Aquatic fitness. Somewhere ingrained in the concept is a vision of many wrinkled underarms waving beneath floating gallon jugs in a simple attempt to stave off outright atrophy. There’s a man, perhaps an old man, meekly pulling through a half-assed side stroke at a clip fit for gooey invertebrates and dogs in wheelchairs.
Yet you hear all the time that swimming is a dynamite workout. Hell, even Men’s Fitness claims you can “swim your way to a six-pack.” Then again, Men’s Fitness has probably claimed that you can gummy bear your way to a six-pack. So, the truth, then?
Swimming is great, actually, as a way to boost your cardiovascular efficiency. Learning the crawl stroke (commonly and mistakenly known as freestyle) and how to swim while breathing effectively will vastly improve your endurance whilst running or biking: things you should probably be doing anyway as part of a well-rounded fitness routine.
The first challenge (after learning how to swim in the first place, of course, which is not why we’re here) is finding a place to do it consistently. Here in Columbus, there are multiple membership gyms that have lap pools. The question is whether you’re willing to dedicate $30 to $40 per month for access to one.
Failing that, and assuming that we need indoor options to allow for year-round action, there are lots of YMCAs (or YWCAs, if you’d rather) in Central Ohio to meet your needs. Young adults under 30 are still paying about $30 per month, though, and more in enrollment fees depending on when you sign up.
Not a big deal if you’re already a member of one of the above institutions, but for those wanting to stroke on the cheap, there’s Columbus Rec & Parks’ Aquatic Center in Victorian Village (1150 Hunter Ave.). The hours are dodgy, but it costs 50 cents a swim, which would cut even an aggressive swim routine down to about $10 per month.
No, not specifically how to swim. Again, this is not a swimming lesson. Your mother was supposed to teach you how to swim when you were four by floating you gently out into the water on her hands, cruelly dropping them out from underneath you and watching you gurgle and spit from just a few feet away. Obviously.
Swimming, unfortunately, does require some specialized equipment. Goggles, for one. Most public pools are so highly chlorinated that going commando with your eyeballs is like having someone spray you in the face with Windex. No thanks. Find a couple well-reviewed pairs online and try them out to find one that works for you.
Depending on the contour of your ear canal (seriously), you may want ear plugs as well. When turning one’s head to breathe, it’s very easy for water to pour right down in there. A few twists and turns later, and you’ll get swimmer’s ear. Don’t. Ear plugs are cheap, and as an added benefit, they drown out the voices of people trying to talk to you at the gym.
There are other options: swim caps to protect your precious hair; hand and foot fins to provide more resistance and so forth. If you want to get really fancy, there’s a company called Waterfi that sells waterproof iPods so you can rock out while you try not to drown.
When executed properly, swimming is a fantastic way to break the workout monotony and avoid social interaction entirely while doing so. A win on both ends.