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Swimming to Help Your Acting

By • Jun 2nd, 2010 • Category: An Actor's Advice

I wish I had an indoor pool closer to where I live. There is a YMCA about 25 minutes from here of which I used to be a member, until my personal economy left no more room for the gas and fees of same.

This is relevant because swimming is an excellent physical activity for the serious actor. (I prefer indoor swimming, because it is less dependent on weather conditions.)

Naturally any exercise is better than none, but a solid argument could be made that swimming in particular has more specific benefits that are of interest to the actor than any other single physical activity.

The first, and most obvious benefits are increased lung capacity, and diaphragm health. (It’s not just for opera singers anymore.) Deepening lung power, and allowing for more intake of air allows the actor over time not only to deliver more lines or other responses without breathing, but aids in projection to the back of the house. As with singing, a strong, properly trained diaphragm can increase one”s volume and hence one’s clarity when performing in a large house.

Another major benefit is similar to the first; increased stamina. True, this can be obtained through virtually every exercise, walking being the second best source of this, and my current preferred physical activity. But there is something about swimming, wherein for most of the time you simply cannot allow yourself to stop moving, unless you get out of the pool totally, that lends itself very specific to stamina enhancement. And the actor must have stamina and endurance. Not just for longer shows, but through short, active pieces. Fatigue is one of the actor’s greatest enemies when on stage, hence keeping it at bay longer than everyone else gives you quite the advantage.

As does being limber, and with the possible exception of yoga, I can think of no activity that keeps joints and muscles loose quite like regular swimming. The resistance provided by moving through water is almost perfect against the human muscle. And virtually every single muscle we have is, at some point, flexed during a moderately vigorous swim. The more limber you are on stage, the more dynamic your performance can be. Not that great performances require a great deal of movement, but it seems to me one increases one’s odds of turning in such a performance in most cases, if one can comfortably and quickly engage a high range of motion.

A quick swim before a rehearsal, if possible can also lead to a relaxed state of body and mind. Nearly everyone feels more relaxed after they have toweled off and showered following a swim. And while you of course don’t want to exhaust yourself into lethargy by the time you hit the theatre, swimming just long enough to burn away any tensions of the day before hitting the boards provides clear advantages to the actor.

Finally, though less obvious and probably less universal, are the straight up mental benefits. For me when I am swimming, especially when I am under the water for a time, and the pool is not crowded, I experience what could be described as a micro-meditation. When one concentrates so much on one’s breathing, (and hopefully the ceasing of breath once underwater), one may find oneself more focused and less distracted by outside stimuli. Add this to the natural rhythm of much swimming, and solutions to problems with character, or other performance/rehearsal related things tend to present themselves. A very brief altered state of alertness which, if available to you even for brief moments, should be taken full advantage of.

I always preferred free swimming myself. Freedom of movement is one of the things that attracts me to swimming, and spending time in the lap lane tends to take that away from me. (Not to mention the fact that I have never been trained to do specific strokes the correct way anyhow.) So I would go to open recreation swim times. But if you are a trained swimmer, doing some laps on a regular basis will certainly provide the same benefits to your stage career.

Thinking of all of the advantages I am missing by not swimming, I am almost tempted to go get another Y membership.

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is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs offbook.blogspot.com (for theatre related thoughts) and TyUnglebower.com (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

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