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Questions about swimming
April 5, 2010 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Talk to me about swimming for exercise.

I've reached the point in exercising where I can pretty easily jog 3 or 4 miles, but not much further because I find it boring.

Ok, so I try swimming. Jesus Christ, it's hard! That's good though, it presents a challenge, so yay!

But I can barely swim 75 meters before tiring out and my calf muscles start cramping. After that initial burst, it becomes a struggle to go 50 or even 25 meters and I usually have to start due to the calves cramping so bad. The most I manage to do last week was 950 meters, in fits and starts.

I'm just trying to do laps at this this point, is there something else I should be doing to increase my swimming strength or to add variety? Should I be completely resting in between swimming days or should I be lifting weights or doing Cross Fit or anything else?
posted by Brandon Blatcher to Health & Fitness (40 answers total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
 
It could be your breathing. . .keeping your muscles oxygenated. Do you breathe on one side, every stroke (defined as pulls by both arms), or both sides, every stroke and a half? I find breathing both sides keeps me relaxed, but if I feel like I am not getting enough air, I'll switch and breathe on one side.

As a break, I'll throw in a few laps of backstroke, in that the mouth us usually above water then and breathing is not an issue.

Keep at it. . .950 meters is more than a half mile. . .you can work up to a mile, which, aerobically, is like running 4.
posted by Danf at 9:02 AM on April 5, 2010


How is your form? In terms of the amount of effort you put in versus the amount of distance you cover, swimming with bad (or even mediocre) form is not much different than trying to run a foot race backwards with your hands held straight out above your head. If you're serious about swimming for exercise, it's worth it to try and get someone to really hammer out the fundamentals with you, to ensure that you're not flailing away all of your energy on motions that aren't actually propelling you forward.
posted by saladin at 9:09 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, calf cramps. How I don't miss thee.

Are you getting enough potassium in your diet? A banana a day was pretty much a requirement when I was swimming in high school.

Also make sure you're stretching after each workout, and during it if you need. The toes-pointed kicking position is pretty different from what your legs are used to and it will take a little while for them to learn to cope.

Swim in short bursts. A single length, then rest, then repeat is not a bad way to start. I joined the swim team my junior year in high school not having swum at all since I was about nine. It was HARD for the first month, but interval training worked and pretty soon I could keep up with the workouts, even if I never got really fast.

Lifting weights and crossfit and running are all good additions, but in a lot of ways you just have to learn how to swim efficiently, and that just takes practice.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:11 AM on April 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


Can you take a swimming class? It sounds like your form could use some work. For one, when you kick, concentrate on kicking from your hips -- use your hip muscles and quads and let your leg kind of "whip" through the kick. Point your feet to help with your streamline and don't do big kicks or flutter kick -- kick in the middle.

Also, you need to work up slowly. Who cares if you can barely swim 75? I started out only about to do 25s. Swim down, take a break, swim back. Etc. Here's an email I sent last year to my little brother who is taking up swimming. I've been swimming laps consistently for the last year and my husband is a lifelong competitive swimmer who has also coached swimming so I get a lot of advice from him.
Zero to 1 mile in 6 weeks
http://www.ruthkazez.com/SwimWorkouts/ZeroTo1mile.html

The other thing you should consider doing is drills. There's a video illustrating some drills on this page and a description of those drills on page 2.
http://swimming.about.com/cs/techniquetips/a/Freestyl_Drills.htm

Here's my basic workout right now:
(1) warmup: 50 free, 50 kick, 50 pull (with a pull buoy between the legs), 50 free, pausing to rest between each 50 (maybe 30sec-1min) -- that's 200.
(2) Then I do a 100 drill set of 25s.
- 25 catch-up (see that in the movie linked), rest for 15 sec (or more if you need it)
- 25 head-tap (this one isn't in the movie -- basically with each stroke, you tap the top of your head before putting your hand in the water)
- 25 zipper (the page calls this one finger-tip drag -- I basically drag my thumb up my side as though I have a "zipper" there -- this helps you think about rolling more completely)
- 25 10x10 (basically, 10 kicks one side, 10 kicks the other, I breathe as I switch strokes)
Now I'm up to 300.
(3) Then I basically try to string together 100s. Sometimes I try to do fast 50s on the 2 minute -- push off when the clock is at the top, it takes me a minute to do a 50 and then rest until it comes back around to the top of the clock. Do it again! I also am trying to learn the flip-turn so I sometimes do a 25 down, flip and backstroke back.
(4) I usually try to get a total of 700-800 yards in a workout. That takes me about 30-40 minutes.

You might consider writing your workout down and bringing it in a sandwich baggie that you can have by the side of the pool or plastering it to the side of your water bottle (just get it a little wet and stick it or attach with a rubber band). This will help you keep track of what you've already done.

Also, here's a little more info about pull-buoys and kick boards -- http://swimming.about.com/od/paddlesboardsandbuoys/a/Kickboards_Pull-buoys_Hand_Paddles_.htm -- and here's some funny video about how people use pull-buoys -- you don't really kick at all and it allow you to focus on your arm movements and pulling.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-RPVBZpsEw
I had forgotten that I wanted to swim a mile! I need to get back on that. Right now I'm doing a 1000 workout pretty regularly and have moved up to swimming 150s with a 50 sprint between. I incorporate backstroke into that to stretch my shoulders out.

I feel really awesome after my year of swimming but I also need to really do some weights and think about working my legs more -- I'm planning to do more biking now that warm weather is on its way. Swimming is great for upper body/core and lung power but your legs don't get too much of a workout, really. When I started doing laps I took a class. Everyone in the class was more amateur than I but the instructor worked out a routine just for me and corrected my form and helped get me on my way. When my form is good, swimming feels effortless!
posted by amanda at 9:12 AM on April 5, 2010 [28 favorites]


Definitely work on your form. You can try alternating laps of crawl with breast stroke if you need to give your muscles a break. And yeah, it is unbelievably good exercise; I used to swim competitively as a kid, and went back to it about four or five years ago, and after swimming for an hour I was so hungry I would have eaten a literal horse, I think.
posted by KathrynT at 9:18 AM on April 5, 2010


I am a regular fitness swimmer but no real expert on exercise. This is my non-expert impressions.

Cramping calf muscles sounds odd. Are you sure you're eating decently [enough potassium, enough protein and some fats, etc] and doing the right things with your feet? I found that unlike other excercise, swimming had a solidly long ramp-up time; it took me much longer to feel proficient and "in shape" for swimming. It also works out a lot of muscles at once so you get really tired out. If you're feeling out of breath, switch off doing crawl stroke with something that keeps your head out of the water like kickboard or backstroke.

If you can get through the somewhat dorky website, the US Masters Swimming site has a lot of information on workouts and ways to mix it up. 950 meters is over half a mile, that's totally fine for starters. You generally don't swim as far as you run, as danf says. A few miles of swimming a week is plenty from most people's perspective.

There are a lot of good YouTube videos on how to do your strokes well. Before you get too into it it might be a good idea to watch those, read a good book or get someone else to give you some feedback [even a lifeguard, if they're not busy] so that you're sure that the work you're doing is heading in the right direction.

When I was owkring out more regularly, I'd swim a day and then do a day of light exercise [jogging, bicycling, even going for a long walk] and then swim the bext day so I was swimmign a few times a week. Swimmign every day when you're new is hard and not necessarily helpful.
posted by jessamyn at 9:19 AM on April 5, 2010


Asthmatics can't do it. That's my only sad, sad data point on swimming as exercise. I'd love to be able to swim, but the humidity, the exertion and the water pressure on my lungs are basically a guarantee that I'll end up in a full blown asthma attack gasping on the locker room floor.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:21 AM on April 5, 2010


I have similar problems where I hit a wall and I find its usually because I feel too out of breath. Thats when I take a break from swimming and kick for a while. That lets me breathe more but still keeps me working. Plus, when your endorphins kick in its a lot easier to go back to swimming.
posted by gilsonal at 9:26 AM on April 5, 2010


I had the same experience as you. It's hard work because technique is so very important. If you watch a really good swimmer you'll see that they glide through the water with seemingly little effort, maybe covering in 4 strokes what an average swimmer would cover in 15.

In particular, breathing is really hard to get right. I'm still working on my crawl technique and I still find myself gasping for breath rather than calmly taking breaths between strokes. I usually feel like I'm not getting enough oxygen, and I eventually get a headache if I persist with the crawl for too long. Even my triathlete friend complains that this is the hardest thing to get right. Breathing is pretty easy for backstroke, so you could try switching to backstroke instead of the crawl every other length.

I found that getting some coaching helped immensely so you could consider that if you can find it in your area (it was available for free in my town). You could also "self coach" by reading up or watching videos that demonstrate good technique. This is what I did when I was working on my technique last year. I used the Total Immersion materials and was very impressed with them. They also run workshops so you could consider attending one of those.
posted by jonesor at 9:26 AM on April 5, 2010


If your calf muscles are cramping then you're not kicking correctly - you're likely doing too much of an bicycle motion instead of a smooth flutter kick. (This happens pretty frequently from treading water which uses more of this sort of motion)

One thing that may help is using fins. (real fins not the little short training fins). They'll both give you more range and force you into a better kick motion.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:28 AM on April 5, 2010


In my experience swimming is unlike any other fitness activity, just based on the nature of the physical movements. The closest thing is probably some form of dancing. No matter how good you are at running or biking or whatever else, a beginning swimmer is a beginning swimmer, so proficinecy will take a lot of time.

I have the same problem as you regarding calf cramps. It has eased up somewhat over time so that I can usually make it through a mile, but the still come regularly. I believe it has to do with the fact that your feet are generally pointed while swimming which involves your calves, and there are few other activities in life where that is required. Again, it may just take some time to acclimate.

Swimming is a weird, unnatural activity for us land mammals. Great, but wierd.
posted by dzot at 9:31 AM on April 5, 2010


Keep in mind fitness is sport specific, and I find that especially true with swimming. Many (not all!) triathletes who are primarily runners & cyclists hate the swim and are not very strong or efficient swimmers.

You can definitely rest every lap, or even every length, if you can do so while staying out of the way. Alternate on laps: use a kickboard, vary your stroke style, or (my favorite) use that little peanut shaped thing (a pull buoy) between your legs to work on your stroke without kicking.

For the calf cramps, maybe you are kicking too frequently, too vigorously, or too fast. Try to consciously slow your kicks.

I know you have diabetes. Everyone's different, but when I had gestational diabetes, swimming just obliterated my blood sugar. I never got lower numbers than after my post-swim dinners. Memail if you are interested in details. My mom has DM, and she found the same thing after adding a 15 minutes swim to her normal walks.
posted by peep at 9:35 AM on April 5, 2010


Regarding breathing - it's really easy (when you're new to it) to take in too much air each breath, not be able to expel it all before the next breath, repeat this a few times and you've hyperventilated and feel as though you can't get enough air.
A swimming instructor I once had told us to take "little sips of air" - and that was all it took to help me breath more naturally. Previously, I'd take a giant sucking gulp of air - and that was way more than I could expel before my next breath.
HTH, and have fun - once I got into it, I found swimming to be very meditative - it is all about breathing...
posted by dbmcd at 9:49 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a beginning swimmer, nothing will benefit your stroke more than a few sessions with a swim coach. This can be expensive, though, so I can totally understand if you don't want to spring for it just yet. If you swim at a YMCA, most Y's offer adult swim instruction for a relatively low price.

Also, doing drills will be really helpful to build strength and proper form. I like to do a mix of drills and various lengths of intervals in my swim workouts, and do a really long continuous swim once a week or so (but I'm a triathlete so I need that long swim -- you might be more happy mixing it up all the time, because it's way more fun and you get way more bang for your buck in terms of calories burnt per minute).

You should also do a mix of strokes in order to lessen your chances of getting an overuse injury or developing weird muscular imbalances (every stroke uses a different set of muscle groups, and you'd ideally like all of them to be equally strong so that you are a functional human in and out of the water -- in particular, doing all front crawl all the time will end up really screwing up your shoulders.)

Don't worry about how weak and crappy you feel in the water. You feel that way because you are. When I started swimming, I could run 10K races and bike 50 miles, but I still collapsed in a heap after 50 meters. As your stroke mechanics improve and your sport-specific fitness increases, you'll be able to go a lot farther. For now, just go as far as feels OK and rest when you have to. The bad thing about swimming is that if you push it too hard, you're in the water and will probably inhale a bit of it, thrash around a bit, and end up treading water red-faced and sheepish, telling the lifeguard that no, you aren't actually drowning. This is embarrassing (not that I speak from personal experience or anything).
posted by kataclysm at 9:53 AM on April 5, 2010


For a couple of years I decided to try swimming for fitness. For the longest time I could barely make it a few lengths with front crawl. I assume you're using that stroke. You probably see swimmers doing 50 laps with it but for them, they've worked up their technique to the point where it's equivalent to jogging. For you, you're expending a lot more energy to keep your head up and move yourself forward so it's more like a hard sprint. Naturally you can't sprint very far so you get tired.

My answer to this was to alternate between breast stroke (a slower, relaxing stroke) and front crawl. You should be able to do breast stroke pretty much forever. I would do 2 laps front crawl and then 4 breast stroke in sets - kind of like interval training - but always trying to increase the amount of front crawl I could do. Over time I got stronger and more fit, but I also noticed ways to tweak my movements for more efficiency.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:02 AM on April 5, 2010


Asthmatics can't do it.

Not necessarily true.
posted by inigo2 at 10:07 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I started out in the same boat (heh). Over time, my fitness got gradually better, but there were a few major breakthroughs in form. All of a sudden, I could feel how I was supposed to be moving for greater efficiency. While it's great if you want to see a coach or watch a video, if you don't want to, just keep it up and watch others, and over time things will start to click.

I was in great shape at the time, (for me, anyway), so my guess is that the only thing that'll make it easier is doing more swimming. For awhile, I would swim for 5-10 minutes and go back to the other parts of the gym so that I could actually get a full workout.
posted by salvia at 10:16 AM on April 5, 2010


Calf cramps: Is this like a full on, oh-my-god-my-foot-is-stuck-like-that-forever sort of thing? If so, yep, it's from pointing your toes. The trick, in my experience, is to just keep right on pointing my toes until it goes away on its own; if I try to fight it, it'll be achy all day. (I am not a physiotherapist; your mileage may vary; not medical advice.) And, yes, bananas seem to help stave it off.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:29 AM on April 5, 2010


I was where you are just a few years ago. But alternating strokes, working on regular breathing and learning which muscles to use for the best kick or stroke really makes a difference. I went from not being able to do a 50 without stopping to now being able to do 250s of crawl with no problem, and swimming a mile 45 minutes.

One thing that worked well for me - I don't use my legs much. Just my upper body. Either a pull block between my thighs/knees or I just cross my ankles and crawl or breast stroke or backstroke, arms only. I found the additional work transferring to the arms actually ended up getting my heartrate higher and helping me lose weight faster.

Good luck! Swimming is awesome! Think of it as underwater meditation and you won't be as bored, especially when doing 500s of crawl.
posted by luriete at 10:35 AM on April 5, 2010


(Also, you don't need to point your toes so hard when you swim. As long as you're not flexing them, they'll flop into the right position effortlessly.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:37 AM on April 5, 2010


Whee! Swimming!

As others have mentioned your kick form is a problem. Focus on kicking from the hip not chopping from the knee. Also, flexibility is a big thing here. Stretch your feet and stretch your hip flexors. Morning and night spend a few minutes stretching those two spots - it'll make a world of difference in about 4 weeks. The annoying thing is you need to be diligent for awhile before you see any results. Stretches for your calves and shins are great too, but it's those flipper feet that are a key to generating power - stretch your tootsies.

The other thing is to use the pull buoy and kick board to refine your stroke. I'm not a huge fan of training with them all the time, but it's incredibly helpful to focus on upper OR lower. Also if your calves give out for the day, you can complete the workout on just your upper body. (Hello V-tapered bod. Rowr! Sexy!)

If you can, get a session or two with a swim coach. There's really nothing that can substitute for having someone watch and correct. Schedule the sessions a few weeks apart. Get tips. Practice. Go back to the coach and refine. (Just a thought. If you're interested in training for a triathlon, you may want to consider Team In Training. TNT usually has excellent swim coaches. As a disclaimer, I'm a TNT alum and mentor. Memail me if you want the lowdown on your local chapter.)
posted by 26.2 at 10:47 AM on April 5, 2010


Asthmatics can't do it.

Some of us can!

Nthing the advice to get someone to look at your stoke - your gym should have some coaches, or do what I did and ask one of those former swim team kid friends most people have!

I never swam competitively until I started doing triathlons (and I'm not a super swimmer, I can just pass now), but I found that the learning curve was really steep - I felt totally awkward, like, uh, a reverse fish out of water, but within a few times I really felt that I was getting benefits from the exercise as well as improving my form a LOT.
posted by Pax at 10:48 AM on April 5, 2010


Also, something that has been brought up but not advocated - look for Masters Swimming in your area. And don't be put off by the name, this isn't for experts - it's just a (funny) way to say "adult swimming".

Call the location near you and check out their schedule. Tell them you're not looking to compete, but get a regular workout with a coach, and see what they say.

I did exactly this about three or four years ago and it was a really great way to start the day (when I could pull myself out of bed for it). In fact, I miss swimming.

The first couple or three workouts were total hell, in that you really do use muscles you didn't know you had, but it really does get easier. And it's great to have an understanding "coach" there to lead you through workouts and give you tips on form.

Good luck!
posted by pkphy39 at 11:14 AM on April 5, 2010


Once you get past the 25, rest,25 rest (a couple weeks) try swimplan.com. THey'll build you up a real nice workout.
posted by notsnot at 11:19 AM on April 5, 2010


I have exercise induced asthma and I can swim fine. It's better for me than running.

I think the key is actually that with swimming, I really have to think and control my breathing which makes it much better.

I would agree with all the above, who suggest taking a private lessons or having someone look at your stroke. I swam competitively for years, and then completely stopped. I had been going to the gym and doing cardio for a while, and then started swimming. I was able to work myself up to swimming a mile in a few weeks after not being in the pool for over 5 years.

So, I'm just logically thinking that it must be your form. I make my own workouts, with set breaks. So, I start out with a warmup where I go relatively slow for a few laps. Then I do sets of either 50,100, or 200, depending. I vary my strokes, and also do some just kicking with a kickboard or arms using a pull buoy.
posted by hazyspring at 11:34 AM on April 5, 2010


I have limited instuction experience so feel free to MeMail me, but briefly:

"Focus on kicking from the hip not chopping from the knee" This is the most important part of good (freestyle)form, IMO. It creates a smooth lateral rocking motion of the body that helps with breathing, hydrodynamics and biodynamics working the muscles swimmers famously exercise. Nth the advice on electrolytes (especially potassium) and hydration for cramping, though it is occasionally unavoidable. I'm sure I'd suffer, having not swam in years.

For emphasis: IT'S VERY EASY TO GET DEHYDRATED IN A POOL.

Your body will sweat and it feels strange, but it's difficult to observe and notice so it is ESSENTIAL to hydrate before/during/after. I also receommend a period of cool down as should be done after any intense exercise. (easy back-breast-stroke, or just eggbeater for a few laps. Just like it sounds ;) This is how to work the legs out, for those folks who find they tend to concentrate on their upper body whilst swimming. The article is accurate as far as technique.

Also, when I was swimming in college, something that was usful for me was to imagine an horizantal axis that would run the length of my body from the water level on my forehead (which is where it should be, don't try to bury your head in water while swimming) to my ass, about which the aforementioned rocking motion would rotate. When you flutter kick while rotating your feet will want to cross and tangle, work to avoid this and you will feel it in your hips, ass, and hamstring muscles.
posted by fook at 11:40 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, oh, exhale slowly underwater so you can inhale for longer!
When I'm out of shape, I take extra time on my breath stroke and count to three while I'm inhaling, and also count my exhale so that it lasts the entire duration of my non-breathing strokes (I usually breath every four strokes for slow/distance swimming and every three for aerobic-level activity). You are forced to be economical with your breathing in swimming, and it can really help you out in other activities as well. Slow, meditative laps with counted breathing is a lot like yoga for me.
As for the leg cramps, you are probably tensing your lower leg too much. Kick with your entire leg, focus on moving your thigh muscles and the rest of the leg will follow---this will also help with your endurance.
And this will take time! Swimming is NOT NOT NOT running. I know this because I can swim a mile, but I can hardly manage jogging a mile.
posted by supernaturelle at 12:18 PM on April 5, 2010


Asthmatics can't do it.

I have asthma and I'm okay with swimming. Weirdly, for people who get exertional asthma, it's one of the cardiovascular exercises that we can do. The trick for me was that it was hard to tell what was me gasping for breath because I was just out of shape versus what was an asthma problem. Not at all disagreeing with greekphilosophy's self-assessment, just saying that it's a ymmv situation.

Also agree with: stay hydrated, make sure you're eating right for your personal situation [I'd keep sancks in the car because I would sometimes get lightheaded before I got home after a long workout] and take special care of your shoulders and your neck because they're the easiest things to wrench with improper form. Enjoy!
posted by jessamyn at 12:46 PM on April 5, 2010


Agree with the hyrdration advice. I never felt thirsty, but I found my workouts went a lot better once I started to drink a quart of water about half an hour before heading to the gym.
posted by salvia at 12:53 PM on April 5, 2010


Just another data point - I also have asthma, but no trouble with swimming whatsoever. Get me jogging in sub-freezing temperatures, however, and I'll wheeze and hack 100% of the time. People have different triggers.

You just need to learn proper technique. Swimming is incredibly exhausting if you are moving inefficiently in the water. Just take some lessons - the situation isn't hopeless at all!

Tip about your legs: kick as if you were wearing swim fins, or practice with swim fins to get the feel of it. You want to be moving from the hip, not thrashing your lower legs about. You want languid, long, smooth motions, not choppy kicks. Think like a fish!

(Of course, I'm no pro. I was on the swim team for a while though and I do like swimming for exercise.)
posted by Cygnet at 1:01 PM on April 5, 2010


Thanks for the advice so far.

'nother embarrassing question: Does the panic and sheer terror of swimming in the deeper pools go away after time? I was surprised to have this reaction, but there I was, halfway across the pool, getting tired, water in the nose and mouth suddenly and my brain starts freaking out 'OH SHIT OH SHIT, I can't touch the bottom I could drown', even though there's the rope of the lanes to hang off and a lifeguard of course. It was weirdly primal, like I logically knew it wasn't a big deal, but emotionally it was a huge panic.

I had never had this occur when swimming recreationally, so it came as surprise. Since occurring, it's happen repeatedly.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:01 PM on April 5, 2010


Yes, it totally does go away. For me it was water in my ears, of all things - I'd freak out and start flailing. Very draining. But it went away after maybe a couple of weeks? I don't remember for sure, but I definitely got over it.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:07 PM on April 5, 2010


Well, don't panic. Is there a lifeguard? They really hate it when people try to drown themselves and will save you from that fate. Remind yourself that you can rollover and float on your back and kick to the edge to save yourself. Remind yourself that you can tread water. Remind yourself that the pool edge is not far away and you can swim there. If you have the lane to yourself, practice treading water. Swim down the lane, pause, tread water for 30 seconds. Pause. Swim back. I find treading water can be a nice way to cool down a bit when I've been swimming for awhile.
posted by amanda at 1:21 PM on April 5, 2010


Can't say if it'll go away for you of course, but I remember in those early days having some moments when the wall suddenly seemed frighteningly far away. Like you, I'd never felt any fear of the water before. I think it had something to do with my exhaustion and pounding heart. Could you swim in the lane against the wall and take breaks as necessary?
posted by salvia at 1:43 PM on April 5, 2010


Sorry for the asthma derail, Brandon Blatcher. But I am really heartened to see so many asthmatics successfully swimming. I am always happy when I can find a new way to push the limits of asthma. And maybe I shouldn't count myself out quite so quickly. Especially seeing exactly how many medications it takes to keep some people breathing properly in order to swim. Might take some extra baby steps and medical science, but maybe I too will someday swim for exercise!
posted by greekphilosophy at 2:11 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Breathe more frequently - as frequently as every stroke, even, if you're swimming freestyle. This has some good advice. I had very similar panic attacks, and it helped when I didn't need to worry about my air. Breathing technique also made it a lot easier to hit those 75s and 150s, by the way.

Also, nth-ing the "take a class/go to a Master's group" suggestion. You'll get a lot more benefit (and enjoyment) from learning good technique than by approximating it by trial-and-error. If that's not an option, amanda's suggested workout's a good one. Have fun!
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 5:20 PM on April 5, 2010


I don't swim laps, but I do sometimes get that panicky feeling if I'm swimming and getting tired. My solution is to take a break: stop swimming, float on my back with my chin pointed at the sky, and think "ok, we're cool, all we have to do is keep the chin up" and just breathe for a minute or so. You can (probably) do this float almost indefinitely, even if your arms and legs are tired. Remind yourself that you can get back to the edge by swimming a little, taking a break, swimming a little more - resting as need be - so even if you're very tired, you can get there.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:55 PM on April 5, 2010


Oh - and just for fun, another Olympic swimmer with asthma: Tom Dolan
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:01 PM on April 5, 2010


It was weirdly primal, like I logically knew it wasn't a big deal, but emotionally it was a huge panic.

I had never had this occur when swimming recreationally, so it came as surprise. Since occurring, it's happen repeatedly.


I think this is because you're feeling insecure about the whole thing in general. I think as you train more, and get better, your confidence will increase and this fear will go away and in the meantime you don't need to pay much attention to it.

As you say, there are ropes that you could hang on to if you were really stuck, and most likely even if it happened you could still swim in an awkward enough fashion to get to the side of a swimming pool.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:56 AM on April 6, 2010


I used to be an amateur swimmer and would compete in national competitions. The best advice I can give you is to keep things interesting. I used to train for two hours every day and when you are swimming straight for two hours things tend to get a little boring.

Here is some advice to keep you entertained and working out to your potential:

Swim correctly
If your strokes are not correct, you are not being as efficient as you can be. You are also enforcing a bad habit. The first step in any athletic training is to make certain you are doing it correctly. It will be much harder to learn the correct way later. The best advice I can give you here is to purchase some swimming lessons with an instructor. It may feel like you are a six-year-old, but it will help you get your technique right. Even just one lesson will do wonders. If hiring and instructor is out of the question, ask your life guard friends or friends who have extensive swimming training for some help.

Take breaks
Do not just swim freestyle non-stop until you cannot anymore. Take short breaks to help you relax and get up energy to swim more.

Change your style
Swimming only freestyle is boring. There are four official styles to swim and numerous other made up ones. The official styles are freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. Making-up swimming styles is easy. I remember we occasionally did the 'pencil' which was like the butterfly but only using your feet (not recommended, very exhausting).

Get some toys
You should already have goggles. But swimming equipment can help you train specific muscles at a time and keep things interesting by mixing it up. You can buy fins for your feet and hands. You can buy kick boards you hold with your hands and work out only your feet (this is a great choice if you are noticing you calves are becoming tired too quickly).

Scheduling workouts
I always scheduled out my workouts before getting into the swimming pool. This would allow me to keep a level-headed mind when deciding what strokes to do and for how long. If you are deciding things when you are in the swimming pool, you will already be tired and a little less motivated.

Putting it all together
You can schedule your complete workout in batches. I like to have a 400 IM (IM stands for individual medley) batch right at the start of every work out to get me warmed up. A 400 IM consists of the following strokes in this order: 100m butterfly, 100m backstroke, 100m breaststroke, 100m freestyle (note a meter is about equal to a yard so if you are in the U.S., you can use yards since many swimming pools are already designed based on the English system). Do not take breaks in between. Only take a break at the end, before starting your next batch.

After the 400 IM, you can schedule any workout that you want. You can have batches of different lengths of freestyle interchanged with batches of the other three strokes. You can have one workout where you work more on a specific stroke. You can leave out strokes you hate (like butterfly for me). You can use your toys and work out specific muscles. Just take little breaks between each batch in your workout. And remember to have fun. It is all about you, so although the above applies very nicely to myself, you may want to only use some of my suggestions or change them to your liking.

Good luck!
posted by 1awesomeguy at 2:55 PM on April 6, 2010


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