Saturday, January 14, 2006


I'm back in NY. It's hard to tell, since it's been so nice this past week. The forecast calls for a return to freezing temperatures with a high of 30 tomorrow, but by Wednesday it's supposed to get back to 55. I have to tell you it's hard to get too worked up about this global warming "problem".

I've really slacked on the exercise lately. My shins were hurting earlier this week so I didn't run as much as planned. In the three days of the week that I was back here though, I got in a quick session on the bike, and two sessions in the pool. It was tough in the pool after having been gone for a week, but I still think I'm making progress. Not very quickly though.

I've been thinking of the whole swimming thing. For now I'm going to stick with it, but overall I don't have a favorable impression of the sport. I've broken it down into a list of pros and cons and I'll give them to you here.

First the cons:

1) You need a pool.
This means that unless you have one in your backyard you have to belong to a gym or community center that has a pool. This generally costs significantly more than membership to a non-pool gym. In addition there are usually set times when you can swim. Even if the pool is open all day, there are only limited times for “free swim”. So you have to tailor your schedule to the pool’s hours.

2) It’s crowded.
There are always other people to share the pool with. I’ve heard that in some pools people share lanes, but in my pool “circle swimming” seems to be favored. Since everybody is swimming at different paces this always results in people stopping and waiting for room to open up. For me, who can only swim 50 yards at a time without stopping to suck air, it’s not really a problem. But I imagine that for people trying to get in a good workout this constant stopping must be annoying.

3) You smell like chlorine.
Always. No matter how often you shower, your skin and hair smell like chlorine.

4) You have to walk around in a bathing suit.
I guess there are some people that look like the front cover of “Men’s Health” or “Shape”. Most of us, however, are probably somewhat self conscious of walking around that close to naked.

5) It’s hard.
Running is natural. Maybe some people overpronate, but in general it can be done without any specific training. Even cycling is pretty easy. You need to be taught to ride a bike when you’re 4 years old, but after that it’s pretty straightforward. (Like “riding a bicycle”!) Swimming on the other hand, is ridiculously hard. I took swimming lessons for years as a kid, and yet I still don’t seem to do it right. I can get from one side to the other, but I’m clearly not doing it properly. Just figuring out how to breathe is tough; I’m way out of breath after just a few laps.

6) It’s not a great workout.
Whenever you tell people you’re swimming they tell you about how great a workout it is. I don’t think this is true. I think people think it’s a good workout because it’s hard. So although I’m out of breath after two laps, it’s not because I just had a good workout. It’s because I don’t know how to breathe properly. I’m sure if I ran on the treadmill while holding my breath three quarters of the time I’d get out of breath pretty quickly too!
In addition, I’ve noticed something else at the pool. There are a few people who seem to have figured out how to do it properly. They seem to just glide through the pool without any effort. They could swim lap after lap forever. And you know what? Those people are not skinny!! I think that once you figure out how to swim properly, it no longer acts a good (enough) workout. When I run in Central Park all the runners and cyclists seem to be in great shape. At the pool the best swimmers are often way out of shape. I find that kind of discouraging.

Ok, there are a few pros:

1) It doesn’t hurt your joints.
This is definitely a major plus. It doesn’t hurt your shins, your knees, or your iliotibial band when you swim. I see a lot of elderly people in the pool, and I think they find the pool soothing for their joints.

2) You can participate in a triathlon.
I can’t remember where I read this, but the comment was made that swimming was included to weed out the weak. I think many runners would make the jump to the triathlon, if not the swimming obstacle.

3) You get to see other people in bathing suits.
In my pool most of the swimmers are there as part of the “senior fitness” program. In other pools however, this could be higher up on the “pro” list.

4) It may save your life.
I’ve listed this pretty low because I think the scenario for this to happen is very unlikely to happen. If you’re not far from shallow water most people could probably get by with some dog paddling. If you’re in the middle of the ocean you’re screwed no matter how well you swim. So it’s really only if you’re stuck in water that just the right distance from safety that proper swimming will save your life.


Blogger Curly Su said...

yo! get some lessons. all of your cons will turn to pros. promise.

except the smelling like chlorine thing. that won't go away. but i (almost) like it now. somehow.

Saturday, January 14, 2006  
Blogger nancytoby said...

A couple other points:

1) Improvement comes fast when you practice at first because technique makes a huge difference, rather than having to wait until cardiovascular fitness improves (slowly).

2) It's a great complement to running since it's a great upper body and core workout - which running is not.

3) It's a great skill to have for use when injury prevents you from running - something which happens to just about every runner sooner or later.

4) It's not sweaty. :-)

Saturday, January 14, 2006  
Anonymous Audrey said...

someone doesn't have the swimming love this week :)

I'm sorry to hear about your shins...i have a really good quote/thought someone said to me this week that i am going to share on my blog (i haven't posted yet) and hopefully it will make you feel better about your running obstacles. it made me feel better about mine.

anywhoo, i hope you are well.

Saturday, January 14, 2006  
Blogger Joyce said...

that was a good post for me to stumble on! I'm thinking of getting into swimming, but i also hate the idea of going at certain times... and walking around in a bathing suit!

Sunday, January 15, 2006  
Blogger Brooklyn said...

I'm sure if I ran on the treadmill while holding my breath three quarters of the time I’d get out of breath pretty quickly too!

You're not supposed to be holding your breath at all. And Beast recommends not drawing in a full lungful of air, only enough to breath out on your next stroke or two. I've seen many swimmers use a technique that has them breathe in every third stroke so that they alternate sides.

So it's really only if you're stuck in water that just the right distance from safety that proper swimming will save your life.

What about the mental aspect? A swimmer with a little practice, a little belief, and a very little ability can probably stretch their "I know I can swim it" couple hundred yards into a mile or more, if their life was on the line. But people who haven't been in a pool for twenty years? Forget about it. Drop a buoy over the side and wait for the recovery divers.

Sunday, January 15, 2006  
Blogger Rae said...

The whole not having a pool to swim in really puts a damper in my swimming program. Sure, we could bandit into some apartment complexes but those pools are all for kids splashing around and people getting a tan.

Welcome back!!! I'm sending our cold weather YOUR way, take it back!!

Sunday, January 15, 2006  
Blogger Susan said...

Those are good pros & cons. I can certainly relate to:

4) You have to walk around in a bathing suit.

Ummm, that's certainly a motivation factor for me. Maybe I'll put a picture of me in my bathing suit on my fridge so I don't open it as often.

Sunday, January 15, 2006  
Blogger Yvonne said...

Omg, this is a great list. Which pool do you swim in? None of the cons really apply in my Y in Queens - it's open all hours and never very busy.

I disagree with your "it's not a good workout" theory though. I used to, but then I had a heated debate with my hubby about it. It's all about resistance. No matter what you think, swimming one mile burns SO many more calories than running one mile because the resistance is so much greater.

I think the major con of it, is that it can be terminally BORING. I got around that in the past year by developing strict patterns of workouts (70 lengths made up of specific patterns of strokes). Makes the time fly by for some reason!

Thursday, January 19, 2006  
Blogger brent d. said...

Glad you had a safe trip. I'm personally doing all I can to promote global warming.

I'm still thinking about the whole Tri thing... the biggest problem for me if the inability to swim and the fear of drowing.

Sunday, January 22, 2006  

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