In defense of swimming

…Or, how a runner got in the pool and didn’t drown, get eaten by sharks, or turn into a prune.

I did not turn into a prune by swimming. I may need to get one of those anti-chlorine shampoos eventually, though. (Image courtesy of antpkr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
I did not turn into a prune by swimming. I may need to get one of those anti-chlorine shampoos eventually, though. (Image courtesy of antpkr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Tried a new thing last July at my schmancy fitness club that offers everything from A to Z: a triathlon swim class.

With a bunch of serious athletes who looked at me in their TYR racing suits and Speedos…and just oozed toughness.

I was afraid.

I did not get eaten by a shark while swimming. This is because there are no sharks in gym pools. (Image courtesy of luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
I did not get eaten by a shark while swimming. This is because there are no sharks in gym pools. (Image courtesy of luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

But I jumped in the pool with them anyway.

Twice a week, at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m., I subjected myself to being in one lane with two or three other swimmers, swimming right next to each other sometimes…and right behind them other times…and in lanes a few seconds apart sometimes…to get the hang of what it might actually feel like if I actually decide to enter, gulp, a triathlon in my lifetime.

That will probably be this year, by the way, because long runs are starting to feel tedious and I’m itching for a new challenge.  So I guess it’s good that I re-upped my membership to that class this past month. I probably should have kept swimming all through the fall and winter, but work travel and fall marathon training and other things got in the way. Or to put it more succinctly, I let those things get in the way.

Swimming is sort of amazing. It’s a thoroughly different movement pattern than running: no joint pounding (that means it’s not weight-bearing – so it doesn’t contribute to bone density, but it does contribute to cardiovascular and muscular strength). Lots of upper-body strength work. And being coached in swimming is even better. I had no idea I was raising my head when I took a breath, until a coach told me. I have to consciously push my chin down towards my chest when my head is in the water. That’s just one of many things I need to fix in my freestyle technique.

Good morning, arms and shoulders! That's what a good swim workout will do to you. (Image courtesy of gubgib / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Good morning, arms and shoulders! That’s what a good swim workout will do to you. (Image courtesy of gubgib / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Today my shoulders and arms are “awake” (I wouldn’t call them “sore,” exactly – I’m just aware of them more) because yesterday we did a speed workout in the pool using paddles, which increase resistance during the “pull” portion of a stroke. Ouch. But wildly effective in getting us to actually think about proper stroke technique.

I hadn’t had any formal swim instruction since about age 10. I think I passed the Intermediate swim test at summer camp. Maybe I didn’t, come to think of it…but I always wanted to. But as I’m learning about every other kind of exercise out there, it’s never too late.

I’m remembering now as I’m writing this that when I was in grad school a decade ago, I tried swimming but jumped into the deep end of the pool too soon, so to speak. I hooked up with a serious masters’ swim team and felt so slow and unable to keep up that I probably lasted one or two training sessions, then gave up. That’s why solid coaching is so important. Find the coach who is right for you.

So, today’s blog entry is a love letter to swimming. Sort of. I’m not sure I’m totally in love quite yet. But it’s a new challenge, and I’m going to pursue it and see where it leads.

If you’d like more info on why swimming is great for you – or how to get started – here are some great resources for you:

Yesterday’s #every48 workout: SWIM – a 60-minute training session with the triathlon swim class. Speed workout – the work sets included 5×50 at progressively faster speeds (60 to 90% effort, each 50 faster than the previous), 4×100 (faster each 25 yards of each 100-yard rep), and 4×125 (faster each 25 yards, from 60% to 100% effort, of each 100-yard rep). That, after half an hour of warmups and drills. Like I said, my arms are awake today.

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