ŅSwimming For The Body ConsciousÓ

By Julian Nagi – British Gas Swim Coach/Ambassador.


Without doubt most of us have experienced periods during our life where we have suddenly become extremely body conscious, particularly when it comes to playing sport.  These issues may have occurred for a number of reasons but rest assured we all have them. I think I am qualified to say this because as a coach  for over 10 years ive trained  people  of all shapes and sizes. What has been clear to me is we ALL have issues we struggle with on a daily basis, so if you think you are alone in the way feel  you are very much mistaken. This is particularly evident in certain sports where people are confronted with situations or environments where the feel totally uncomfortable and self conscious.


For many people one of the sports that creates the biggest barrier for participation is swimming, this is understandable because it requires you to take most of your clothes off ! This is incredibly distressing for me as a coach to hear because its means that there are many people out there that are missing out on an amazing sport that can enrich your lives in so many ways.


I came to the British Gas head office recently  to help  promote  the London Swimmerfun event, an incredibly exciting swimming event for all employees and their families to get together and have a really fun day. It was clear from speaking to people that they thought it was a great idea, most said they would come along but it was striking how many people when asked if they would particpate im some of the events on the pool actually said noÉ.and were actually quite firm about it! The main reason was clearÉthe thought of putting on a swimming costume on again  (particularly in front of colleagues) was a big no no.


Although I have never had an issue with getting into a pool or parading around in a pair of speedos ( I actually thank my dear mum for this because she had me in a pair of these and in a swimming pool before I could crawl !) There is a situation when I was a teenager when that I will never forget, this was the first time I went into a gymÉ.well I almost didnÕt go in because I was too terrified! Im sure this must be the same for many potential swimmers out there. I was 15 at the time and remember peering in through the small window in the doors and seeing all of these ŅfitÓlooking people purposely going about their business. My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty and I thought what the hell do I do when I go in there ?!. These nerves were largely due to the fact that I was a scrawy kid who was extremely body conscious. I had no muscle and I was convinced that everyone would be looking at me when I went in and laughing at how puny I looked. It didnÕt take me long to realise this but I couldnÕt have been more wrong.  



Once you break through that first initial barrier of the dreaded first session the rest is so much easier. I qucikly realised after a few more sessions that actually everyone in the gym was so focussed on what they were doing that they had no interest in what a scrawny teenager like me was up to. In fact I would actually  say most of the people were far more interested in looking at themselves in the mirror than at anyone else !


This is eactly the same with swimming and I speak as a coach with of over 10 years experience of training people of all levels in the swimming pool. Once you cross that first barrier of that first sessson then it quite simply opens up a whole new world to you and one which is nowhere near as intimidating than you originally thoughtÉin fact I would say it is actaully more liberating than anything else!


So thatÕs why I decided to write this article, I wanted to try and connect with potential wannabe swimmers out there within British Gas in a way that might encourage you to take the plunge and get more involved in swimming. Swimming is a wonderful sport as many British gas employees have found out during the sponsorship of British Swimming, the reach has been far and wide and many people have been touched and inspired by the sponsorship. For some it has even been life changing.


The other important  reason you should swim is because it is incredibly good for you, not only can it get you fit but it can also help with weight loss and muscle toning and dramatically reduce the risk of getting heart disease, strokes and diabetes. In fact there is no other sport that you can do where the chances of picking up injuries are so low because water supports your bodyweight, this in turn protects your joints and bones.


To prove that this barrier can be broken I asked some of our amazing BG swimmers and swim heroes to contribute something to this article, most importantly I wanted them to write about their own personal experiences of how they overcame these fears. You will see a lot of people came forward with some very inspiring stories that will hopefully touch you in some way and help you make that first step of getting back in the pool. These are real experiences by real people who have experienced many of the hang ups most people have about their bodies.  In fact I found it very inspiring that so many people wanted to write in such an open way,  when you see this you really do fully appreciate how positive an affect swimming has had on their lives. Quite simply they want others to experience the same joy they have experienced and this is the reason for them writing.


Hope you enjoy reading some of these stories below, ive also inlcuded my top ten tips for helping you overcome these fears. Look forwatd to seeing you at the poolÉ.and soon ! ;+)




JulianÕs Top 10 Tips


  1. Remember that nobody has any interest in what you are doing or what you look like, they are far to concerned with what they are doing to care!


  1. Find a friend/work colleague who is interested in swimming and ask if you can join them for a swim, having someone there with you will make  you feel far less self-conscious when entering the pool for the first time.


  1. Speak to your local pool to find out when the pool is least busy, all pools have peak times so if you are concerned choose a time when there will be fewer swimmers.


  1. If you are worried about your swim technique then booking in for a one on one session training session with a swimming coach. A good coach will help you overcome any fears you may have and give you guidance on what areas of your stroke you need to focus on.


  1. If swimming is too intimidating to start off with then you could always try a pool class like aqua aerobics  to build up your confidence first. You will also get to know people here and have great fun at the same time.


  1. Make sure you have  the right kit, its always good for self confidence to at least look the part! Goggles and a swimming costume are the essentials so its worth investing in a new pair.


  1. Book onto a learn to swim course at your local pool, this will help improve both swim technique and water confidence.


  1. Find an event to train for such at the British Gas swim series, there is nothing more motivating to get you back in the pool knowing you have something to train for.


  1. If swimming this far in open water seems to daunting then set yourself a goal of swimming anywhere from 25m to 400m unaided as a first step. Once you achive these targets then reset these goals to take you on further to the next level.


  1. Remenber that coaches, trainers and the vast majority of people have much more respect for somebody who attempts to exercise than somebody that doesnÕt. When I see someone who is overweight in the swimming pool, jogging  or in the gym my first thought isnt look how big or small they are ÉitÕs a good on you for showing the determination to make a change..big respect!


AdieÕs StoryÉ.


In August 2010 I paid for a BUPA-stylee "full MOT".  I remember the results discussion with the GP quite vividly as it was genuinely a life changing moment for me.  "...Type 2 Diabetes...dangerously high blood pressure...high cholesterol...blood and protein in urine... Clinically Obese Body Mass Index score..."


I really wasn't expecting that at 35 years old. 


On the drive home I remember running through all the "excuses" in my head...  I work long hours, I've got big bones, I don't have time to exercise, I've got a high stress job, my knees hurt when I run, I'm too fat to hit the gym, I'm too unfit to hit the gym.  The harsh reality was I was 20 stone, a 42-inch waist with a weekly exercise regime that peaked at reading a paper whilst my kids ran round the park on a Sunday morning.


So I bought some new gym kit and trainers and marched off down to my local sports center for a "free trial and induction".  I really didn't enjoy it.  The gym equipment was complicated, my knees hurt when I tried anything and, worst of all, I felt really self-conscious because I appeared to be surrounded by thinner, fitter people who knew what they were doing!  The gym instructor didn't really help either; "It's meant to hurt", "you need to work hard to get results"...


I didn't go back.


It was about that time that I just happened to catch an article on the intranet at work from the BG Swimming Team, saying that I could get discounted swims and memberships at the Spelthorne Leisure Centre in Staines.  My gut reaction was, "there's no way I'm wandering about in Speedo's" but I went down one lunchtime and had a look.  The first thing I noticed was it was pretty quiet.  I was also pleasantly surprised that the pool was divided into slow, medium and fast lanes and there wasn't any instructors on the side screaming the virtues of "no pain - no gain!"  I got up half an hour early the next morning and went along. 


The single biggest hurdle happened that morning when I stood, "budgees a'smuggled" as the Aussie's would say, ready to walk out of the changing room into the pool area.  I thought, "OMG - everyone's going to look at me!" and I froze for a few minutes trying to motivate myself to go for it.  I did.  Everyone did look...  for about 2 seconds, with goggles on, and then got back to their swimming.  Contrary to my pals beliefs the water didn't wash out when I got in and Greenpeace weren't ready to through me back in when I finished!


The great thing about swimming for me is my knees don't hurt and I can go at my own pace.  I got pretty immediate results too, losing a stone in the first 6 weeks without changing my diet at all!  I'm now about 9 months into it and regularly swim 3 mornings a week.  I've used the free BG swim coaching to improve my technique and have even signed up for 2 of this years BG Great Swim open water events.  I'm now 3 stone down on August last year and my health problems are all under control without any medication.


Stepping out of the changing room in SpeedoÕs for the first time was tough, but breaking through the initial exercise barrier was enough for me to keep going back.  The key for me was using the health assessment shock to reflect on my lifestyle.


JustinÕs Story


The whole reason I am taking part in the swimming competition (aside from my competitive nature of course) is to lay a 25-year-old ghost to rest.


Let me take you back to the heady days of 1986, Tom CruiseÕs ego was writing cheques his body couldnÕt cash in Top Gun, Chris De Burgh was Ōlooking for a little romanceÕ with his Lady in Red & a cheating little Argentinean dashed the hopes of a nation with his ŌHand of GodÕ.


There was a slightly lesser sporting event also taking place in 1986, The Dukinfield High School Swimming Gala. All the best swimmers in the school would be there, with one notable exception É me. Why I hear you ask, why would you not take part and claim glory in front of all your school mates, perhaps even attracting the attention of a certain girl you had your eye on? Well IÕll tell you for why, because I was a fat kid and as a fat kid I was thoroughly embarrassed about appearing in front of people undressed. When I first started at the school, at the very first swimming lesson, the teacher took one look at my chubby frame and sent me straight to the ŌuselessÕ group – this despite the fact that I had my gold medal (achieved at 8 years old, one of the youngest in the area). Of course when I hit the water and took off like Duncan Goodhew (well a smaller, fatter hairier version), they had to move me up to the top class.


So I didnÕt compete, didnÕt get the girl, gave up swimming & stood at the side with all the other spectators cursing my body and vowing one day to right this wrong!


Fast forward to 2011


IÕm sat at my desk working away (well, IÕm sat at my desk) when IÕm approached by Dan Green (top office swimmer & all round decent chap). HeÕs holding something round and shiny in his hand. I still to this day donÕt know what it was – but in his other hand he was holding an Olympic gold medal. To be precise it was the one and only Duncan GoodhewÕs 1980 gold medal from Moscow. My first thought was that he had nicked it, slippery character that he is *only joking Dan*– but then I saw the great man himself striding towards us. My God, Duncan Goodhew is coming over to talk to me (just to clarify, he was in the office promoting the British Gas Swimmerfun, not just randomly loitering around Stockport ASC). Unfortunately, the first thing I mentioned to him was my first memory of him – not his awe-inspiring Olympic victory but his 1981 appearance on Game for a Laugh when he had to put his head in a box & members of the public had to put their hands in and guess what it was. He didnÕt take offence though, in fact he said it brought him a load more appearances & was a nice little earner. Anyway, it was then, right at that moment, like a bolt of lightening, like Saul / PaulÕs epiphany on the road to Damascus, like that bit in Field of Dreams when Kevin Costner decides to build a baseball stadium in his back field (well alright, not like that but you get the idea) – I thought




Many weeks, bruises, cramps, pulled muscles & several pints of swallowed pool water later, I wish I would have kept my mouth shut É but thatÕs another story.


So swim I did – admittedly, IÕm no longer the chubby little 12 year old I was back in 86, many years of dieting and weight-training sorted that out – in fact people now say, rather ironically, that I could do with putting some weight on. But believe you me, walking out in front of all your colleagues with nothing more than a pair of budgie smugglers between you and your altogether was no mean feat. I felt the fear of that 12-year-old kid – but only for a second. Once I saw everyone else, all sizes, all shapes, all abilities – and felt the warmth from the spectators, colleagues, friends, family, all there to support people who have put themselves forward and made an effort, it made it all worth while. In fact, IÕm now in training for the finals in September & I have absolutely no worries about how I look or what people think about how I look because the people there donÕt care. They are there to support and encourage my participation, not judge & criticize how I look. The only thing IÕm worried about now is how to catch Dan Ōthe dolphinÕ Green.


So in closing (and I realize itÕs been a long and emotional journey for us all), IÕd just like to say I know the fear, pain, humiliation & low self esteem that can be caused by the thought of being in a state of undress in public. I have however also experienced the joy, motivation, power and self-confidence that comes with overcoming those fears. I know it isnÕt easy, but believe me when I say that of the two states I have just described, the latter is a much, much better place to be. So if you are thinking about going swimming, or any other activity for that matter where you may be worried what other people think of you – just remember (trying not to come over all Oprah Winfrey on you) what other people think is of no importance, what you think of yourself is what matters & I guarantee that if you take that first step and confront your fear (whatever it may be), you will start to think a whole lot more about yourself & the more you do it & the more your confidence grows, the better you will feel until, like me, (just think Kevin Spacey when heÕs finishing his speech about Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects) É *pooof*  the fear is gone.


To steal a phrase (& hope I donÕt get sued) – Just do it!


See you in the pool.


AngieÕs storyÉ.


LetÕs face it- getting practically naked in front of your colleagues isnÕt top of your Ņto doÓ list.  I used the gym in the Windsor office once, years ago, and was very much put off by being questioned about my work by someone else who was completely starkers. I have never used the facility again.  So I was naturally reluctant to start swimming in the British Gas squad. 


Add to this that I am recently back at work after my second child and coming to terms with a new (or should we say more wobbly?) body shape, and actually itÕs quite a hurdle to pluck up the courage to take the plunge. But I am so pleased that I did. ItÕs been highly rewarding to learn a new skill and also give myself some ŅmeÓ time. ItÕs not easy to factor in exercise being a full time working mother of two toddlers, and being supported in doing this by British Gas has really spurred me into action.  I notice now that I may be watching my colleagueÕs swim stroke with interest, but what they look like in a swim suit is not a factor at all. And anyway- weÕre not visible in the water for most of the lesson. So if you would like to join in but are at all self conscious, I can recommend giving it a go. After the first step out of the changing room you wont pay any attention to the fact that you, or anyone else is in a swim suit. 


SteveÕs storyÉ.


There is an old saying - 'people would not worry about what other people

thought of them if they only realized how rarely they did' - to which I

subscribe.  I am normally quite observant and was quite shocked that one

of my colleagues lost 22kg in about 6 months and I did not even notice -

oops!  He did not look overweight before the weight loss and looks about

the same to me now ... I think we all feel others are looking at us and

judging us far more than they actually do .... so just relax and dive in.



SimbaÕs storyÉ.


Unfortunately, swimming attire does not leave very much to the

imagination.  That said, that may not be a bad thing in the sense that

if there is a part of your physique which you wish to transform, there's

nowhere to hide it when you're wearing a costume/trunks.  It may well be

the motivation one needs to take action.


In a work context, I think there's very little to be worried about when

wearing swimming stuff amongst colleagues.  To put things in

perspective, I've been swimming on and off since primary school, and

going through the teenage phase was far more of an ordeal than anything

one has to deal with as an adult.  I think we're all mature enough to be

respectful towards each other, and well aware that we're all outside our

comfort zones to some extent.  


If you can find the courage to bite the bullet, and realize that we're

generally our own worst critics, it's an incredibly healthy and

fulfilling way to keep fit.



AlisonÕs storyÉ


To say IÕm body conscious would be a bit of an understatement.  Friendships have nearly been lost over sneaky photos taken without my knowledge, and I refused to go outside for days after seeing pictures from my brotherÕs wedding.  So the thought of donning a swimming costume for the first time since my teenage years was a somewhat daunting prospect to say the least.


Being allergic to anything involving running (witness my disastrous attempts at early morning jogging), swimming was the obvious choice when looking to start a fitness regime, especially as itÕs easy on the joints.  However, since my concessions to summer weather usually include shorter sleeve tops and ever so slightly cropped jeans (IÕm with the Victorians on this one!) the thought of parading around in front of other people in a skimpy piece of lycra was enough to put me off before I even started.


Following a quick bit of research on the internet, I was armed with a swanky new costume designed to hold all of my Ōwomanly curvesÕ in the right place, whilst still being suitable for fitness, rather than holiday, purposes (making a wardrobe malfunction less likely).  Clinging onto my towel for dear life until the last possible second, I decided to bite the bullet and wobbled gingerly onto poolside and into the relative safety of the water.  It was then I realized:

a) no-one was staring at me aghast

b) my fellow swimmers were all shapes (most of them irregular), sizes and ages

c) being of athletic build is no guarantee of confidence/elegance in the pool


A slim, sporty friend of mine plagued by her own body hang-ups at first now looks forward to her relaxing weekly swimming session, whilst IÕve recently taken things up a notch by entering the Swimmerfun event.  LetÕs face it, no one wants to stroll about in swimwear in front of work colleagues on a Saturday night, especially when thereÕs a photographer present!  However, a quick purchase of some swim leggings to enabled me to brave the poolside and try my luck at 50m sprints again which was hugely enjoyable.  CanÕt promise I wonÕt confiscate the photos though...........



JasonÕs  StoryÉ.


I used to dread going to the pool.. the walk to the  swimming pool from the changing used to feel like the longest walk in your life. All those thoughts going in your head. Can they see through my swim suite, do I look fat in this, IÕve got no make up on do they think I look rough? I hope I donÕt slip or make a fool of myself. You have think positive and really understand no one is watching you, they are not at the pool to make fun of you and no one cares what you look like.  Once you see through that you can really enjoy swimming. It works every part of your body and you feel good every time you swim.