A couple weeks ago I took on a big challenge: finally learning how to swim correctly. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while because I know how good swimming is for the body and I want to incorporate it in my routines as cross-training. I am also interested in doing a triathlon someday and the swimming part has been holding me back. It’s not that I can’t swim at all- I just have never felt totally comfortable in the water and never learned the proper way to swim. I can “fake it” but not enough to use it for fitness purposes.
The pool at my gym has always been a very intimidating place for me. It’s filled with people wearing goggles and swim caps, with strong muscular arms and shoulders and perfect form. I decided it was time to face my fears and signed up for an adult swim class. I went to buy a one piece bathing suit (not cute!), some goggles, and a swim cap. I was nervous and worried I wouldn’t fit in.
I showed up for my first class last Saturday morning, got dressed, rinsed off, and went into the pool area. And waited. Nobody showed up. I started feeling more and more anxious. Finally I asked a lifeguard if he knew what was going on with my class and he called the swim director to find out. Apparently, I was the only one that had signed up for the class and nobody had notified me that it had been cancelled. I was so disappointed. I talked to the swim director who was very apologetic and she offered to give me one-on-one lessons instead (these usually cost over $200, I paid $75 for group classes). She told me she would see me on Tuesday evening.
For a brief moment I thought about giving up and not doing any lessons at all. But I knew I had to just do it and get over my stupid worrying! I went to the gym again on Tuesday feeling nervous still, but ready. I walked into the pool and my instructor came up to me right away. She was super nice and made me feel comfortable right from the start. She told me that she had been coaching for 13 years, and asked me about myself and why I was interesting in swimming. I told her I wanted to get into triathlons and using swimming for fitness and she told me to hop in so she could see what I could do.
I felt like I was about to take a test or something. I did my best attempt at freestyle all the way down the length of the pool. It seemed like it took so long to get to the other side even though my pool is only 25 meters long. When I finished she told me that I was actually better than some of the people that come in for adult beginning classes. She told me she could see that I have a lot of strength and have potential for being a great swimmer, but that I was doing a lot of things incorrectly. I knew this already- that’s why I wanted to take a class! She had me work on one technique at a time and I went back and forth to practice a few times after each adjustment. First, we worked on my breathing because four strokes was too long for me to go before taking a breath. I was feeling like I couldn’t breath and it was making me panic, so instead I did every 3 strokes and alternated sides. After breathing, I focused on putting my head all the way down in the water because she told me it was too high. This was making my legs drop too low in the water. Finally, we worked on not kicking as much. Obviously, my lower body is my strongest area from running and I was trying to use my legs too much. All of this was a lot to think about and coordinate at once (especially for someone with zero coordination), and I found myself breathing heavy after each lap. It was exhausting!
After our one-on-one session my coach told me that I would be a good fit for the other class they offered, an Adult Triathlon class. I looked at her and laughed because I felt like it was way too out of my league. She said it really wasn’t, and that there were other people in the class at my same ability level. The class met from 6 – 7 a.m. on Friday mornings, which actually works better with my schedule because Friday is my cross-training day. I said I would try it.
I went to bed on Thursday night excited to swim the next day. I was really motivated to learn and improve.
On Friday morning I got up really early, packed my things, and went to the gym. I put on my suit, swim cap, and goggles and tried to walk into the pool with confidence. There was a swim team there practicing, but I tried not to be intimidated this time. There was only one other woman there for the triathlon class, so I just tried to tune everyone else out and listen to my coach. She told me to start with a warm-up of 6 laps (150 meters). I went slow and tried to work on the techniques that she showed me earlier in the week. It was hard for to swim for 6 laps without stopping so I stopped at the end of a few of them to breathe for a second.
After my warm-up, she took me through a bunch of different drills to work on my breathing, keeping my head down, gliding on my side, and not using my legs too much. I swam with a buoy between my legs at one point to work on my balance (I have the worst balance ever!) I did at least 4 sets of 100 meters for each of these drills. She told me to try to do each set without stopping at all. I tried to just push off the wall and keep going when I got to the end of each lap. By lap 4 of each set I could feel myself fatiguing and my form falling apart, but I tried to hold it together as best as I could.
We ended with a bunch of 50 meter sprints. She told us to do two laps as fast as we could. She timed us to see how long it would take. The lady that had been coming to classes before me was swimming each sprint in 1:08 – 1:13. I did each one in 1:14 – 1:15. We did about 8 of them, resting in between, and my coach said it was good that I was so consistent with my times because that shows that I have good stamina that has crossed over from running. Next time I want to improve those times!
After class my coach told me that I had swam 1,150 meters in total. That converts to 1,258 yards and .71 miles! I couldn’t believe I swam that much in an hour. I know other people can swim much more than that in that amount of time but that was huge for me. I showered quickly, got dressed, and went home to finish getting ready for work. I was exhausted but felt great at the same time.
After my swim class I felt like I was on cloud 9 all day. I was also STARVING all day. I ate before and after class, and still had to eat lunch an hour earlier than usual. Then I had a snack before dinner, ate dinner, and had a snack afterwards. My stomach was grumbling all day. Swimming is no joke! No wonder Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day when he’s training.
I am really starting to enjoy swimming and excited to see myself get better with more practice. It’s going to be a great form of cross-training to incorporate into my routine, and I know it will make me a stronger and more well rounded athlete.