I’ve been able to swim as long as I can remember. This is undoubtedly due to the five (or more?) years of swimming lessons my parents enrolled me in from a young age, and the fact that my childhood home had a swimming pool. During the few years we lived in the Philippines, we went swimming often and also went snorkeling and scuba diving many times. In high school I was on the swim team and played water polo, and also took private lessons again during that time to improve my speed and form. However, I can’t say I have ever enjoyed swimming laps by myself for exercise, and I rarely swam from the time I graduated high school until now, aside from occasionally when I went with my friends during graduate school.
One of my difficulties when it comes to exercise is that I find it difficult to push myself to work out hard unless 1) someone else is ordering me to do something, or 2) I am in public and surrounded by other people and feel self-conscious about looking lazy. Despite having dumbbells in my room and space to exercise, I find it so boring to exercise by myself without the motivation of being around other people. In contrast, when I’m in the gym and surrounded by other people, I may push myself a bit harder than I should sometimes.
In the army, I remember being told that if I’m not throwing up at the end of my 2 mile run test, then I wasn’t running fast enough. I think this is something I really took to heart, since I very rarely will work out if I’m not working out super hard (except perhaps if I have an injury). However, I think this mindset is not really compatible with swimming for general cardio workouts.
Swimming is much more exhausting than any other kind of cardio activity that I can think of. This is probably due to the entire body being used, as well as having to hold your breath or breathe using specific patterns. In addition to this, swimming a relatively short distance can result in extreme exhaustion if the speed is too fast. In my case, even when I try to swim slowly so I can swim longer distances, my muscles end up getting very fatigued because almost all of the exercises I do in general are anaerobic, such as lifting weights and sprinting. Even when I was on the swim team, I was terrible at distance swimming. The events I normally did at swim meets were 50/100m freestyle, 100m butterfly, 100m breast stroke, 100m backstroke, some type of relay, or 200m Individual Medley (IM). For some reason I had to do 200m IM in every swim meet, and every time it absolutely destroyed me because my stamina has never been great, and 200m is a long distance (especially when you have to start out doing butterfly).
The reason I decided to write about swimming in this post is because my life has recently changed a lot, and it’s primarily due to having started swimming again. About a month ago I decided to finally try out the swimming pool at the sports center where I usually lift weights. During that first time, I thought the pool and facilities were pretty nice and that I would like to start going more often. As I was leaving, one of the people working at the desk told me that the next day they would have a special deal where you can buy 2 month-passes and get a 3rd month free, equating to around 1/3 of the price per ticket compared to normal single-day passes. I couldn’t pass it up and ended up buying 90 swimming pool tickets (which expire about 4 months after purchase). Initially I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to use all the tickets before they expire (after which I’d need to use 3 tickets to equal one, meaning they’re back to normal price), but in the last month I have probably gone swimming like 20-25 times (basically almost every day).
Initially, I found it very unpleasant to start swimming again. My muscles were constantly sore and quick to feel fatigued, I had to stop and take a break after only a few laps, and I found it difficult to swim at a slow pace (because I was always used to doing short and fast races in the past). However, I gradually got a bit more used to it and started to figure out how to conserve my energy more, and my muscles slowly stopped hurting as much (though they are still constantly a bit sore). At the moment, when I swim longer distances I’ve been doing mostly breaststroke because it seems to be the least fatiguing for my muscles, but I hope in the future I’ll be able to swim freestyle for longer distances.
There have been several noticeable effects from this sudden lifestyle change. The first thing I’ve noticed is that my muscle definition all over my body has increased, presumably due to whole-body muscle activation and reduction in fat. I have also found it very easy to go to sleep every day, whereas I used to have trouble falling asleep sometimes in the past. Finally, I feel that going to the pool gives me a feeling of having an active social life since every time I go there I end up chatting with the lifeguards and other people who are swimming; I’m sure this is also helped by the fact that no one wears headphones at the pool like they do at the gym, so it’s easy for conversations to start. During the past month, I must have met or become familiar with at least 20 people just from going to the swimming pool. Somehow the swimming pool never occurred to me as a possible place to meet people in the past.
It has been interesting for me to discover how much a small and simple change in lifestyle can affect my perception of overall life circumstances. Lately I have been feeling much more satisfied with everything going on in my life, and feeling better both physically and mentally, while the only notable changes have been that I started swimming every day and started attending a language exchange event every Friday evening. Initially I still found the process of swimming laps to be boring, but once I started to notice the clear benefits of swimming almost every day, I started to think of it as more of an active meditation or reprieve from the overstimulation of everyday life. I’m looking forward to using the remaining 65 pool tickets or however many I have left, and I hope they have another special deal once my tickets run out!