Help me learn to love swimming
February 20, 2015 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Due to some physical issues, it seems that the only form of cardio that doesn't cause pain is swimming. But I don't like being wet. Hope me!

I have problems with my hip that have prevented me from doing just about any form of cardio. But I'm at my wit's end and need to be able to be active, so that leaves swimming. I haven't done much lap swimming in shared pools. Here's what's working against me:

--I'm not very comfortable sharing a lane, especially if there's three to a lane. I like to kind of disappear into myself when I exercise, and I'm a bit nervous around others.
--Relatedly, I don't really know the proper etiquette of shared pools, or what to do if there are three to a lane but everyone is moving at different speeds.
--My swim cap leaves a mark on my forehead. Too tight? How do I find a properly fitting cap?
--My goggles leave marks around my eyes, and I can't quite seem to figure out how to make them work without water seeping in.
--I have to wear earplugs, which means I can't hear very well, and that just makes me nervous in general because I like to be aware of my environment. I also don't enjoy having to wear a cap, goggles, and earplugs :/.
--I don't really enjoy being wet in general, but I think I can get over this if I can deal with some of the above issues.
--The pools at my gym are saltwater pools, so that at least means I don't have to deal with chlorine. Anything else I should know about swimming in saltwater? How do I best take care of my hair?

Man, I sound like a wuss. None of these things are total dealbreakers - I'd just like to feel better about them.

That said, I like the feeling of swimming - I enjoy exercise and the way I feel after swimming.

I plan to take a lesson, but I also need help with some of the psychological aspects of swimming. Hope me?
posted by Ms. Toad to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There are swim caps made of lycra/spandex fabric rather than rubber. They allow your hair to get wet but they're much more comfortable, and should fulfill your pool's rules about needing to wear a swim cap (because they still stop any long hair from floating away.) If your pool doesn't require you to wear a swim cap, maybe just don't wear one?
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:14 AM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I was younger I never minded colder water for swimming, but as I have aged I have come to prefer a warmer pool even for lap swimming. Now swimming has become both a form of exercise and a kind of pleasant hydrotherapy to me! Perhaps you could enquire in your area as to the temperature that local pools keep their water and choose one that is kept more luxuriantly warm.
posted by fairmettle at 9:21 AM on February 20, 2015

Use a swimming stroke that keeps your head above water?
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:21 AM on February 20, 2015

If your schedule is at all flexible, can you find a time when there aren't many other swimmers and you're more likely to get a lane to yourself? Even a half-hour change can make a big difference in how crowded the pool is.

It took me a few tries to find a cap and goggles that fit me and worked properly, but once I did it really transformed the experience for me -- especially the non-leaking goggles. You may simply have to buy a few different brands and types until you find something that works best with your head and face shape. But don't lose hope!
posted by Andrhia at 9:21 AM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Does your gym have water aerobics classes? It keeps the pressure off your joints, but would avoid several of the problems you outline.
posted by cecic at 9:22 AM on February 20, 2015 [8 favorites]

Caps become looser with time.
posted by jgirl at 9:24 AM on February 20, 2015

In the summer, Husbunny and I walk laps in the pool. We got at a time when when we have it all to ourselves. It's lovely to just walk up and down and ponder things.

Ours is a saltwater pool and it shouldn't hurt your hair at all. I just keep my head out of the water, and if I do get wet, I rinse it out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:25 AM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding water aerobics (we call it aquarobics here). I enjoy it and I don't even like sports!
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:31 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Different makes of goggles have different fits, and work better or worse for given facial dimensions; keep trying new ones until you find the right pair. There's good feedback on this in some Amazon reviews. Also, placing the straps higher or lower at the back of your head can make a difference.

Ask the lifeguard about etiquette at your pool - they will be happy to clarify. Also, in my city at least, some pools have special slots for people using the pool for rehab. They might cost a bit, but everyone there will be doing things like pool running, working with noodles, and swimming pretty slowly. Or, taking a refresher lesson or two might help you feel more comfortable in the pool environment in general. Also - some times/days are busier than others; my pool is pretty empty on Friday evenings. Alternatively, it might be worth travelling to a less popular pool.

Do you have a condition that requires the use of earplugs? I hate them too, couldn't imagine using them. But I tend to just do the breaststroke or backstroke, which don't involve lateral head movement. Maybe try those instead of the front crawl (if you can do the frog kick safely)?
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:35 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Besides structured water aerobics classes you can also do water running on your own. Most pools I've been to have the belt and dumbbell looking float available.
posted by lucia_engel at 9:37 AM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding everything Andrhia said. There are crowded times and dead times at every pool. At my pool, before and after work (7-8:30am, 5-7pm) are very crowded, but lunchtime (11-2) is dead and I can generally get a lane to myself.

And you're just going to have to keep buying goggles until you find a pair that work well for you. I really like the Speedo Vanquisher, they are the only ones I found that don't leak, but everyone's face is different. And yeah your cap might be too tight. Experiment with different materials and sizes. It made me mad to spend all that money and have all these goggles and caps and earplugs that I hate but after I found my perfect fitting stuff it was worth it.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:41 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all these tips so far! I haven't tried water aerobics or water running to know how it might impact my hip, so those are interesting suggestions. I have tried doing strokes with my head above water, like breaststroke, but it tends to hurt my neck (which may be due more to poor form than anything else).
posted by Ms. Toad at 9:42 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're attracted by the idea of water aerobics, OP, do speak to your doctor. It's really hard to say if your hip issues would preclude you from participating in water aerobics. A quick google will show you that water aerobics would appear to be recommended for people who have injuries - I know my doctor recommended I go as I have a dicky knee and messed up heels from platar fasciitis but that's not the same thing. Only you and your doctor can know for sure!

For what it's worth, I really love going, it is my favourite form of exercise.

Zoggs swim caps are very good. Mine has never left a mark, and as a bonus, actually fits my ginormous head. I have the spandex one.
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:45 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

A silicone or lycra swim cap is much more comfortable than the latex type. (The silicone cap will keep your hair dry, and the lyrca cap will feel less constricting).
posted by oceano at 9:52 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

A couple ideas related to your issues.

- First off, get over yourself. Okay, I'm mostly kidding. I swim regularly for exercise and I go back and forth on bouts of loving it and hating it. I mostly love it after I've done or or haven't done it for awhile and mostly hate it when I need to get up in the morning and swim. So, what I do is keep moving toward the pool and telling myself that I don't have to swim if I don't want to but I do need to put my swim bag in my car.... I don't have to swim if I don't want to but I do need to check in at the gym... and so forth. Often up to and during my workout I tell myself that I don't need to swim.... YMMV. :)

- Take a lesson! The first thing I did when I decided I wanted to give lap swimming a go was take a lesson. I called the community center and asked about the adult swim lessons and told them, "I know how to swim, I'm not afraid of water, but I want to feel more confident and I'd like someone to help me with my strokes, is this a good class?" They said that the instructor would work with my skill level. And so they did! There were adults in my class who were just learning to swim, who had fear of water. The instructor (easily 15-20 years my junior) had me swim laps alongside the class. He came up with drills for me to do, he pushed me to hold my breath longer, he critiqued my form. I could barely swim the length of the pool, let alone turn around and come back. A lesson gives you the space to build your confidence. Consider a private lesson if the above group lesson idea makes you nervous.

- I can't advise you too much on the rings around the eyes. I just got to work after swimming at the pool and I have rings around my eyes. The skin pops back eventually. But, yes, the thing to do is to try a number of different goggles and find a good fit. And then get over yourself. ;) One thing that I did once I'd been swimming awhile is "invested" in a really luxurious (to me) lotion for after swimming and I pay special attention to the rings around my eyes and the marks on my forehead and just enjoy it as a special treat for my skin for working out. For me, it's the Burt's Bees Milk & Honey lotion.

- search mefi/google for swimming etiquette. If you can, try to swim with people who are going the same speed as you. When you get to the wall, if you are slow, just move well off to the side and let the faster person go in front. If you are waiting at the wall and someone is coming in, do not rush to swim off in front of them. Especially if you are slower. If someone comes up on you in the lane because they are faster, just swim to the wall and get well off to the side then carry on after them.
posted by amanda at 10:17 AM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Regarding lane sharing, I'm generally one of the slower swimmers at my very busy pool, so I tend to stay as far to the right as possible and let the faster swimmers pass me. A confident swimmer should have no problem passing you. I also stop at the end of every length to see who's coming up behind me. If it's someone fast, I let them turn and then start swimming after them. You can google "circle swimming" for the full etiquette of lane sharing.
posted by Rora at 11:25 AM on February 20, 2015

I have, and love, a pair of these Speedo goggles that are actually more like a mask (but unlike a snorkelling mask, don't block your nose). Not only are they comfortable, and one of the few pairs of goggles I've ever owned that actually keep the water out, the fact they give you such a big, clear field of vision underwater really helps with that kind of claustrophobic feeling you can get from peering out through small goggles, so being in the water is an all-round more pleasant experience when I have them on.
posted by penguin pie at 11:37 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

The only way to figure out if goggles will work is to try them on. If they form a bit of suction they will keep water out; otherwise, not so much. Mine get a little bit of water in them but it's not so much that I can't see. My gym's pool is also saltwater and I don't bother with a cap, but then I have a no-product/no-tools wash and wear hairstyle, ymmv.
posted by mareli at 12:46 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I can't tell you all how helpful you've been. Thank you!
posted by Ms. Toad at 3:39 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also buy the recreational type goggles that are bigger, in my case because regular goggles don't cover my eyes, which are apparently freakishly large. I get mine at target, they are Speedo brand and look like regular goggles, just bigger not like the mask above. Very comfy! The oversized silicone masks that cover your ears are great for keeping everything dry but you can't beat lycra for comfort.
posted by fshgrl at 4:10 PM on February 20, 2015

Lots of great advice so far. I love swimming and something that I find has made a big difference for me is to have a gym bag set up specifically for swimming, so I can just grab and go (or even stow it in my car so I am ready to go at any time).

I have a bag with mesh sides (better to help with drying), and keep shampoo/conditioner/deodorant/powder in there, as well as a hairbrush and a compact hair dryer. My goggles and swim cap (second the suggestion for Lycra) live in there all the time. I hang up my suit and towel to dry after I'm home from swimming, and then they go right back in the bag.

I think if I had to run around and find everything and pack a bag from scratch each time I'd be far less likely to get out the door and go... Sounds like it might be helpful for you to make the transition to swimming a little less complicated, too.
posted by Sublimity at 5:07 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ms. Toad,

Think you're doing very well toward getting used to swimming... keep with it! Swimming is an exercise that must be done essentially every day if you are trying to build strength. My old coach used to tell me that it takes 2 days to recover from each day you spend out of the water.

I echo others' comments about taking a lesson, and I'd suggest a one-on-one lesson with a personal trainer who understands your swimming goals. It can make a huge difference in your confidence and feelings about the water.

On goggles, try Malmsten Swedish goggles. They're $3 a pair, so not much of a commitment if they don't work out. These are a big hit with Olympic swimmers but also with a few of my friends who are not "water babies" but still want to swim at the beach! You assemble them yourself so you can adjust strap tension/space between eyes as much as you want. If goggles fit properly they should never leak and never fog.

If pool ettiquitte issues are troubling you, you can try: (i) going to a different gym until you find one that has a pool that has a culture you like; (ii) going to your gym at different times of day, when perhaps the pool isn't crowded.

A few years ago I joined a wonderful friendly gym that had a Master's team, which I wanted to try out. Trouble was that, at times, the Master's team was full of elite Ironman triathletes (I couldn't keep up even in the slow lane). Turns out that the triathelets were only there for 3 sessions a week, always in the middle of the day, and if I avoided going to Master's practice during those times, the experience was super-chill and quite lovely.

Enjoy, and stick with it!
posted by amy27 at 6:28 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I also liked the mask-like goggles (I think my favorites were AquaSphere seal, but it totally depends on your head shape)...

But also, swimming with your face out (you will probably still need the earplugs if they are medically necessary, but you can skip goggles). There are a bunch of ways to do this while not straining your neck, some strokes are made for this: Backstroke (or elementary backstroke or inverted breaststroke) and sidestroke are great.

Or you can do breaststroke or freestyle keeping your eyes out but letting your chin and mouth dip into the water. The trick for reducing neck strain is to keep your head as low as possible and let your head tip forward so that you're looking down towards the water and keeping your neck straighter.
posted by anaelith at 10:22 AM on February 21, 2015

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