There’s something so therapeutic about water, something so cleansing and healing. This is one reason why I don’t mind cross training in the pool during an injury or extended lay-off. But for some reason it also always seems like a chore to get up and head to the nearest pool for a swim. Thus, the dreaded, “Grrrr”, when one becomes injured.
You see with running, you can just get up and go. Swimming typically involves a drive to a facility. Then it involves a walk to a locker room, followed by 5 minutes to change into a suit then hope that a lane is available and then another 5-10 minutes to dry off and change back into clothes. In reality, once I’m in the pool, all is fine and the additional twenty or so minutes it adds to my workout routine is nill. But I do believe this is the main reason why it’s sometimes easier to just think about not cross training at all!
I didn’t start off a swimmer but my mom always said I should have been one with my long, lanky arms. I loved the water growing up. I’d spend my summers splashing, kicking, jumping, and pretending to be an Olympic synchronized swimmer while my mom sat back and secretly recorded the entire thing at my grandma’s backyard pool. It wasn’t until my sophomore year college that I attempted to start swimming, just like Michael Phelps. Just not as fast.
If you do not have a swimming background but want to explore your options for a cross training activity, here are some tips:
Start slow, swim for time. When I first starting doing laps, I called it a day after 750 meters, or about fifteen minutes. It felt like I had just swam 3 miles though! You see, swimming is so different from running that even the fastest non-swimming runners will find themselves challenged at first. This is why I don’t mind swimming as a cross training activity because it typically has just as much as a “worn-out” effect as a medium effort, 5-6 mile run. These days I will swim between 1500-2000 meters at a time, utilizing a combination of the front crawl (also known as the freestyle) and breaststroke , occasionally adding some 25-250 meter fartlek-type repeats.
Get a suit. And goggles. And a cap. These gear items will make a difference! I don’t swim too often so my gear usually lasts for a year. Dolfin makes reliable and cheap suits that are sold at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Make sure your goggles fit tight but are snug enough to not give you a headache. I purchased my swimming cap from . Having some standard swimmer’s gear will not only make you feel like a swimmer but it will make your laps feel much smoother!
Form isn’t everything. I once read in a book from the 1970s (I can’t recall the title) that when the sport of swimming was first discovered the point of it was to try to get across a body of water the fastest. Thus, all different styles were utilized. Eventually, the standard front crawl caught on and the technique, perfected. I used to do the front crawl but with my head above the water. Come on, you know you’ve seen those swimmers before. You might even be one! And there is no shame in that. When I started doing laps, I just forced myself to hold my head under and then breathe every few strokes. Eventually, I was able to do the front crawl like Michael Phelps (just not as fast). However, I only breath out of one side (right). And guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that either!
Some pools are measured in yards and others in meters. If you are going to count “mileage”, find out what the size of the pool you are swimming in is before assuming it’s in meters. Most pools are actually measured in yards. If you are lucky enough to have an Olympic-sized swimming pool to go to, and they use the full lap lanes, it will be 50 meters to a single lap and 100 meters round trip.
If you are brave, go outside. I am not brave. Fish scare the crap out of me. But come summertime (or anytime if you live in a warm climate) you can also experiment with open-water swimming. Many cities have options for open-water swims. If you are a newbie though, make sure a life guard is around. I would actually recommend getting some practice in a lap pool first before going all-out triathlete.
Lastly, if swimming is just not for you, there are other water exercising options. Pool running can be done with or without a belt. I started with the belt years before attempting what feels a lot like treading water. The belt helps you to get a feel for the running-in-water motion and most facilities have a stock of them to use. Once you “run” without one though, it gets a lot more tough. It gets even tougher when the fitness center plays Bon Jovi on repeat. But if pool running is something you are interested in trying, 15 minutes is a good place to start, building up to an hour when you get a better feel for the movement, which should theoretically feel like you are jogging in thin air. Pool running is best done in the deep end.
What about you? Is swimming your go-to cross training activity or do you prefer something else? Do you swim even when not injured? What is a typical routine for you?