The whole idea of swimming as exercise never appealed to me.
I love being in the water, especially the sea, but I never fancied the idea of Swimming as Exercise. You have to get wet and cold; you risk picking up a virus, you have to be half naked in front of a load of strangers, and you smell of chlorine for hours afterwards, even after showering. A big pile of nope.
Nonetheless, I received a plea from my sports massage therapist when I text him an update on my injury (could barely walk, cramp and ‘tearing’ pain in my left arch). For the love of God, he said, please swim. He could do everything in his power, but it was worthless if I refused to rest. As in, no running, no cycling, no gym (which I had sneakily tried to get away with against his advice). Yoga, swimming or bust. It had to be swimming if I wanted to maintain fitness for my Half Marathon.
And so I decided to make myself like swimming. Or at least try. I told everyone in the office I was heading to the pool that night, to give myself some accountability, then I set off with a sense of dread and incredibly low expectations. My biggest concern was that I didn’t know if I could swim properly, meaning with any form of efficiency or elegance. Backstroke was my stroke of choice in my school days, but that was hardly practical in the shared lane of a public pool. I hadn’t swum crawl in years, and was convinced that I would flounder around like a baby elephant if I even tried.
The commute was shit: full of passive aggressive Londoners, leaving my nerves a little bit frayed by the time I reached the leisure centre. Swimming had better work on me like running does, I thought.
I got lost en route to the changing rooms. Great start. I eventually found my way and slowly got changed, procrastinating all the while. Everything felt very foreign: I felt exposed in my swimsuit, and I wasn’t sure I could do this. I got to the pool and put on my goggles, but they snapped immediately. Shit. So I eschewed self-consciousness and strode to reception in my half naked state, brandishing a ten pound note at the receptionist until I got some swimming goggles. (It didn’t go down quite like that, but I essentially had to hover by her till she noticed me- I didn’t want to go round to the entrance in my swimsuit!) Goggles bought, I finally made it into the water, a good half an hour behind schedule.
Expectations were low; my aim was to swim for an hour, although I’d settle for half an hour if it was really tough. After 25 laps of easy breaststroke, I decided to take the plunge and switch to crawl. It was hard. My body couldn’t remember how to coordinate itself, and I felt like a lumbering bear, struggling to sync my breathing and stroke. As I stopped to take one of many breaks I asked myself why the fuck anyone would do this.
It’s just as bad as… well… running.
And then I remembered, this is how running felt at first; awkward, uncoordinated and all bit foreign. But I got better with practice, and running gradually got easier until it became second nature. So of course, I persevered. Whenever anyone asks me about taking up running, I always say there’s a stage at the start when you’re a bit shit and running is really hard. But get past that, and you’ll make huge strides (pun intended). I decided that it had to be the same with my new water-based cardio.
Does anyone watch Scandal? Olivia Pope is an all-round badass, and she swims. So I channelled her for 10 laps or so. Then I thought about Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte. He has an amazing body, so I thought, maybe swimming is a good workout after all. Then I just thought about his abs for a few lengths. A few happy lengths.
Thankfully I’d been right about swimming: it did get easier. I got used to regulating my breathing and figured out my centre of gravity so I could float better and swim more efficiently. I even got my arms working hard, and every once in a while would manage to speed ahead and overtake other swimmers in my lane. My form was by no means optimal, but as I looked around at other swimmers, I realised that theirs wasn’t either. And after all, if the swimming pool is where they send injured athletes, it must be pretty hard to do any serious damage.
I finished up with a final 25 laps, alternating between breast stroke and front crawl. This combination definitely worked better, as I could push during crawl, and recover with breast stroke. All in all, I swam 76 laps, an equal split of both strokes, in 90 minutes. Not bad for a first timer. I got home and ate pretty much all the egg-fried rice I could find. What is it about swimming that makes you so hungry?
What I wish I’d known
I did a shit ton of research on swimming workouts for runners. So much in fact that it merits its own post. Keep an eye out for a it next week!
- Swimming is great for active recovery- recovery can be improved by up to 14% when swimming is incorporated into an active recovery routine.
- It will take a while to get used to the act of swimming, even if you have a good level of fitness.
- Be well prepared- definitely get a swimming cap and a good pair of goggles if you want to do it properly
- There are three main workouts- more information to follow:
- Sprints (for speed)
- Distance (for endurance)
- Deep water running (for whatever you want)
- If swimming crawl, breathe every third stroke. If you breathe on even strokes, you may develop imbalances from only lifting your head out of the water on one side.
- It gets easier! I now drag my ass to the pool with considerably less dread than previously.
Do you incorporate swimming into your training? Any tips? And can someone tell me why swimming hanger is so intense?!
Lots of love