Imaginary survey, with results that tell you everything about swimming.
Ask 100 fitness-minded guys: “What are the top three workouts for overall time/benefit efficiency, hitting cardio and muscle, and being low-impact?”
90+ of them name swimming (did you?). But less than five percent actually swim (this number is real, by the way).
Swimming hits so many muscles, including those other workouts ignore. It is GREAT cardio (when I swim consistently, my HR-to-speed ratio in running and cycling gets way better). It’s low impact and lengthens muscles instead of shortening them – an ideal complement to running and weights. It’s great for mind/body impact: when you get out of the pool, you feel like the serene master of all you survey.
So why do so few guys swim? Here are barriers I see…and simple recommendations I hope motivate and help you to overcome them.
I think these two are often “smokescreens” we declare to ourselves:
“No accessible pool nearby.” For most guys, this just isn’t true. Yeah, you need to figure out where, deal with day passes or membership, etc. Figure it out!
“Can’t fit it into my schedule.” If you work out 4+ times a week…a swim should be one of your workouts, even if displacing something else. If you don’t…add a weekly swim to help get you to 4+.
These are the real mental barriers:
“Too boring.” I get that. See my incredibly simple, effective recommendation below.
“I’m not a good swimmer.” Swimming is a ‘feel’ sport, so you get better by actually just swimming…but I have a few starter recommendations below.
First, STOP COUNTING LAPS. This is the single biggest thing that makes swimming boring: all you think about is what lap is next, or if you forgot to count the prior one. Instead, wear a waterproof watch, set the countdown timer…then just swim. Now, swimming becomes like running or hiking: some solo time where you can space out, let creative thoughts come if they want to, reflect and plan…or just stop thinking altogether.
Technique-wise, you can spend a lifetime becoming better. But these simple things will help you improve your freestyle stroke, fast:
⇒ Relax your neck and shoulders: your face should face the bottom of the pool 3-5 feet in front of you, not any further. Keep practicing breathing until you can do so without disrupting this head and neck angle (think ‘rotate’ instead of ‘look up’ with your head).
⇒ Imagine driving your ‘heart space’ on a downward plane. Because there’s air in your lungs, your chest won’t actually go down much, but this body attitude pivots you around your hips and brings your legs up near the surface. Much more hydrodynamic.
⇒ When your front hand enters the water, keep driving it forward and down for another six inches. This naturally causes the front arm’s shoulder to go down, and the trailing shoulder to rise up into the air. This motion naturally helps you use the big muscles on the side of your body (lats), further streamlines you in the water, and lets you “grab” the water further ahead of your body, making your stroke more powerful.
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Two final perspectives I hope get you to the pool, and keep you there.
Look around the pool and locker room. Notice how many more 70- or 80-something guys you see there vs. at the gym or out running? What does that tell you? Swimming is one thing you can do for the rest of your life…but it’s a lot easier if you start now.
Don’t be discouraged if (when) the first few weeks are tough. Your body needs to get muscle memory going, needs to be on a swimming streak. I’ve swum for years, but if circumstances interrupt me much, I feel like it’s the International Flounderfest™ at the pool, until I get back into the groove. So, commit to give this a go for three months, man, and then assess how you’re doing.
Happy swimming. If you don’t have goggles or a basic swim watch, check out recommendations in the links section.
“You better start swimming, or sink like a stone, cause the times they are a-changing.” (Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin‘ – click to listen)