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December 2, 2009 3:49 PM   Subscribe

Yet another swimming exercise and etiquette question.

I wanted to start swimming because I was tired of doing an hour a day on the elliptical machine. I have read Total Immersion, read the Masters Swimming site, and all the relevant previous questions.

With that said, I have some questions. The first is I'd like to know what etiquette should I be observing at the pool? I go later at night so I have my own lane, I have my hair in a cap, and I shower before going in. What are things that would be obvious to a swimmer that I wouldn't know? For example, last night was the first time I went. I didn't have a watch, so the only way I knew it was time to leave was when someone who worked there told me the pool was closing. Was that a terrible breach of protocol, or does it not matter that much if I get out when they tell me to?

I have glasses, but I bought goggles. The problem is that I have truly terrible vision, and without my glasses I can't see anything at all. If I don't wear my goggles, can I wear my glasses in the pool, or would that look too goofy until I get an water-resistant watch?

Then there's the odd fact that I was prepared to be exhausted after a few minutes and a single lap, as everyone had told me I would. However I swam laps, only pausing for about twenty seconds at either end, for forty-five minutes without a break. My arms are a little sore this morning, but that's all. I can't swim very well and I'm extremely slow, but I can manage to do a shoddy imitation of a crawl or a backstroke and an awkward breaststroke. I have been going to the gym for years, but I thought the conventional wisdom was that swimming exhausted non-swimmers. Is it possible that I am swimming incorrectly enough that I'm not making enough effort for it to count as exercise?

And finally, I am having enormous trouble figuring out how to swim, and I'm trying to remember how to do it correctly. Other than doing my breaststroke, which I try to manage so as not to disrupt other lanes, am I bothering other swimmers with my ineptitude? Is the pool sort of like the weight room, in that at a certain level of incompetence no one notices or cares? For some reason I'm hypersensitive about looking ridiculous in the water. Is there any reason to think that other swimmers care at all about how badly I swim? I am enormously, hideously fat, so I am already used to a certain level of bizarre side glances when I work out, but something about the near-nudity of swimming makes the thought of people critiquing my swimming and person far worse.
posted by winna to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The only way I knew it was time to leave was when someone who worked there told me the pool was closing. Was that a terrible breach of protocol?

No, that's normal. Often there is a whistle, bell or horn... something you can hear even from underwater.

I have glasses, but I bought goggles. The problem is that I have truly terrible vision, and without my glasses I can't see anything at all.

I swim in contact lenses (no goggles). If I lose one... well, they're cheap and disposable.

I have seen people swim in glasses, yes. You might want one of those straps to keep them from falling into the deep blue, though.
posted by rokusan at 3:52 PM on December 2, 2009

Have you considered taking swimming lessons? I'm a horrible swimmer and they helped a lot. There will also be times when you share the pool with the general public, and the instructor usually throws a few etiquette rules out there. It'd be a good way to learn both things.
posted by biochemist at 3:55 PM on December 2, 2009

Response by poster: I had considered lessons, and I've put myself on the waitlist, but there is a waitlist, so I don't know when I will be able to go to them.
posted by winna at 3:59 PM on December 2, 2009

You can get goggles with vision correction. I think I picked up my pair for about $15.
posted by ShooBoo at 4:06 PM on December 2, 2009

Unless you're absolutely filthy, you don't really need to take a shower beforehand. Competitive swimmers don't. Of course, competitive swimmers also pee in the pool almost every practice, so it's up to you to make the call.

Don't worry about swimming until closing time; no one will mind.

You can buy prescription goggles, though that might be too much of an investment unless you're sure you'll stay at it. I wouldn't recommend swimming with glasses. You might damage them and they'd probably get in the way.

There are probably two reasons that you're not tired. First, twenty seconds on each end is, really, a very long rest. That would be considered an appropriate break after four laps, maybe, but not one. Try swimming constantly. Second, I got the impression that you're mostly swimming a slow breaststroke. Breaststroke is a fantastic workout... If you do it correctly. Which means very fast, very hard, and with perfect technique. If you're not capable of those three, then it's virtually a waste of time. I'd stick to the crawl.

No one will mind your ineptitude. Most people will be too busy swimming to notice.

On preview: lessons are a good idea. You don't want to permanently mess up your stroke by developing bad habits on your own.
posted by Gotham at 4:09 PM on December 2, 2009

As far as you not being tired, the answer is simple. You aren't doing it right. It would be worth it to pay a kid $20 to just teach you how to kick your legs and do a basic stroke. Then you will be so tired and sore you won't be able to move.
posted by 2legit2quit at 4:25 PM on December 2, 2009

Unless you're absolutely filthy, you don't really need to take a shower beforehand.

Careful -- a lot of times the posted rules specify you *do* have to shower; how strict they are depends on the lifeguard/employee on duty.
posted by inigo2 at 4:42 PM on December 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd like to just address the idea that you look ridiculous in the water by saying that you are not "hideously" fat. You may be overweight but everyone at the gym is there for their own health reasons. Nobody looks better than someone who is taking the time to better themselves.
posted by chrillsicka at 4:47 PM on December 2, 2009 [9 favorites]

Of course, competitive swimmers also pee in the pool almost every practice... I dont know who you are swimming with or where but that is certainly *not* protocol with the 10+ years of competitive swimming I did. Ocean/lake for triathlons maybe, swimming pool most certainly not.
posted by H. Roark at 4:50 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, I had read on the Masters Swimming site that showering before going in the pool rinses off perfume and things that will mess up the pool's water. The Y also requires showering before going in. I wet my hair and cover it with my cap to protect my hair from the chlorine.

I also was taught to swim at the Y fifteen years ago, and apparently the freestyle stroke I was taught is all obsolete. I feel a bit embarrassed by it.
posted by winna at 4:58 PM on December 2, 2009

Corrective swim goggles are not expensive. I bought these, but there are other brands available. I leave my glasses (in the case) in my swim bag on the diving bag.

As for showering before, I never bothered until someone told me that saturating my hair with fresh before swimming would help prevent chlorine hair. Probably nonsense, but it makes me feel like it works.

It's normal to feel overly self-conscious while swimming. The good thing is that other people are too absorbed with staying afloat (if they're new to it) or staying streamlined (if they're not) to be paying attention to you. Oh, and my freestyle is older than yours!
posted by bwanabetty at 5:01 PM on December 2, 2009

If you want to be a Total Immersion swimmer, you should re-read the drills and the whole lecture about never swimming incorrectly again. I was skeptical, but spending all that time swimming drills without "real swimming" really rebuilt my stroke. I'm not a fanatic like some are, but it's really worth a try. I found watching someone do the drills was much more helpful than the book. The dvd is supposed to be a decent way to do that.

I have poor eyesight too and bought some -7.5 Rx Speedo goggles for less than $30 on amazon. I can't find them there anymore, but you should be able to find something cheap and close enough if you look around.
posted by advicepig at 5:10 PM on December 2, 2009

Best answer: Showering beforehand also puts water in your hair, which prevents as much chlorine build-up and subsequent damage. If you put some swimming conditioner in your hair under your cap, you'll protect it even better.

Also seconding the 'never pee in the pool' protocol. I've even gotten out during practice to go if necessary, but usually just beforehand.

The most likely breaststroke culprit is that you're doing a scissor kick instead of an actual breast stroke kick - it's more powerful for novice breast strokers, so you won't get as tired. Do touch-turns if you can't hold your breath long enough to do a kick-turn, but it'd be best to get in the practice of kick turns right away. Try to do at least a lap before resting. My team's warmup is usually 300-500 (each lap is 50, so that's 6-10 laps without rest at an easy crawl).

To get back to your questions:
If you're in a lane with someone, try to pick a lane with someone about your speed. Let them pass you if they're on your feet, but usually at one of the ends unless they're really being jerks (then tread water on the side of the lane. Always stick to the right side of the lane, not the middle, so that one person can go each direction.

Having to be told to get out is fine and not offensive to the lifeguards.

For some reason, even though I have terrible eyes, my goggles give me perfect vision underwater. I'll look at the brand for you. You can also wear contacts under them or get corrective glasses. However, if you're not having to follow a workout written on a board or look at a clock, just get a water-resistant watch and don't bother with the correction.

The real question for you after your workout is: were you tired afterwards? To a lesser extent, were you sore today? If not, you're getting cardio exercise, but you're not really pushing yourself. You'll get a much better workout from doing crawl or backstroke, but really try to make sure you improve your form. Many pools have some equipment so try a) finding a leg float and do sculling - that's propelling yourself with wrists/hands/forearms only and is a great workout and b) a kickboard and do kicking laps.

I had a coach who was huge on form, so feel free to MeMail me and I'll try to find you resources (or just describe it).

As far as body image: we're all people. Most people are concentrating hard enough on their own form and workout that they aren't secretly judging you. Swim team was the best thing I did for my self esteem - nothing like being nearly naked around people to strip away the social veneers and learning that really, nobody is paying attention to people in their own lane, much less other lanes.

I'd highly recommend joining a swim team for the structured workouts for all ages and skill levels, and swimming lessons when you get up the waitlist. In the meantime, just going and putting in the time will do a lot.

Wow, I typed a lot. Hope this helps!
posted by bookdragoness at 5:14 PM on December 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

I fail at Amazon and preview.

I have the same goggles that bwanabetty linked. Swimmers who have prescriptions that aren't the same in each eye can but two pair and swap the lenses around to make two complete pair with the correct prescription.
posted by advicepig at 5:15 PM on December 2, 2009

Best answer: Is there any reason to think that other swimmers care at all about how badly I swim?

Other swimmers will only care about two things. Firstly is if you splash about a lot, so much so that you're sending waves and large amounts of water into the next lane, which is rare, quite difficult to do and unlikely with breaststroke (and even then probably only the backstrokers like me would notice). Jumping in to make a big splash is included here, don't do that. Note that being large doesn't mean you're making lots of waves, it's more to do with having a really terrible swimming style that throws huge amounts of water into the air. Secondly is if you get in their way, so only cross lanes at the end and only if the person is down the other end or standing still (in which case, ask), don't hang on the lane ropes and don't wander about in the pool. All of which are usually only done by kids anyway. If your eyesight is so bad that you can't safely share a lane then you probably want some kind of eyesight correction, but generally all you need to do is follow beside one lane rope so it shouldn't be a problem (I'm horribly short sighted and just swim blind). Don't drop the goggles either way, the chlorine is horrible on your eyes.

When I was swimming I didn't shower first if I was otherwise clean but I don't wear perfume and yeah, sharing a pool with someone covered in scent is actually really horrible (I'm allergic). You'd think it washes off but it actually floats across the water somehow and you can't help copping a mouthful. So stick with that.

As for getting out, I'd just talk to the lifeguards and ask what they want. Different places probably have different cultures regarding this stuff. Tell them you can't see the clock and is it OK for them to let you know when it's time or should you buy a watch or what?

I agree that you're probably not finding it too hard because your style is somehow letting you down. You've signed up for lessons so don't worry too much, it'll get sorted then. If you want to increase the cardio in the meantime buy a kickboard (those polystyrene hunks you hold on to). They're cheap. Hold it out in front and just kick a length of the pool, it's much harder than you'd think, harder than swimming, and should get your heart rate up. You can easily change the cardio impact by kicking harder and faster or slower and more carefully, try to use your whole legs rather than just your knees. You can hold your head out of the water the whole way or put your face down and turn it like you're swiming, whatever works. You can also switch it up by putting the board between your legs and just practising your arm movements or hold it over your belly and kick on your back. It's a good way to get a workout when your general swimming style is letting you down plus you can use it to improve different things. I used to watch the kids lessons and see what they were doing with their kickboards then quietly copy some of it.
posted by shelleycat at 5:32 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

seconding rokusan on swimming in contacts - I've done it for years in pools as well as the ocean, and I know competitive swimmers who do and they say they've never lost one. just close your eyes when you dive.

and a water-resistant watch - you can get one for $15 or less at walmart/kmart/meijer.

last, seconding bookdragoness on lane etiquette and find people pacing near your pace. you can be going slower than the slowest lane team as long as you give way at the end of the lap so they can "play through," and you already are. as she also points out, you can borrow different floats to vary your workout and wear yourself out more quickly/effectively.

congratulations on expanding your workout horizons. I hope you have a wonderful time.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:36 PM on December 2, 2009

How about simply asking the swim instructor/supervisor for rules and regulations, or if there is a personal trainer at the Y they would be happy to answer any questions. Doesn't cost a penny and it gives them a purpose. Embrace your body, it's what you have and you are honoring it by taking care of it. Good for you!
posted by ~Sushma~ at 5:37 PM on December 2, 2009

I disagree with the advice to swim "in a circle" if someone else is in the lane. Most likely you will be swimming at a different speed than your lane mate and therefore either you or he/she will have to wait at the end of the lane for the faster swimmer to pass. A better method (if there are only two people in the lane) is to ask if your partner would mind swimming on just one side of the lane and you on the other. That way you can pass each other like ships in the night without any interference.
posted by digsrus at 5:54 PM on December 2, 2009

- - Unless you're absolutely filthy, you don't really need to take a shower beforehand. Competitive swimmers don't. - -

You are gross! Do you know how difficult is to maintain the pool free from germs? Do you have any idea, how many coli-bacteria there would be in the pool, if nobody showered before swimming. You simply do not want to know...

You should *ALWAYS* take a shower before swimming. Also, every serious swimming athlete I know, takes a shower before swimming.

posted by Doggiebreath at 6:14 PM on December 2, 2009

If there are only two people in the lane, the faster person can pass on the left during the laps. In swim team practice, the faster people in the lane typically go first and you're already grouped into lanes based on speed/ability. Especially for blind people like me and the OP, it's useful to have the lane markers at the same standoff in the same position as you swim.

However, since this isn't a team situation, if you must double up, just ask the person in the lane if they mind and work it out at that time.

Seconding the kickboard suggestion and to kick from the hips. If you're splashing a lot, you're doing it wrong and wasting all that beautiful propelling effort on disturbing the water's surface. The kick board is a great way to experiment with different levels of effort and kick styles. Stay away from fins unless you want to be disappointed at your slowness when you take them off (always a bummer).
posted by bookdragoness at 6:20 PM on December 2, 2009

I second getting a kickboard.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:06 PM on December 2, 2009

Oh, if your pool has kickboards and other stuff you can borrow then awesome, give it a try that way. But check that they actually do this, my pool doesn't and that kickboard sitting over there is mine and is waiting for me to get to that part of my workout. Lots of people at the pool have the same board cos we buy them at the pool but they're all individually owned.

I mention it because I was this close to wandering off with someone else's board when we changed pools, heh.
posted by shelleycat at 7:19 PM on December 2, 2009

I was a competitive swimmer for 12 years (age 7 - 18) so I just came in to say a few things about what people have been commenting on.

1) We all peed in the pool. Our reasoning: according to our coach chlorine kills everything and there's NO TIME to get out of the pool to pee during a 2 hour practice. How much you may believe this is up to you. I have no regrets (but as an adult I no longer pee).

2) None of us showered before entering the pool. Even at swim meets. No one. BUT now that I'm not swimming on a team anymore, when I go to the gym to swim I do shower before going in. It lets my pores and hair soak up some yummy pure H2o before it starts soaking up the chlorine.

3) I wore contacts in the pool ever since I got them at the age of 10. I've never lost one in the pool. In fact, I frequently open my eyes underwater without contacts and still have never lost one. YMMV.

4) If you're not getting a workout from your stroke, get a kickboard and just flutter-kick (both feet alternating quickly close to the surface) up the lane and back with your head either above or below the water. If you do it as hard as you can it'll wear you out quickly. Please note "as hard as you can" does not mean as big and splashy as you can, it means small and fast kicks. Try to incorporate all muscles from butt and thighs down to calves and pointed toes when kicking.

5) It's only a good idea to do the whole "you take one side I'll take the other" thing if you're confident in your ability to actually stay on your side of the lane. I've swam with newish swimmers who hog the middle and it's annoying. That's probably my biggest pet peeve as a good swimmer sharing a lane with a newbie.

6) As someone who taught swim lessons for 4 years, let me tell you you're lucky! Your a-bit-more-cushion-for-the-pushin will be a blessing as you start to take lessons because you won't have to spend 75% of your energy trying to stay at the surface of the water and will be able to focus on your stroke instead.

Enjoy your new workout and the sweet sweet smell of sweating chlorine for days!
posted by kthxbi at 7:40 PM on December 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

I no longer pee in the pool that is. I do, in fact, still pee on a daily basis.
posted by kthxbi at 7:57 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't shower, though I see plenty of great arguments here against that. I think the only swim etiquette important is relevant to sharing a lane, which is clearly not your problem. As far as clocks go, do you have a cheap watch/travel alarm clock/ or something that you don't really care about that you could leave on the wall and check? If you're careful, it shouldn't get wet.

I think your etiquette is fine. Your stroke could probably use some work, but as far as I'm concerned, as long as you are moving in water, against the drag, you are getting a decent workout. Strokes are generally designed to get you the farthest with the least effort (hence why they are used for competition, lifesaving, etc.) so if you are doing something else, it is unlikely you are getting a worse workout. I'm no professional, though.

You aren't bothering the people in the other lanes unless you are splashing a ton or doing some fantastically weird kick that makes huge ripples, both of which are unlikely. Weight usually doesn't factor nearly as much as you think it would.

Keep on swimming! It's fun, good for you, great otherwise. The perpetual chlorine smell is something of a drawback, but heavily scented body washes and lotions help a lot.
posted by R a c h e l at 9:59 PM on December 2, 2009

Nobody cares how you swim, so long as you keep to a lane of the appropriate speed. And it's perfectly normal to leave when they tell you to.

Just don't fucking pee in the pool. I mean, seriously? That's just gross.
posted by paultopia at 11:51 PM on December 2, 2009

Best answer: Just wanted to chime in and say that anyone who is wearing contacts in the pool, pond, lake or ocean should throw them away right after they get out of the water. The material that is used to make most daily/monthly lenses are super efficient at sucking up chlorine (and other chemicals), as well as bacteria and other small living beasties. Then they keep them right on your cornea where they have a great place to breed or react to the tissue on your eyes.

It's really something to avoid if you can, and certainly not something to do on a regular basis. The damage that can be cause be some of those infections leads only to cornea replacement.

This information was related to me by a materials scientist who develops and tests contact lenses. Do yourself a favour and get prescription goggles.
posted by qwip at 12:01 AM on December 3, 2009

Breaststroke swimming, done by recreational swimmers, is fairly placid and may not tire you out.

Freestyle (front crawl) will tire you out quickly if you don't have the conditioning that comes with regular swimming. Breaststroke is quite forgiving of technique (in that if you have poor technique, you simply swim slower) whilst poor technique in freestyle leads to you getting tired even faster.
posted by kid A at 1:30 AM on December 3, 2009

Definitely lessons. I thought I was a reasonably good swimmer before taking lessons, but learning proper technique lets you swim more efficiently and go really fast.
posted by electroboy at 8:33 AM on December 3, 2009

Response by poster: Everyone has been so helpful!

I may have mislead you all by talking about my breaststroke. I did crawl for most of the time and was only breaststroking to recover after five laps or so of crawl. I had read somewhere that breaststroke can be very disruptive, so I was most worried about that disturbing other swimmers, rather than my crawl. I wasn't making huge splashy waves in either case, because I was trying to swim with a minimum of splash. I am going to buy myself a waterproof watch and I am so excited about lessons!

I do feel compelled to say that I have never peed in the pool. I am just going to pretend that no one ever does such a thing.
posted by winna at 10:18 AM on December 3, 2009

To be clear: my perspective is very heavily slanted towards high school swimming. And, for the record, I resisted peeing in the pool for the first few years that I swam, but my coach finally just stopped letting me have bathroom breaks. It's not my fault; I had to adapt! :P
posted by Gotham at 1:55 PM on December 3, 2009

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