Do you like to swim? I definitely did as a kid. I remember that the highlights of my summer were trips to the local public pool, vacations to waterparks, and splashing around in an above-ground kiddie pool in the backyard. Looking back on these experiences, it occurs to me that “swimming” as a child really just meant running around and playing in shallow water. As an adult, a “swim” to me has become less about recreation and more about sport.
My boyfriend and I recently visited an indoor pool. He swims more often than I do, however, this location was new to both of us. The first thing I noticed when I entered the pool room was the gargantuan size of the space. The length of the pool was at the olympic level, the width long enough to accommodate at least 20 lanes, and the depth profound enough to host high diving boards. Along the sides of the pool were a few stadium-like bleachers for fans to observe competitions and polo matches.
My first attempt to enter the water was timid and met with a strong internal bodily resistance to the cool liquid. With some coxing, I plunged in and was off to the races! My swim stroke of choice is the breaststroke. This is the one where your hands are together in a praying position, thrust forward until the elbows are straight, and then outward in a fanning motion. The legs make roughly the same motion as a frog’s legs while in the water and the head bobs up and down, submerging and resurfacing in time with the strokes. The breastroke is neither the fastest, nor the most energy-efficient style, however, it is the one that I remember best and am most comfortable with from my days of swimming lessons over a decade and a half ago.
After a few laps (laps are back and forth, lengths are one way), I was already tired. When I was a teenager I remember having a temporary obsession with those online calculators that could determine how many calories were burned per exercise. I remember even mundane activities like vacuuming and gardening were listed with a calories-burned count along with the time needed to achieve this amount of exertion. Swimming, I remember was consistently ranked as a high-exertion sport. Just 30 minutes of swimming could burn a few hundred calories. Now that I swam “for real,” it comes as no surprise that swimming consumes A LOT of energy.
Swimming is hard. If you “swim” every once and a while like me on vacation or at a hotel, you probably have a very relaxed definition of “swimming.” Although being in the water makes you feel almost weightless, your body must put in a considerable amount of energy to actually propel you from one side of the pool to the other. After a few laps, my arms began to feel sore. Every few lengths, I would switch to the backstroke because it meant that I would no longer have to push the water away from my body with my arms, rather I could just lie there and cut the water like a propeller.
While I was struggling back and forth in the water, I began to think about all the potential dangers of swimming (I know, I’m just full of productive, helpful thoughts). Staring into the abyss that was the deep end made me realize how “high up” I was at the water’s surface. What if I dropped my goggles? I’m actually not positive whether I have the lung capacity to dive down 15 feet and resurface in one breath. On another negative note, I started to consider the absurd length and width of the pool. What if someone were to experience a blinding pain in the center? For example, what if a random basketball or a wayward foot were to bonk the head of a swimmer? If it were me, I know that I would be disoriented and have a hard time moving in any direction, much less the right one…. At least there were several lifeguards on duty.
Swimming that day taught me that although I am physically active, I am not in the best physical shape that I would like to be in. My jogging and free weights routine did not prepare me for the endurance or strength that swimming requires. I enjoy swimming, so I will take my latest adventure as a sign that I should indeed practice and do more of it!
Because I worry, I have to end this post with a few words of warning. Never overestimate your ability to swim, never swim out too far, allow for time to digest after meals, and make sure you always swim with a buddy or where a lifeguard is present. I think that one reason that swimming accidents occur is because we underestimate the environment and overestimate our own aquatic competencies. So, whether it is in an ocean, a lake, or a pool, be safe, Dear Reader, and have a happy swim 🙂