Take Your Mark……..!
Swimming is a wonderful exercise for whole body fitness. Regular swimming for 20 minutes or more in a session will increase cardiovascular fitness, and arm, leg and core strength. Because swimming is non-weight bearing and gentle on the joints, it is possible to swim if you are not able to run or walk, for example, due to pain. Despite the obvious benefits, many people do not swim on a regular basis. A primary barrier is the inconvenience and getting to a pool at times when lap swimming is possible. If, however, regular swimming is appealing, planning and targeted goals can help you become a regular swimmer. Following is an encouraging story and may help you see that regular swimming is not that far out of reach.
A Simple Story
It was a New Year’s resolution almost four years ago. I committed to swimming once a week, for a distance that I knew I could do, but only once a week. I am an average swimmer and swum sporadically over the years but never with great consistency. It was imperative that I set a goal I knew I could achieve even on my busiest week and when travelling. I chose 1000 yards/meters in one session for once a week, and resisted the urge to commit to more. I gave myself a grace period of one week for a makeup if it was impossible to swim in one of the weeks (e.g. due to travelling). Practically, this was achievable. To my surprise, I achieved my goal by the end of the year, I believe in part, because I had not overshot what was doable for me at that time.
Full of confidence in the following year, I committed to again swimming once a week but increased the distance by 20%: not too much. Again, I achieved this goal plus more, typically swimming twice a week. The habit was forming and my confidence with swimming grew. A key to keeping the habit and enjoyment of swimming was doing this with a friend. This accountability of showing up to the indoor pool, even when it was cold outside (and snowing), was an important motivator.
An Unexpected Outcome!
The following year, my friend Janet, suggested I try swimming with a local triathlon group (Trifaster) and join the swim training sessions (masters). I went along with my friend to ‘try it out’ and instantly loved it: a non-threatening and friendly group of swimmers of all levels. Within months of joining, I was encouraged by my friend, Janet, and our coach to compete in the Aquathlon (1000 m swim, 5 km run) in my age group, at the US National Multisport competition in Miami at the end of the year: not because I was a good swimmer but because many in our group were signing up.
To my surprise I placed 9th in my age group and Janet placed 7th in her age group!!!. The top 18 in each age group qualified to represent the USA at the Multisport Worlds Competition in the Netherlands, set for September 2020. End of story? No! It is September 2020 as I write this and the World Championships were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I do, however, get to compete next year (2021), and I plan on being there! I never dreamed that commitment to swimming once a week, would be the start of a journey to qualifying for ‘Team USA’.
How to Get Swimming: Take Your Mark, Get Set, GO!
Regardless of your goal, swimming does come with some practical barriers which is the reason I started with a simple and achievable goal. If you start small and are consistent, the resulting fitness and health can be rejuvenating.
Consider the following as you work toward becoming a strong, confident, and possibly lifelong swimmer:
1. Achievable swim goals: Set a goal that is achievable even in the busiest of days or week. Reaching your goal will result from executing a doable strategy.
2. Plan: Ensure your swimming is prioritized, planned, and booked into your weekly schedule.
3. Create accountability: Team up with a friend who has a similar goal. You do not have to work out with your friend in the same space or time. For example, one system I have used is to text my friend when I have achieved my daily goal. It is amazing what a difference accountability will make to encourage you to show up when you don’t feel like it. If you are serious and time allows, you could even join a master’s swim group at a local pool.
4. During your swim session: Change it up with intervals and stroke work. This will help keep it interesting.
5. Stroke correction: Swimming ability can be improved with some basic stroke work and a lesson from a coach. Do not be afraid to reach out for coaching at your local pool.
6. Supplement your swimming with other exercise: Supplement your swimming with running, walking or cycling, and strengthening and stretching exercises. Try some of the ‘Challenges’ in the My AgeFit Exercise Programs. See Challenge 1, Challenge 2, Challenge 3, Challenge 4, Challenge 5, Challenge 6, and Challenge 7.
Remember that a structured swim training regime, accountability, and success at meeting your goals, will help you keep on track. No matter what stage you find yourself, whether starting out on your swim journey or getting back after some time off, focus on small incremental increases in swim time and intensity. Small achievable steps will allow your body time to adapt to the increased physical demands.
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