Hack my swim rituals.
December 11, 2016 5:57 AM   Subscribe

I love jogging/running. It's been essential to my mental and physical well-being. Now for physical reasons I can't do it anymore and I want to start swimming as regularly as I ran (which was about 5 times a week.) Problem: I find swimming so boring. And more important to how hard it is make myself do it: I HATE everything that goes with swimming.

Things I love about running: Just throwing on running wear and heading outside. No driving first; no planning around the facility's other uses; looking at the world pass around me is always interesting and the time flies; the feeling of impact, sweat and working up heat. It is hard to push through certain moments but all in all: I crave it and want to go, and think of it as a break.

I would like to ask swimming mefites to help me improve what I can't stand about swimming, so that I might eventually want to do it. Here is what I hate. Do you have any hacks?
* I never want to go to the pool on a cold day. I don't hate bundling up to go out and run. What I hate is the thought of getting into the water in the winter. (Actually I like swimming at outdoor pools in the summer.)
* I hate the smell and general gross feeling of indoor pools
*Once I'm swimming laps, I'm bored -- really bored. I am going to get a waterproof music device -- any suggestions on what?
And this is what I hate, hate HATE:
*showering at the gym
*being in the locker room when I'm wet,
*getting back into my winter clothes
Mostly, I feel gross and uncomfortable with showering at the gym, drying my hair there and mainly getting back into winter clothes and going outside.
Are any of these things sensory difficulties for you, and have you found anything to make them better?
Please hack my swim!
posted by flourpot to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
I find swimming boring, too. But I found out that I enjoy aquarobics! Maybe that's an option for you.
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:02 AM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have these, because they're cheap and work. I like podcasts (esp comedy) for swimming.

If there's a hot tub, sauna, or steam room in the gym by the pool, hitting one for just a few minutes after your swim is nice when you're feeling cold.

Unrelated, but use the plastic circle things on an adjacent pool lane divider to count laps (there's usually enough room to slide a gap at the beginning, and move one each lap). I didn't know this until I saw another swimmer do this, and I really like not having to hold a number in my head as I swim.

I usually shower & get ready at the gym, but on occasions when I need to get *done up*, it's easier to towel off, bundle up in sweats and a beanie, and shower & get ready at home where all my hair shit/straightener/makeup is. Maybe doing something like that would suit you better.
posted by neda at 6:35 AM on December 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

re cold days, is there no sauna?

i found readin up on all the pros of swimming really motivating too, if youre looking for a booster.

and have you tried aqua jogging ( i think thats the name in english) - i go run with the ole ladies when i really am not feeling down to swimming anymore and its fun! and hard. also, at times when swimming laps feels boring i switch styles, so i might do three to four different types of swimming in one session. no idea if it looks silly or not but at least its a workout.
posted by speakeasy at 6:35 AM on December 11, 2016

I am a former runner who, about six months ago, switched to swimming for physical reasons. I don't think I will ever enjoy swimming in an indoor pool as much as running outside, but I do enjoy swimming now that I've gotten the hang of it.

For combating boredom, try adding variety to your workouts by learning new strokes and doing drills to improve your technique. I've been trying to improve my freestyle technique, and I've found the drills in Swim Smooth to be pretty fun to do. As recommended by the book, I incorporate various gear into my technique drills, like a pull buoy, fins, and a snorkel. This adds tons of variety to the workout, and I find that my time in the pool passes by much faster. Basically, I will swim a few laps normally, then do a drill, and then try swimming normally again to focus on the skill emphasized in the drill. Then repeat with a different drill.

As for the thought of getting into the water in winter, can you leave your winter clothes on and walk around the gym for a bit before changing for the pool? I walk about three blocks to get to my pool, and then I have to take an elevator to the floor with the locker room, and by the time I get to the locker room I'm hot as hell, even when it's freezing outside. At that point it's no different than swimming in the summer.
posted by crLLC at 6:36 AM on December 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

"I am going to get a waterproof music device -- any suggestions on what?"

Cory Doctorow swims everyday for about an hour, and last I heard he happily uses a Exeze waterproof MP3 player and AquaSphere Seal swim goggles.

Doctorow is a geek's geek who researches his tech. Following his lead on gear has never lead me astray.

Hope that helps.

-- MrJM
posted by MrJM at 6:46 AM on December 11, 2016 [9 favorites]

Would it help to use a swim cap to keep your hair dry?

Would biking be an option instead?
posted by metasarah at 6:54 AM on December 11, 2016

Can you keep a big towel poolside so you're wrapped in it almost as soon as you're out of the pool? I sometimes thought about taking two with me, so I had one handy for that and another for after I get out of the shower.

Similarly, are you going to the right pool - is there a more luxurious pool nearby (maybe in a hotel?) that would have a less unpleasant experience? Maybe it's worth it to you to pay a little more and feel more comfortable there.
posted by A Robot Ninja at 7:18 AM on December 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Was also going to suggest biking. I swim sometimes and I have some sensory issues surrounding being cold and wet (I dislike showering even in the best of times) so there was definitely some pushing through that I needed to do when I swim more regularly. A few things that helped me.

And this is what I hate, hate HATE:

You probably know this, but part of this is plain old attitude adjustment. Swimming is a choice. Figure out what makes it work for you or feel free not to do it; don't act like the world is doing this to you.

- I have a swim outfit I wear to the gym which is super-simple (pullover sweatshirt/tshirt, no bra, fleece pants, simple big fluffy socks, slip on shoes) so I don't have that tortuous "try to wriggle in to clothes while slightly damp" thing. It helps.
- All my best toiletries are at the gym (I rent a locker) so it's an incentive for me to go to the gym just to get to use them, also a lot of really nice towels, moisturizer, etc
- I have a regular time I go to the pool when it's mostly empty and I find I enjoy it more when I'm there basically by myself. At my pool this is either mid-afternoon or late at night. Swimming in an empty pool is really sort of nice
- If you're a competitive sort, maybe making some sort of overall goal? When I first started I had an "I'm going to swim the equivalent of the length of Lake Champlain" contest with myself and kept track of progress. Here are some other options for "virtual swims"
- I go to a gym with a much better shower than mine at home. Amazing water pressure, incredibly hot water that lasts forever. After a while I got sort of used to showering with my neighbors and learning when it was good to talk and when it was less good to talk.
- alternately, there is really nothing keeping you from just putting your clothes back on and showering at home (I know the signs say rinse off before you go into the pool, I don't) if that is really what you prefer.

In short, managing my anxiety made the gym a lot more useful for me. Additionally what I REALLY like to do is eat food and swimming made that something a lot easier for me to do more f. So figuring out what is your carrot to get you there, giving it a shot and telling yourself "If it never gets any better, I'll find some other way to exercise" Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 7:35 AM on December 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

I've been swimming regularly since 1995.

Anti boredom moves:

My warm-up drill: jumping jacks, x-country ski moves, the Pilates Hundred. No flotation device makes this more challenging. To improve my breathing capacity, I drop a flipper to the bottom and then dive down from water level to get it. The most challenging is sitting on a kick board, balancing wildly, to do arm circles: really works your core.

Lap distraction: I count my laps with "chlorinated" -- 11 letters, no repeats -- and challenge myself to come up with words beginning with each letter. I'll impose filters: women's names; chemicals; geographical locations. Keeps my mind busy.

I've experimented with all kinds of swim accessories: I've found training flippers speed up my movement without giving my thighs a total pass.

I use my most luxurious products in the shower, and relish the thought of basically unlimited hot water.
posted by Jesse the K at 7:43 AM on December 11, 2016

- If you can, spend extra to go to a facility with a heated pool and/or with all-day pool access (so you're not bound to a 2-hour window). (There's a YMCA in my town that's open from early am to I think midnight. Maybe there's something like that near you?)

- I don't completely understand what the deal is, but some pools feel like they're 100% chlorine, others are less bad. I haven't looked into it, but I think this is something that can be determined by talking with maintenance/management? Also in some places, there is the option of salt-water pools (granted this is rare).

- Invest in a small, high-powered, ionic hairdryer and use that instead of relying on the anemic winds generated by too many gym's hairdryers. (Not sure whether "ionic" makes much of a difference for realsies, but I've noticed a difference.)

- Hair damage: Wet hair before swimming, with water. Have read that if unchlorinated water fills the hair follicle first, there's less room for the nasty stuff to get in there and break it. And/or, cover with a thick conditioner, then wear two caps (rubber and latex) so the conditioner doesn't get into the pool. Use Paul Mitchell 3 clarifying shampoo, or vitamin C crystals, immediately after swimming. (Or just get SwimSpray if you don't want to be hassled and don't mind paying for the vit C stabilization, because the DIY stuff goes off in no time, you have to mix it every time.) The vitamin C stuff can go on your body, too, to remove chlorine.

- Get a mesh bag for showering stuff to hang in the shower (if there are hooks), less water to deal with afterwards than with a regular bag or whatever.

- Pare your makeup/hair routine down to essentials (if it's not already there).

- Obviously, but maybe not, immediately dump wet/used stuff into the bathroom sink when you get home to rinse out, don't let it sit there. And get two of everything (goggles, caps, flip flops, suits) so you don't have to poke around to find things.

- Towel: rent one, ideally, so you don't have it bogging you down. Or use a microfiber towel (lighter than a regular towel). Or, one of those extremely thin & cheap cotton ones (also light. Absorbs water quickly. May have to wring out

* I hate the smell and general gross feeling of indoor pools

Yeah... I just try to forget about it. I try to remember what it felt like to not care too much, as a kid. I focus more on the (to me) enjoyable feeling of weightlessness, and the pleasure of the feeling of moving through water. Again a well-managed chlorine or salt-water pool should make a difference.

Boredom: if you're used to a runner's high, it's just not the same. Different mindset. I treat it like a kind of meditation. And focus on not having an awful stroke.

Also: five days a week for someone not a teen is probably going to be rough on your shoulders. Learn good technique, and switch your stroke up. (I alternate between breaststroke and just kicks.) Do some kind of shoulder prehab and watch out for overuse.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:50 AM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Figure out what makes it work for you or feel free not to do it; don't act like the world is doing this to you.

Right. Sorry if I wasn't clear and just to correct any misperceptions. I do not think the world is doing this to me. I hate it because of sensory issues, and that is why I am asking this question, because I am trying to figure out what might make it work for me. Hope people from here understand this position.
posted by flourpot at 8:08 AM on December 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I agree with using Swim Smooth. I have learned so much and using each swim as a skill-building opportunity really makes a difference.

It's pretty common among dedicated swimmers who love to swim, as I do, to still not want to go to the pool, especially in the winter. Even up to the point where you are standing at the lane's edge! I also agree with using the most luxurious shower and hair products, hair dryer, and towel.

If you are on Facebook, you might want to check out the Zeroto1mile group. I have learned so much from them, and they are so friendly, welcoming, and encouraging! It's the best part of being on Facebook for me.
posted by jgirl at 8:09 AM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Gah. This is the correct link to the SwimSpray product, sorry.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:09 AM on December 11, 2016

These answers are SO HELPFUL so far. I am already getting more psyched. Please do keep them coming!
posted by flourpot at 8:13 AM on December 11, 2016

Find a way that swimming fits into your day either at the beginning or end. That means you can roll out of bed, put on your swimsuit and get out if the door and then you can do all your getting ready for work routine after at the gym. Find one with nice facilities if at all possible. Or it is something you do at the end of the day and then you either just put on some yoga pants and a hoody and leave or you find a nice shower ritual that works so much better at the gym after you exercise. I used to do stretches under the hot water, use ice toiletries and take my time as I had no need to go urgently after.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:54 AM on December 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also (if you're anything like me...) - bring a fresh set of socks and undies for afterwards, so you're not feeling like you're going back into worn stuff. (I put those in a ziploc bag, and the worn things go into that, later. I also bring just a plastic shopping bag for wet post-swim things to keep the gym bag and other dry things [e.g. makeup bag, hair dryer] dry.)

(And get a Salux for scrubbing off chlorine in the shower.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:00 AM on December 11, 2016

As a swimmer who loves swimming, I can concur that even swimmers don't want to get into the pool; it actually gets worse when you are at a meet or swimming multiple practices per day. You just gotta jump before you think about it too much.

Also, in my opinion, if you are so bored swimming that you want to listen to music, you aren't swimming hard enough. Unlike running where it seems like most people just go a certain speed for however long, swimming is best done as a series of repeats of different distances. You go fast for a while; you rest; repeat. In life, in general, I am super neurotic and easily bored, but in swimming I am easily working hard enough that all I can do is focus. Some good intro workouts are here and the USMS site has a lot about technique as well as other practices.

You may also want to a try a workout with a USMS team. I think swimming is more fun with other people and coaching, and even going to one workout a week and doing other days on your own might make it more fun.

If you are driving, I would say just bring your own fluffy towel. I use microfiber cause I have to carry it on the train but it is much less luxurious. If you can go in the evening, you can skip showering at the pool and just do a quick rinse then go home in your sweats, with a big hat on your head, as Jessamyn notes.

Good luck! I still hate running and if someone asked me to switch, I don't think I would be as diligent as you are in trying to make it nicer. So kudos.
posted by dame at 9:14 AM on December 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Concur on using workouts. I usually bring a workout with me to my pool - here are some other sites with workouts. Because I don't swim with a team I'll print these out and stick them into some sheet protectors so they don't get all soggy. Then I park my workout with my kick board and my pull buoy at the end of the lane where I can see the pace clock and proceed to follow the workout. I like to vary things up and if the workout is designed for someone with more stamina I'll just skip the segments I'm not interested in (or that would be disturbing for the other person in the lane).

I definitely reward myself with a hot tub soak at the end which is something to look forward to.

But on the other points, it's nice to have some sort of locker at the gym so you don't need to bring much with you. I go after work. I keep all my toiletries at the gym and bring clean undies, socks and something casual to change into because I also hate putting my work clothes back on. Lately I've been going with yoga pants or tights and a clean oversized flannel. Cozy. I don't bother to dry my hair - I just shove it under a hat.
posted by rdnnyc at 10:04 AM on December 11, 2016

Have you thought of taking lessons? I learnt to swim as a kid and I can do a sedate breaststroke almost indefinitely, but struggle with crawl. For a while I swam in the "development" (i.e. not very good) lane of my local tri club's training sessions, where we were given an hour's specific programme with warm-up, different drills etc, and got tips from a coach on our style, and it was a good thing to do. I swam so much further, and harder, because I had less option to wimp out. The structure appealed to my runner's like of training programmes, my mind was occupied either by the variety ("do 8 lengths concentrating carefully on this particular part of your stroke, then we'll change!") or by exhaustion. My swimming and fitness improved, and I could practice things by myself in the pool when I went on my own, a few lengths at a time, rather than feel like I just had a long session of going up and down doing identical lengths stretching ahead of me. And there were people to chat with between sets/in the changing room afterwards at the training sessions.

It doesn't solve your sensory issues, but reducing the boredom and giving you the enjoyment of progress might tip the scales more towards "All the faff and bother is worth it because I enjoy what I do in the pool/the progress I'm making".
posted by penguin pie at 10:55 AM on December 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Maybe some sort of robe for the locker room?
posted by Jacen at 11:18 AM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Swim fins turn swimming from drudgery into fun. Example (not a particular recommendation, just an example - but it's worth spending a little to get somewhat decent fins instead of what you're likely to find at the local Walmart or the like).

Also nth bicycling or (depending on what your particular physical issues are) recumbent tricycling as an option that has a lot of the appeal of running--outdoors, scenery, leave from your own home, etc. (Recumbent tricycle example). I've yet to be in a U.S. city that doesn't have miles and miles of quiet, bike friendly side streets and neighborhood roads--sometimes you just have to seek them out a little. Or look for regular weekly group bike rides in your area--that adds another fun dimension to your workout.
posted by flug at 3:51 PM on December 11, 2016

I have a YWCA membership which includes the pool etc but I can't make myself go because there's so much ritual to it -- packing to go, changing there, swim, cleaning self, changing again, hair, towels, packing to leave. Exhausting. So what about dance? Much more fun and just as good (if not better) exercise. Zumba might be a good choice. Throw your clothes on, go to gym, dance dance dance, throw on outer garment, go home, then clean up. Much less hassle. If I had the choice between swimming (and I like to swim) and dancing, I'd choose dancing.
posted by MovableBookLady at 6:17 PM on December 11, 2016

I picked up swimming for exercise again this May after not swimming for years, and I love it, but there's definitely stuff that helps.

- I swim first thing in the morning, before work. I hate getting up at 5:35, but if I get out the door by 6 (in the pool by 6:20 or so - I swim near work) I usually have a lane to myself (big incentive!) and also miss the morning traffic (also incentive!). Also, I sometimes get to see dawn out of the pool windows, which I like. My incentive for getting up on snowy wet icky mornings is an even emptier pool. (This morning, there were 3 people in 7 lanes for the first 20 minutes I was swimming. Bliss!)

I put my swimsuit on, clothes over it, and bring underwear and a bra with me in my swim bag, so there's minimal fuss once I'm at the club. Packing my bag the night before is essential - all I do in the morning is heat up soup for a thermos for lunch / grab lunch from the fridge and put ice water in my water bottle.

- My fitness club provides shampoo and conditioner (including swim shampoo) which makes my life much easier. If they didn't, I'd invest in a nice little portable shower caddy to bring nice stuff in.

- If you have choice in pools, mine does extra oxygenation so they can do lower chlorine, which seems to work better for me. (I've also really liked salt pools the couple of times I've had a chance to try them, but there isn't one convenient to me.) There's a lot of variation pool to pool though, and I found that the layout of the locker rooms / etc. also makes a big difference in my experience, so it might be worth checking multiple pools if you have options.

- Related, I definitely have a preferred shower at my gym : the water pressure is what I like, the lighting does not annoy me, etc. It's worth trying out some different specific showers/lockers/etc. to see if there's one you like better.

- They also provide towels, but not big enough to cover me, so I have a bigger peshtemal (thin fabric, so easier to manage in my gym bag, but enough for me to feel like there's a towel there, and plenty to dry me off.) If you get cold easily, maybe a robe? I feel a lot better not feeling like there's enforced scarity of towel.

- I have long hair: I got one of the microfiber turban things (goes on before I step out of the shower, I go spindry my suit, get dressed, then do my hair). By the time I get to that stage, my hair is usually about 75% dry. (I am low-maintenance on hair: I braid it, so I just need it to be not damp.)

- I adore my podcasts. I have a waterproofed iPod Shuffle - I got one of the less expensive brands originally, but discovered that ability to have multiple playlists + not losing track in the middle of long episodes made a difference to me (also, I am Apple ecosystem at home.)

I've found the best listening is stuff where the details are either things I sort of know, not terribly relevant, or repeated (so that if I miss 30 seconds while I'm swimming harder, it's not a big deal.) I mostly do history or related (Backstory, In Our Time, or I've been on an Astonishing Legends kick recently - basically stuff that keeps me from getting bored but doesn't demand a lot of attention to keep up.) I have some podcasts I only listen to by swimming, which is also incentive to go to the pool.

- Bonus of the MP3 headphones: the waterproofed ones mostly come with options that will also keep water out of your ears.

- I have chronic health stuff, and my lungs are especially cranky, so pushing myself beyond a certain point is not a good thing. Right now I alternate 2 lengths kickboard with 2 lengths front crawl (at a pace that has me slightly breathless by the end of a length, but able to do 2 lengths without pausing) and I'm slowly progressing on that. I do 2 lengths of other strokes (side, breast, back) if I feel like I need a break, my shoulders are complaining, etc.
posted by modernhypatia at 8:13 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

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