sadly the first national lockdown was announced a couple of months later and all the pools closed. It was then that we decided to start taking fun photographs in our gardens, wearing the flowery hats Jessica makes. In July, we were able to get back in the pools when they reopened, and our mission to inspire others has since continued.
Why do you prefer lidos to indoor pools or wild swimming spots?
Nicola: We love the architecture of the lidos – there are some beautiful ones in London and in other parts of the UK. It’s also a relatively safe swim as you’re in a secure pool, there are lifeguards on duty, and in the winter, you can swim in a heated pool. The Lido Ladies don’t swim in water under 17°C, which still isn’t warm, but it’s more bearable than most bodies of water. It all depends on the sort of swim you want to achieve, though. For example, if you want the experience of wild swimming and don’t mind colder temperatures, there are some great outdoor spots. For us, we need to be in the water for about 45 minutes to cover the distance we swim, so an unheated lido isn’t practical during the winter. Another benefit of lidos is that you don’t get any pond weed in your swimming hat!
Jessica: A lot of cold swimmers tend to dash in, then dash out, but we like to swim some distance. I swim a mile every day, while Nicola swims 2km, which requires a decent amount of time in the pool. There’s a risk of catching hypothermia, so we wouldn’t attempt that distance in colder waters. It’s important to respect the water and respect what your body is capable of.
What are the physical benefits of swimming every day?
Nicola: When you’re in your 50s, 60s and 70s, it’s very important to incorporate cardio into your routine, and swimming is a fantastic way to achieve this. You also need to do an exercise that keeps you mobile, as once you lose your mobility, it becomes very difficult to exercise altogether. As women age, we tend to become more sedentary than men, so it’s vital to keep moving. Swimming is a great cardio workout, it raises the heart rate, it improves stamina, and it’s easy on the joints, too. For me, it’s been great for weight management – something you need to keep an eye one once you go through the menopause. It’s also great for improving flexibility and posture. After I turned 50, I felt quite stiff in the body, but since I’ve been swimming regularly, I feel much younger than I did, and the stiffness has completely gone. I even do a victory roly-poly in the pool at the end of each session – something I never would have attempted before. The physical benefits are vast and but they do depend on the individual.
And what about the mental health benefits?
Jessica: Being active in general has a positive effect on one’s mental health, but swimming in particular has lots of benefits. It can help improve your mood, boost self-esteem, lower the risk of depression and reduce stress. It’s also great for improving quality of sleep. Personally, swimming has been hugely beneficial for me. I experienced something very traumatic around 18 months ago and I was suffering from a huge amount of stress and anxiety. Daily swims helped me manage the anxiety and process the stress I was under. The hypnotic motion and coolness of the water was incredibly soothing, too. Cold water can help heighten the senses, which is great for processing thoughts and emotions. A pool is a great place for being on your own – no one can contact you and you can process your thoughts clearly. I tried lots of different types of exercise, but swimming has been a lifeline for me.
Nicola: When you feel good physically, it has a positive impact on your mental wellbeing. Swimming is great for relaxation and can even be meditative. When I’m in the pool, my mind is totally clear and focused.
How long does it take to feel these benefits?
Nicola: Like any exercise, it’s a marathon not a sprint. We would encourage people to swim regularly, but also to enjoy it. The benefits can be felt from your very first swim, but the more you do, the better you will feel over time, both physically and mentally. It took me about three to four months (swimming every day) to feel in great shape and swim with the confidence I had when I was younger. We were both very excited the first time we managed to swim a kilometre.
Jessica: After a few months, my confidence definitely improved. It can be quite intimidating putting on a swimming costume as an older woman and walking around a pool full of beautiful, young people. However, swimmers are very relaxed and it’s an incredibly friendly environment to be a part of. It’s more important to remember how you feel, during and afterwards. Physically, I now feel great for my age.
What advice would you give to someone starting out their fitness journey?
Jessica: Having someone to encourage you is very important, so the best thing you can do is to find a swimming partner to start your journey with. Choose a beautiful swimming pool or lido that inspires you, and buy a good swimming costume you feel comfortable in. It’s also important to have realistic expectations and not to push yourself too much. Ultimately, it’s about feeling good and having fun.
How many times a week should you swim?
Nicola: Go as often as you want or can. There are no set rules so you can be as flexible as you like. During normal times, we both swim every day, but we totally understand that might not be realistic for everyone. Swimming doesn’t put any strain on the joints, so you don’t need to take a rest day.
Would you recommend taking up adult swimming lessons?
Nicola: For any sport, taking lessons can be beneficial when you’re getting started or you want to improve your technique. Of course, if you can’t swim at all, lessons are key. Better.org.uk who run a number of London lidos have a ‘swim doctor’ who teach several sessions during the week for adults looking to improve their technique.
Jessica: For older women in particular, the most important thing is to enjoy it. Many sports can become a chore rather than a joy, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. For me, I love breaststroke, which I find to be the most comfortable, so I tend to stick to what I like and know. A friend who is a fitness instructor said it was more important to enjoy your swim than push yourself into something you might find too challenging.
Are there any swimming clubs or groups to know about?
Nicola: It all depends on what you want to achieve but there are hundreds of swimming clubs around the country. For serious swimmers, there are master’s swimmers’ clubs to get involved in. Mental Health Swims, who are primarily cold-water swimmers, are a great group we’ve discovered on Instagram who meet in groups around the UK. The Bluetits Chill Swimmers are another cold-water swimming group to get involved in. Brockwell Swimmers swim at Brockwell Lido in Herne Hill, while the South London Swimming Club operate at Tooting Bec Lido. Swim Dem Crew, an inner-city London group, and Women’s Swimming Collective are also a great option for Londoners. Research what’s going on in your local area – many clubs have a social aspect to them which is a great way of meeting new people. Whether you’re after regular swimming groups or artistic clubs (formerly known as synchronised swimmers), there’s something for everyone with lots of women-only sessions.
Where are your favourite lidos?
Jessica: We would normally head to Charlton Lido in south east London, but one of our favourites is Parliament Hill Fields Lido. The tank is lined with an aluminium sheeting so it’s like swimming in a beautiful oyster shell. Another favourite is Hillingdon Lido in Uxbridge – a classic example of a dolce vita Art Deco pool. We went on a bit of a tour last summer so have seen to many beautiful lidos around the UK.
Once lockdown restrictions are lifted, what’s the best way to get started?
Jessica: Most of the swimming pools are set up for the safety of the swimmers, so you can’t just turn up at a pool like you used to be able to. Most have an apps system in place where you can book sessions online, or over the phone. Find out where your local pool is and book your first session – ideally with your swimming partner. For us, it’s been a ‘long-term lido love’, and hopefully we can inspire others to fall in love with them too.
While this might seem obvious, if you can ensure you are swimming consistently each week, rather than being erratic with your training sessions, you can get a better feel for the water and progress much faster.
Spend more time in the water
When you’re starting out or getting back into it after a period away from the water, the more time you can spend in the pool the better – make sure you build it up slowly so as not to overload the shoulders too quickly. Where possible, it’s better to incorporate more swims throughout the week, even if you have to keep them short, to help you get a good feel for the water.
Enjoy company in the pool
Bring a friend along with you or find your local swimming group – ones who have more advanced swimmers will help you improve your technique and make things more fun.
Don’t rely too much on swimming aids
There are many different swimming aids you can use (pull buoy, paddles, snorkel etc), which can be overwhelming. Initially, it’s better to focus on getting a feel for the water and working on your strength and technique before introducing too many aids.
Focus on your breathing
New swimmers often find that breathing is the most difficult part of a swimming stroke to master. While your face is underwater during the stroke, focus on exhaling through your nose, which will allow your breath to be much faster and more effective.
Don’t worry too much about speed
It can be hard not to concentrate on timing in the pool, but make sure you have more swims that are easier and focused on good technique, as opposed to over-exerting yourself. The best swimmers have techniques that look incredibly relaxed and slow, so try to emulate that.
Get someone to film you in the water
It’s hard to know exactly what your technique looks like unless you can see it, so ask someone to film you. You can then see where you are going wrong and work to correct it.
Remember – not every swim will be a good swim
Just like everything else, there will be good days and bad days, and if you haven’t done a lot of swimming as a child, the bad days will feel absolutely terrible! Just recognise when it isn’t a great day and get through the swim.
Work on bilateral breathing
When you’ve mastered the basics of breathing, try bilateral breathing (where you breathe on both sides). It will help to balance out the stroke evenly.
Do whatever you can to make it easier
This applies to most forms of exercise, but with swimming in particular, the hardest part is the admin around getting to a pool and the equipment you need, so try and make your life as easy as possible by packing your bag the night before, planning when you want to go, and finding the best way of it fitting in.
How to master the four main strokes:
Focus on long, strong strokes to help you glide through the water rather than battling against it. Your leading hand should extend fully with every stroke, allowing you to move the most water.
Low legs are slow legs! Focus on engaging your core and kicking to ensure that your legs are lifted as high as possible in the water.
Keep your head steady, tilted facing slightly downwards. This will help prevent back injury.
The most important part of breaststroke technique is to make sure your whole body is working in harmony. Ensure that your left and right sides are doing the same thing, and that your arm pull and leg kick don’t counteract one another.
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