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June 19, 2012 1:39 PM   Subscribe

What do you think about when you're swimming laps?

Which is to say, what can I think about when swimming laps?

I'm beginning to train for a couple of longer triathlons (as in, never done anything more than Olympic/international distance) and one of the main drawbacks to my workouts is that I find swimming laps really boring. I do open water swims when I can, but more often than not I find myself in the ol' sensory-deprivation chamber with nothing really to listen to and nothing to see but black and blue stripes. I try to focus on my form (and make sure to keep out of the way when there are others in my lane), but I am slow* and when I have to do a 700-meter piece in a 25-meter pool, it just feels endless.

In the past I've resorted to doing long division in my head or tried to plan a work presentation, which has helped, but I think I'd rather not build the association with another kind of drudgery while I already nearly have to drag myself to the pool twice a week. What works for you, hive mind?

*and I'm OK with being slow. I'd rather save my energy fro the other two events.
posted by psoas to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (30 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
When we would complain about this as teenagers, my swim coach would tell us that if you have enough oxygen in your brain to allow you to get bored you're either breathing too much or swimming too slowly.

Because I often swam too slowly (and thus got bored) I would hum and sing a lot.
posted by saladin at 1:49 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I usually sing songs to myself. Or try to remember silly poems like Jabberwocky.
posted by danapiper at 1:50 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I sing to myself as well. Or create something repetitive and rhythmic, like a Glass piece.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:52 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I concentrate on my form, and try to feel the way my muscles are being used. I also try to be aware of when I have to prepare for kick-turns, because I'm really bad at them.
posted by xingcat at 1:53 PM on June 19, 2012

Did you know you can get waterproof mp3 players? I have had a Speedo aquabeat for nearly two years and I really cannot say enough good things about it. It revolutionised my swimming and now I never ever want to leave the pool.
posted by *becca* at 1:53 PM on June 19, 2012 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe you need an MP3 player designed for swimming? Recent comparative review.
posted by Perplexity at 1:53 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

1: Swim faster.

1a: Break it up into repeats (7 x 100 on say 2:00 — you get to rest whatever amount is left, so go fast and get more rest). This will help your tris, even if you don't do the full distance much.

2: Sing songs.

3: Your form. You are slow because you have crap technique (if you are like many beginners). Are you swimming on your side? Are you catching as much water as possible? Are you finishing your stroke? How is your body position? One way to see if your form is getting better is to count how many strokes it takes you to get to the other end. It shouldn't be more than 17 and you should aim for 15.

But really: swim faster.
posted by dame at 1:55 PM on June 19, 2012

I'd love to say I brush up on my conversational French or recite moving poetry to myself but really I mostly just think about hot naked people.
posted by elizardbits at 1:56 PM on June 19, 2012 [12 favorites]

When I was swimming more I used to think about my next move in the Diplomacy-by-mail game I was playing in. Do you have anything like that you could fixate on? Chess or Go problems, maybe? Logic puzzles?
posted by gerryblog at 2:03 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a terrible swimmer with a terrible short-term memory, so I think about my form and remember my lap count by cycling through 5 laps with a different focus for each one.
1: just swim, trying to relax and not be tense, be one
2: two sided: concentrate on really rotating, especially on the non-breathing stroke (I do bilateral breathing)
3: concentrate on kick: one two three on each side
4: swim fourward: concentrate on long reach, front-quadrant swimming
5: put it all together and swim as fast as possible without destroying form or requiring rescue.
posted by Mngo at 2:08 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I swim, I think about html and css. Sad, that. But I have solved a lot of my work problems slowly that way. Maybe you should pick up a new programming language, or anything that requires ponderment and rumination.
posted by coevals at 2:10 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some thoughts:

*Intervals - even very short rests can help break up the monotony. 7x100@2:05 is only :30 slower than 700 holding 2:00/100m. Even better is something like 100@2:05, 200@4:05, 300@6:05, 100. A related though - descending paces - 200@4:10, 200@4:00, 200@3:50, 100 fast?

*Stroke count - count your strokes per 20, can you descend the count? Can you hold something close to your lowest count? Can you hold that lower count on a faster interval? Can you hold count for 175m, sprint the 8th length, and return to stroke count right away?

*Tempo - can you hold stroke rate? Can you hold pace on a slower/faster tempo? There are a number of devices available though I am partial to this one. It will do stroke rates as $x strokes/min, $y seconds per stroke or $z seconds per beep. I have no affiliation with finis, I just like some of their gear, this included.

*Training partner? Life gets easier with a partner, even if you can't race.

*Are you likely to swim anything open water? Sighting is a skill you can practice in the pool

*Drills - drills aren't always large intrusive things that take you out of rhythm or tempo. Some drills you can toss in for variety that won't change your pace much (with practice) include:
  • fists, make a loose fist and try to pull with your forearm instead of your palm, keep stroke count low
  • zipper, drag your thumb up your side on the recovery making sure that you 'open' your hip & shoulder at the end of the pull. ie: roll your torso so you don't have to pull the recovering elbow behind you.
  • overkick, can you play with kicking at different tempos? like a horse running with different gaits there's a difference between a 2beat, 4beat crossover and a 6 beat kick. Can you slide in and out of each?
  • breath control, do you breath every 2 (each stroke on the same side)? Can you breath every 3 (bilaterally) or 4 or 5? How about 3/2/2? What else can you think of?
*some less constructive things I've personally thought about: lunch, percentage of completion by length, writing the next workout (very ineffectively I might add), lunch, racing the turns against swimmers several lanes away, picturing myself as a marionette swimming from elbows and hips instead of hands and feet, lunch, mileage done this week, homework (outlined many an essay during college workouts), lunch.
posted by mce at 2:10 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I suppose there is a very good reason this might be a bad idea for a dude but I'm with elizardbits: sex.

I swam in high school for a couple of years, and mostly I didn't have the oxygen to think of anything but the number of laps I had left and/or the number of strokes I had to do before I could take another breath, but the occasional long slow workout was all porn, all the time.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:11 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do math. Converting from meters to miles, figuring out the average time a lap takes, the number of strokes it would take me at my present rate to finish my set, swim one mile, swim ten miles, swim from my house to New York.

But that is boring as shit so I think I will just swim faster.
posted by munchingzombie at 2:15 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also do math pretty much exactly like munchingzombie says. My problem is not so much what to think about but how to STOP thinking about all the other stuff I think about in a day so this is perfect for me. If I'm not doing math conversations in my head I am also singing songs, writing up new dorky songs, planning out the rest of my day, trying to perfect my stroke and that sort of thing. I also change up my stroke pretty frequently so I am counting like 1-4 and then 1-4 again instead of from 1-40, say.
posted by jessamyn at 2:24 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Don't hit your head on the side. Don't hit your head on the side. How far from the side am I?"

{takes a peek}

"Okay I'm not to close."

Two seconds later

"Don't hit your head..."

posted by TooFewShoes at 2:28 PM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

I tend to alternate my workouts: one will be full of drills and different strokes with no room for my mind to wander past form and the next I chug along for a mile or two. (BTW, I am NOT competitive and was never on a swim team. I'm focused on distance right now for a gym challenge so my view on speed right now probably really matches yours.. though I can wait to change it up and work on speed.)

For my more varied workouts, I use www.swimplan.com. I pay for the membership because I like the extra options. Love the site. The changes in the workouts will keep you engaged (and will still benefit your tri training). Do a longer distance for your workout than you need for the tri so the core part still helps you prep for the tri distance (get training fins if you initially need help getting through to the end of the longer distances.. added bonus: you'll feel like you're flying. Wheee!).

For swims where I'm totally focused on distance, I try to watch a short swimming video before so I can think about what I saw and try to adjust my form so I feel like I'm moving like that (excellent) swimmer. Sometimes I focus on one movement at a time (like head/shoulder rotation, then hand position, etc.) Sometimes I throw in random intervals. Do you breath bilaterally? If not, that's something you can start working on that could help you if you are doing an open-water tri.

If there is a lot on my mind, I can't help but plan: what to pack on a business trip, a project, how to have a tough conversation. I am also like munchingzombie and jessamyn and do a lot of math. (FWIW, I find it's easy to lose track of distances when I focus on form or work through life issues so I put some beads on a string leave that by my water bottle; every 100 or 500 or whatever distance I chose, I just move a bead over.)
posted by adorap0621 at 2:33 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding TooFewShoes. All I think about is my form, my breathing, the count of breaths and strokes and laps. Once I was swimming backstroke and decided the swimming might be easier if I let my mind wander, like when I'm running long distances. On the very first length of the pool I swam that way, I rammed my head into the side so hard I thought maybe I shouldn't swim alone anymore. Seriously could have just passed out and sunk to the bottom.

So, form. Fall in love with perfecting your alignment and getting that long, smooth, streamlined feel.
posted by TrixieRamble at 2:52 PM on June 19, 2012

One thing that I've found successful is mentally breaking the workout down into sets of 6 lengths. This means I'm always fairly close to meeting some small goal within the workout, and it makes it easy to chunk longer workouts and figure out how far into them I am.
posted by alphanerd at 3:02 PM on June 19, 2012

Best answer: I like to try to translate pop songs into my rudimentary French or Italian. "Tu ne sais pas que nous pouvons trouver / il faut que tu vas avec moi, petite fille, sur un voyage d'un carpet magique" = Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" (well, close enough). It's surprisingly addictive, rhythmic, endless, absolutely distracting from drudgery, and provides ample opportunities to crack yourself up, which is always fun.
posted by argonauta at 5:45 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I spend a lot of time trying to remember or figure out what lap I'm on.

When I know my number I focus on form and trying to make my strokes and breathing as efficient as possible. I also consider how aerodynamic (or maybe hydrodynamic?) my body is and how to make myself "tighter" and longer. I consciously think about gracefully gliding through the water rather than violently pushing through. Sometimes I'll even get to the point where I imagine I'm a mermaid... I mean, merman. MerMAN!

I often end up singing too... but it's usually the same chorus of the latest pop ear worm over and over again. I hate it.

There are a few other thoughts that either motivate me to swim a bit faster and take my mind off the endless laps OR they cause me to immediately exit the pool, terrified. YMMV.
Some of those thoughts include:
"is that a bandaid?"
"can sharks get into the lap pool in my gym?"
"that warm patch of water was very soothing... it MUST HAVE come from the nozzles on the wall"
"please don't see a dead body at the bottom of the pool... please don't see a dead body at the bottom of the pool"
posted by simplethings at 7:16 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm shocking at counting laps, so I try to concentrate on that.

I also work out fractions of how far I've done - i.e. this lap will make it 1/4 of the way, so if I add one more, what fraction am I at then?
posted by trialex at 8:17 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do a combination of things mentioned above: weird pool thoughts ('is that hair? oh it is--ok how do I avoid it on my next lap?' or 'wow is she fast! what's her technique like?' or 'the lifeguard sure seems bored today'), a little bit of music (mostly in my head rather than humming), focusing on a small goal ('just ten more minutes until I'm 50% done with my workout!' kind of thing), working out problems ('I just need to write an email explaining diplomatically that my boss is totally off-base. what's the best wording?' or 'I'm so embarrassed that this guy just asked me out and I didn't even decline gracefully! how do I do better next time?').

My single biggest success has been finding a line of thought and sticking with it for an entire workout. I can really get into the 'Zone' if I a) concentrate on solving a knotty personal or work problem or b) start writing fanfiction in my head. No, really. 'Is Tony Stark going to drink himself into an early grave? What about the rest of the Avengers?' or 'Dom was totally dreaming and he's still in Limbo. What's down there?'

So my best suggestion to you is Find Your Distraction. Swimming is pretty awesome so if you just find the thing that takes your brain into neutral, you'll see that time in the water flies. If not? Small goals to get the workout done.
posted by librarylis at 8:24 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was in high school, I used to think about world history, like whatever was happening in the year corresponding to the number of meters I had swum so far. Though I had to start making stuff up if I wanted to swim more than 2k.
posted by the_blizz at 8:34 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Swim with a group. Then focus on keeping pace with the person a bit faster than you. If you have enough brain remaining to do more than count laps, pass that person and chase down whoever is next because you're not working hard enough (and if you're going to train three times a week for an hour or so each time, why not get less slow while you're doing so?).

If you swim by yourself you are making your training several times more mentally taxing. At least, it works that way for me (the opposite of running where I much prefer to train by myself).

Someone at my club uses a waterproof case for an ipod shuffle, attached to the back of the goggle strap. If I couldn't swim with a club I'd get one of these.

(Masters clubs are, despite the word 'master,' for all levels of swimmers. Slow lanes in groups I've swum with are probably at a 2:20+/100m pace.)
posted by genug at 10:12 PM on June 19, 2012

I'm in the numbers group – each lap is "25, 25, 25...that's 1/40 of a kilometre, that's 1/4 of a 100m set...wall, kick, turn, 50, 50, 50..." etc. It's why I like swimming, because it's as neutral as my brain gets.

I also secretly race people nearby, especially if it's the 6'6" dudes doing butterfly while I'm on a breaststroke lap.
posted by carbide at 12:59 AM on June 20, 2012

I would write stories about mermaids. Naiads, selkies, rusalkas, sirens. My favourite involved them netted out of the ocean and kept in tanks in a zoo, till they worked out an escape plan and shredded the keepers. Lotta blood in the water. Good times.

I dreamed up a lot of stories doing laps. I was playing a lot of table top RPGs too so I'd work on the plots for my next session or my pc's backstories and bios. Creative stuff to keep my head busy.
posted by Jilder at 10:37 AM on June 20, 2012

I tend to count laps or strokes. I tend to think about my swimming form. Stay high in the water. Don't drop the elbows. Don't cross over. Grab that catch early. ... But I also generally think about random nothingness.

I used to run marathons. My running friends and I would joke about, "What do you think about on training runs?" and the answers were basically "shockingly little". This seems both a waste, but perhaps also a virtue to "tune out" and "stop constantly thinking".
posted by sarah_pdx at 12:33 PM on June 20, 2012

Response by poster: Hi, thanks for all the great advice. The form tips are useful (though I've already had plenty of practice counting strokes and chunking the workout).
posted by psoas at 4:24 AM on June 21, 2012

This is a funny thread!

I find swimming laps boring sometimes, too. Aside from counting laps, sometimes I succeed at embracing and enjoying the boringness; I tell myself that the workout is a time when I can unplug from whatever's stressful about my day/week/month. When all's working well I can slip into a meditative state where I'm thinking about the stroke and just enjoying how it feels. Do you ever meditate? Does it appeal to you at all? Maybe you could try doing a simple five- or ten-minute nightly meditation and then trying to replicate that feeling when you're in the pool: observe thoughts as they come into your head, then gently set them aside and concentrate on the feelings.

Guess I am saying the same thing as sarah_pdx in a way. Make a virtue of boring!
posted by toomuchkatherine at 2:33 PM on September 10, 2012

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