Well I haven’t written much about running here lately, and while I’m loath to discuss any injuries lest I come across as dispensing medical advice, truth is I’ve been nursing a bad case of quadriceps tendinitis. I’ve been feeling much better, but I am on a break from running until the weather gets a little more tolerable.
But, that’s okay, because it’s forced me to reconnect with my first true love: swimming!
Growing up around the water, my parents forced me in the pool at a very young age, and it is one of the things in life I am eternally grateful for. I’ve never been an especially talented swimmer, but I’ve always been completely comfortable in the water, and I know that even when I’m out of shape or injured I can always turn to swimming :).
It is a challenging, full-body workout that is also almost zero-impact, so it’s gentle on your joints. It seems to me like runners are always complaining about their injuries, or worrying about how to prevent them. In my 13 years of competitive swimming, I can count on one hand the number of people who were injured as a result of swimming. It’s reassuring to know that I’ll always be a swimmer, no matter what.
Swimming: the basics
At a minimum you need a bathing suit, obviously. If you don’t care about the design, you can get a “grab bag” swimsuit, chosen at random among last year’s styles, for a reasonable price at swimoutlet.com.
I also consider a cap and goggles essential. I am kind of partial to TYR goggles myself, but you may need to experiment with a few different brands and styles before you find one that fits and does not leak. If your hair is cropped extremely short, you may be able to get away without a cap, but it will still create significant drag and slow you down considerably, making things much more difficult. Use a silicone cap and stay away from the latex! Oucchhhh.
My pool has kickboards and pull buoys available for use, but you don’t necessarily need one. You can always just hold your arms out in a streamline position in front of you — and also, just not use your legs! Fins are also helpful in improving your kick, but they’re not necessary.
Additionally, don’t forget to stay hydrated. Many people assume that because you’re in the water, you don’t need to be drinking it as much — not true! Bring a water bottle to practice just as you would with any other sport.
Swimming can be a challenge to the uninitiated. Water has 12x the resistance of air, and learning to work with it, and not against it, is key to moving efficiently and not exhausting yourself after just a few laps. If you are completely new to swimming, I recommend signing up for a few sessions with a coach or trainer. Learning proper technique is extremely important and will make a huge difference in your workouts.
There are also videos online that show proper technique, so do google some of those if you’re curious.
One problem I encounter, and judging by the number of people taking up precious lanes by floating lazily on their backs, it is a common problem — the pool has a tendency to bring out a more relaxed attitude. I do this too. You go to get a good workout in, but you don’t push yourself enough, because it’s the pool, and it’s fun! Which is fine, sometimes, but if your goal is really to get a good cardio workout, improve your speed, and burn some calories, I recommend having a plan.
I have recently discovered www.swimplan.com, and it has really improved my workouts. Registration is free for basic access to the site; you simply enter in a few of your stats and preferences, and it comes up with a new customized workout every day. Here are a few recent examples I’ve used:
Having a plan also helps break up the monotony of a workout and makes the time fly by. One thing I hate about running is that it is just so BORING! I never get bored when I’m swimming though, as long as I’m breaking things into smaller chunks. Most pools also have big analog or digital timers so that you can time your intervals, but bringing your own stopwatch might be helpful if you have one.
Swimming is truly a lifetime sport, so don’t be intimidated! Hop in the pool and go!