Swimming is one of the best types of exercise for AS, because it is low impact, exercises the whole body, and it's the perfect place to do some stretches while your body weight is supported in the water.
Finding the right pool
Finding the right pool will maximise the chances that you will stick with swimming as a regular exercise. Some things to look for if you have a choice:
- Nearby - the closer the pool is to where you live (or work), the more likely you will be willing to make the trip when you are feeling achy and sore
- Steam room included - this will make all the difference. A steam room is a great way to warm up, relax those tense muscles and do a few stretches before your swim, as well as warming down afterwards. A sauna is good too, but you might find that steam is much quicker at getting heat into your muscles and joints
- Temperature - pools can vary in temperature quite a lot depending on the size and what the thermostat is set to. A smaller, warmer pool is much better for AS than a colder one
Finding the right stroke
You will probably find backstroke to be the easiest if you have AS, and it's particularly good at working your lower back muscles (from the kicking motion you do with your legs) and stretching out your shoulders and ribs. You may not be able to keep your arms completely straight as you reach up and back, but that's okay - bend them at the elbows to stay comfortable.
Breaststroke can be difficult if you have AS, depending on how you do it, and the leg kick can cause problems if you're hips are especially sore. The 'head up' style (where you keep your head out of the water the whole time) can be painful for your neck, because you have to constantly keep your head tilted back, so is definitely not recommended. Instead, get a pair of goggles and learn how to do the correct breaststroke technique. I personally find this my favourite stroke when done properly, as it gives your neck and spine a good healthy movement and stretch when you dive your head into the water. Most people are put-off by having to learn how to breathe under water, but once you have it mastered it becomes simple and natural. It's much easier than front-crawl breathing, so if you've tried front crawl and didn't like it, don't be put off trying breaststroke!