When I tell my runner compatriots the dirty little secret that I’m actually a—gasp!—triathlete, I almost always get one of two responses:
- “You’re freaking crazy”; 0r
- “I wish I could do that. I just can’t swim, though. I need those arm-floaty thingies or I’ll drown.”
To the first group, I smile and laugh. (Okay, I admit it: In my head, I also silently agree. Just a little.) To the second, I want to shake them violently and say one thing:
GET OVER IT!Whether you’re looking to train for a triathlon or simply looking for a new cross-training activity, swimming should be a part of your workout plan. I know swimming is frightening, NMA tri-noobs, but trust me when I say you should jump in to swim training.
Literally. Just get in the damn water already. You’re going to learn to swim, and when you do, you’ll look back and wonder why you were ever so scared of it.
If you don’t believe me, go to your local pool and watch the lap swimmers. You’ll see that there are tons of different swimmers: Young, old, large, small, you name it…it’s going to be in that pool. I guarantee it.
In my “home pool,” I see all sorts of different characters in the water. There’s one guy who listens to the radio on headphones while he swims…so he can do a modified version of the breastroke for hours without ever putting his head underwater. There’s also a woman who is easily 100 pounds heavier than I, but can swim three times as fast. There are folks from the senior club doing their water aerobics and children learning to swim for the first time. There are fit triathletes doing high-intensity workouts, and there are chumps like me whining and asking our swim coach if it’s time to get out of the pool and eat cupcakes.
No one is wearing “those arm-floaty thingies.” And no one drowns.
I know this sounds way too logical and way too simplistic, but…umm…if they can do it, so can you. Now quit making excuses and get in the pool.
How to Keep from Embarrassing Yourself at the Pool
The first step is to learn how to not drown. If you must, sign up for beginner lessons with a certified swim instructor. Alternatively, you can (in theory) teach yourself to swim.
Some suggest it’s as simple as a cap, some goggles, and a bowl of water, while others are much more involved. If you’re going to go the route of teaching yourself, please study your materials carefully, and always, always, ALWAYS practice with a lifeguard or competent spotter watching you in the water.
Two other links to help you learn the basics:
If you already know how to swim, perhaps you’re a little intimidated by the pool because you’re not really sure what the general code of conduct is. Here’s the low-down.
Be honest in your assessment of your abilities.
Some swimming pools have designated lap lanes, and within those lanes, designated speeds. Usually, they’re some variation of “advanced,” “intermediate,” and “novice.” In one pool I used to frequent, they were called “shark,” “tadpole,” and “guppy.” I didn’t say they had to make sense, NMAs. I just said they were delineated, okay?
I know we all want to believe we’re advanced swimmers. In our minds, every one of us is Michael freakin’ Phelps. Admitting that we need to swim in the “novice” lane may make us feel inadequate, but trust me on this one: When you get plowed over in the “advanced” lane by someone who is actually, in fact, “advanced,” you’re going to get a big fat slice of humble pie. Go eat every last bite of it in the “novice” lane. Hone your skills there, and you’ll be in the faster lanes before you know it.
By default, circle swim.
Swim in a circle, always staying on the right-hand side of the lane. This allows for people to share the lane with you without the possibility of a collision. When you are sharing the lane with other swimmers, do not, I repeat, DO NOT cross the center line until you get to the wall at the end of the lane! Stay on the right hand side. The only exception to this rule is if you’re sharing the lane with one other person and both of you agree to each take a designated half of the lane.
Keep your knees together.
I used to work with a nun that said that all the time. But the context was something entirely different than what I’m discussing here (wink-wink). I just always wanted to be able to say that, too, and now, finally, here’s my chance! Keep your knees together!
When sharing a lane with another swimmer, stick to freestyle. Don’t start doing the breaststroke, as odds are very high that you’ll kick your lane partners at some point. That’s just not cool. Similarly, if you’re going to do the backstroke, that’s all good, so long as you are confident in your ability to backstroke in a straight line. If you’re going to zig-zag into the wrong side of your lane, you’ll collide with your lanemates, which would probably result in an aqua beat-down with a kickboard or water noodle. Not fun.
Respect the floaters, the kids, and the aqua-joggers.
Unless you are swimming in a time that is explicitly designated for lap swimming only, don’t get curt with the sunbathers, water-aerobics classes, or kids splashing around in the pool. They have just as much of a right to be there as you.
You might consider asking the lifeguard if you can cordon off one lane for lap swimming, but if they say no, then you’ll need to make the decision to either come back another time or to swim around the aqua-joggers and children playing Marco Polo.
I’d suggest the latter…it’ll give you good practice for maneuvering around your fellow triathletes in the mass start open-water swim of your next triathlon. In fact, ask the kids to give you the aqua beat-down with kickboards and water noodles. You get realistic training, and the kids get entertainment. Everybody wins!
Consider a Masters Swim Group.
When I was first invited to join a Masters Swim Group, my first thought was “Heh. I’m nowhere close to being a master swimmer.” Then I was told that Masters was just another way of saying “grown-up swim team.” So then I just felt old.
Now…I’ll never admit in a million years that I’m a grown-up, but I will say that it’s nice to be able to have a time in the pool, with a coach, with other swimmers over the age of 18. We’re given structured workouts customized to our abilities, and being matched with swimmers within your group who are at or slightly above your level will provide you with constant motivation to ramp up your performance just a teensy bit more.
The group also provides camaraderie and support: My Masters Group, comprised of every type of swimmer from Ironman triathletes to recreational swimmers, loves to get together after training for pizza, ice cream, or — you guessed it — cupcakes. We also go to races to cheer each other on or swap battle stories on Mondays after intense weekends of training or racing.
Only two types of people wear Speedos: European and badasses. You’re probably not European.
So squeeze into those Speedos, NMA studs and studettes. You’re making awesome progress in cementing your reputation as a bad-ass triathlete. See you in the pool!
This post is part of a six-part guide designed to help the beginning triathlete get started (without screwing up too badly). Check out the entire series!