Swimming is great exercise, but starting and staying with it can be difficult. Give yourself time before giving up.
I LIKE THE IDEA of lap swimming. But the act of swimming is better in my head than in the water.
During the first lap, I tell myself things are going pretty well. I can keep this up.
After a couple more, I tell myself I’m doing a good job, and that swimming is really, really good for me.
City of Seattle Pools
By the fourth or fifth lap, my breathing goes sideways. I can’t get enough air on each inhale, so I occasionally sputter. By the time I reach the turn, I am breathing heavily, and I have to stop. I stand by the edge of the pool and let other swimmers cycle pass me.
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I look at the clock. Has it only been 10 minutes?
If you’ve ever re-entered the pool after a good chunk of time off, my experience might sound familiar. No matter how fit you are, the pool is a different realm of endurance and strength, says Brian Jaeger, acting assistant aquatic center coordinator for the City of Seattle’s Helene Madison Pool.
I know swimming is good for me. It’s easy on the joints, lap swimming is a great endurance sport and it’s also meditative once you get back into the swing of it. It’s the latter part that can be challenging.
Even if you’re in good shape, swimming uses different muscles than your body is used to. If you haven’t been swimming lately, you will tire quickly, says Jaeger, who coaches the Ingraham High School boys swim team.
His first recommendation before you get in the water is to check in with the lifeguard and figure out the rules of the pool, which vary. Find out the speed of the different lanes.
Once you are in the right lane for you — slow for me, please — he recommends giving yourself a 30-minute time limit. Take a break between laps.
“Build yourself up,” he says.
Most people start with the crawl. Give yourself a couple of weeks swimming two or three times a week before you give up. Like any sport, consistency is key to making it easier on yourself.
One of my challenges is staying motivated when there is nobody else watching my workout. Jaeger says he likes to give himself challenges in the pool, such as five 100-yard sets with a break in between. You can time yourself for each set, or allow yourself a limited break, such as 15 seconds, between each.
If you also want help for swimming technique, Jaeger suggests talking to a lifeguard. Many of them are swim coaches, and if they have time, they might be willing to watch you and give you tips.
Once you are feeling comfortable in the pool with your crawl, mix up your stroke. Go to a backstroke, or the breaststroke. Or grab a kickboard and practice.
If you are feeling ready for more, consider a swim class. City of Seattle pools have master swim classes, which are essentially set swim workouts. They are ideal for someone who feels comfortable in a crawl, backstroke and breaststroke, and could potentially butterfly, but might shy away from it, Jaeger says.
The lanes are similar speeds, and it is easier to get a swim workout in with other people working on the same set. It also is motivating, he says. “It’s like going to the gym versus going to a class with a personal trainer.”
Regardless of your swimming strength, committing to swimming regularly is the first step. Give yourself two weeks, and please report back.