Jamie asked me to write about taking adult swim lessons.
Here's where I wrote about the year of lessons I took from my local YMCA.
After a while, I figured it was time to start learning and improving on my own. Continuing...
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All along, while I had been taking lessons from the instructors at the YMCA, I had been thinking: "Finally, I know how to swim laps. When I begin my next pregnancy, I'll stay strong and healthy by swimming laps every week. Maybe twice a week."
Soon after I decided to quit lessons and just swim on my own, I became pregnant with my third baby. I started out excited, and in those early weeks I plunged eagerly into the pool, secretly smiling and thinking about the little one who would soon be swimming inside me.
And then the first trimester hit me like a truck, and I spent every spare minute, for approximately 19 weeks, either sleeping or wishing I was sleeping.
Didn't even dip a toe in the pool. Mark took the older one to swim lessons by himself. I stayed home with the toddler. It was one of those long and grueling pregnancies, and the burst of energy never seemed to come. I never went back to the pool, even at the end.
Looking back on it, I wish I had dragged myself there anyway. I know now (after a fourth pregnancy) that swimming can be easy and relaxing, that the buoyancy of the water is a blessed relief from the weight of a swollen abdomen, that even a little large-muscle movement can restore a sense of total mental balance. At the time, it just seemed too hard. And that was more about my inexperience with regular exercise than it was about the pregnancy. I still thought of getting up and moving as something I ought to do rather than something I wanted to do, and that meant I was eager for an excuse to stay on the couch. Pregnancy was a great excuse. Nobody would blame me for sleeping all day. All pregnancy long.
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If you have been following my blog for a while, particularly if you are one of the people who followed me when it briefly became a Weight Loss Blog, you know that I gave birth to that daughter in mid-2006.
And you know my New Year's resolution for 2008 -- once my daughter was no longer a tiny baby -- was to start swimming twice a week.
And you know that I kept that resolution.
And you know that this is how I learned to embrace regular exercise instead of couch potatoship.
And you know that this was a transforming experience.
I still had a lot of learning to do about swimming, particularly the breaststroke, but I didn't think that any more lessons would help. So I turned to the Internet and to books.
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The first really helpful Internet resource I found was a trove of articles on the website of H2Ouston Swims, a USMS masters swimming club in Houston, TX. It contained so much information I was almost overwhelmed, but I read lots of it, took some notes, and tried some of the drills.
Probably the most useful concept I learned from the articles was the skill of "sculling." (The series entitled "Get a Better Grip!" talks about this.) It has to do with angling your hands to act as "propeller blades" as they move through the water, and how that ties into the arm strokes. (I wrote briefly about it here.)
Just as important as the skill itself was the revelation that I needed to take these movements into my mind and think about them -- in particular, I needed to read about them as described by a skilled writer. The real-life instruction in the pool was helpful to a point, but I needed to take the skills apart, analyze them, realize what each motion accomplished as part of the stroke, and then put them back together the way they were supposed to go. Once I understood how the arm motions and leg motions work together to cause body rotation -- how the rotation itself provides some of the propulsion -- how the relative position of the two arms during the catch can create more or less drag in the water -- then I found I felt stronger, purposeful, confident. As if I could choose how to make my body work. More in control.
In February of that year I ordered two books about swimming. One of them, I realized later, was written by the H2Ouston Swims coach. The other was a begin-at-the-beginning how-to-swim instructional manual. I used the latter one to teach myself, finally, how to swim the breaststroke. (The crucial mental breakthrough? I stopped trying to pull-breathe-kick-glide, and started thinking of it as kick-glide-pull-breathe. For some reason, that made my brain much happier and I became instantly able to integrate the pieces of the stroke together. I have never had anyone evaluate my breaststroke to tell me if I am doing it all wrong, but it seems to work, so I am kind of afraid to ask.)
The workouts in my books were too long for me to start, so I went online looking for short swimming workouts. I found these at BeginnerTriathlete.com. That website had a set of beginning swimming workouts that started at 400 meters (for me, 400 yards, since my pool isn't metric). Let me just point out that there are not many published workouts at under 1000 yards. But 400 yards is only 8 times across the pool. That is a nice, easy way to start out -- and if you can't do 400 yards yet, it won't be long before you can work your way up to it. Highly recommended. Even better, the workouts come in three kinds: endurance, form, and speed. I mostly did the endurance and form workouts, since I only had two swims per week, but I did occasionally dip into the speed workouts.
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I kept swimming, and later running too. All through my fourth pregnancy (until I worried about turning the baby breech in late pregnancy) I swam twice a week. I couldn't wait until I could get back in the pool at six weeks postpartum. Unless I have a sinus infection or lack pool access for some reason, I never go more than a week or so without craving the water.
I have played around with hand paddles, with lap counters. I have been through at least half a dozen swimsuits. These days I follow a minimalist, 1650-yard workout that requires little thought and takes a bit more than 45 minutes:
- 300 yard warmup: 2 laps pulling, 2 laps kicking, 2 laps backstroke
- 400 yards freestyle, 100 yards breaststroke
- 300 yards freestyle, 50 yards breaststroke
- 200 yards freestyle, 50 yards breaststroke
- 100 yards freestyle
- 150 yard cooldown: 1 lap backstroke, 1 lap kicking, 1 lap pulling
I am too busy right now to think about improving, so this is my holding pattern. I only have one goal, which is to get it reliably below 45 minutes -- an average of 1 minute 22 seconds per lap. The warmup and breaststroke are much slower than that, so I need to speed my freestyle up considerably to break that.
One of my greatest pleasures comes weekly when I bring my now-six-year-old daughter to her swim lesson. Her lesson is 40 minutes, so I can almost get my whole workout in while she swims. When she is done, she patters over to the end of the lane where I am finishing up, sits down and dangles her feet in the water, and taps me on the hand when I arrive at the wall. "Can I swim with you?" she asks, and if the pool is not too crowded and no one is sharing the lane, I say "Yes" and she hops in with me. I tow her to the midline and back, nodding approvingly at her paddling form, grinning and clapping when she shows me how she has learned to dive to the bottom or to float on her back.
She cannot remember a time when I wasn't a swimmer, every week stuffing my hair under a cap and jumping right into the cold pool without hesitation or shudder. Every one of her lessons have been, for her, learning to do something she sees me do all the time.