It’s not happening quite yet in my region, but for some people out there pools are starting to open for swimming again. I am anticipating being able to return, perhaps within the month, but I also realize I need to adjust my expectations when I do. Though very fit in other ways, I will not have quite the same swimming body as when I stopped and the pool swimming world we are all returning to will not the be same either.
Here are some things I am thinking about and preparing for…
A Gentle Approach
I intend to start very easy, and I will be reminding myself to use restraint how how far and how intense I try to swim the first several pool sessions. My nervous system will be excited to use all the swimming circuits again, but the swim-specific balance of muscle tone cannot be expected to all be in its place. If I allow myself to swim into any sort of fatigue I increase the risk of straining something when I am just getting started – I may not feel what is being strained until a few hours after the swim which is too late.
It will be better to do shorter but more frequent swims. ‘Shorter’ is relative to where I was two and a half months ago.
I plan to follow a gradual approach back to my desired swim fitness level. It absolutely depends on listening carefully to my body’s signals. The first phase will be centered on pleasurable movement, and noticing what is different and tuning up weak or uncertain parts. The second phase will be centered on gradual increase in volume to gradually restore my strength. The third phase will introduce some dosage of more brisk swimming and eventually some speed (power) work.
I am also anticipating an increased sensitivity and irritation from chlorine. I spent several years mostly swimming in the sea and rarely in a pool and when I returned to mostly pool swimming, I seemed to be a lot more sensitive to chemical irritations (on skin, sinuses, eyes) than before. These last two and a half months away from the pool has made my skin and nose a lot happier and my wife has commented how nice it is to not smell my ‘chlorine cologne’. I have to admit I am not looking forward to chemically-treated water, but it is the reality.
I have to consider improving my routine of pre and post-swim skin care.
Sharing With Others
I anticipate some people will be very grateful to be back in the pool, and will be gracious with restrictions and pool mates. I anticipate some people will be unpleasant and assume their need for the pool is greater than others’. I am reminding myself that everyone who will be trying to find a slot in the pool has their own need for that time and will be dealing with the stress of changes to pool culture. If I can return with a gentle, patient, grateful and gracious attitude then I can be in position to contribute to the positive side of the pool atmosphere.
Since we won’t likely be able to share lane space as much, we will have to divide up the more scarce pool time. I will need to be gracious to others. I will need to be gracious to myself, and use that precious time well.
There are two wonderful opportunities presented by this first phase in the return to the pool…
Savor The Moment
First, it is time to refresh my love of being in and moving through water. This is the foundation of longevity as a life-long swimmer and I grieve for those who lose it through externally-motivated training. All training should be built on the love of the water and the love of one’s body in water – for me that is an ethical position.
And, it is also an empirical one. Savoring positive sensations and experiences is a powerful, proven way to improve one’s well-being. I look forward to savoring the privilege of my functional body and of being in safe, welcoming water. We often don’t realize how much we value something until it is threatened or taken away.
Opportunity To Improve
Second, this gentle return to swimming is the opportunity to open up sensitivity to fine details that cannot be noticed when moving more forcefully.
In his book The Brain’s Way of Healing, Norman Doidge M.D. provides a summary of the principles taught by Moshe Feldenkrais who happen to be an amazing physicist, judo black belt and genius behind the Feldenkrais method of body training and healing. For principle #6 he states that, “Slowness of movement is the key to awareness, and awareness is the key to learning” (Doidge, 2015, p.172). When that principle is connected with the others (see chapter 5 in the book!) powerful transformations in ability can occur.
Going slow is not about going slow – it’s about using that quietness in the nervous system to notice things you did not notice before and notice where you can intervene to make them better. “Slower movement leads to more subtle observation and map differentiation, so that more change in possible” (Doidge, 2015, p.173). In the months ahead, if you want to become a more precise, more efficient swimmer than you ever were before, this naturally slower first phase is your opportunity to set the stage for that.
Doidge, N. (2015). The Brain’s way of healing: Remarkable discoveries and recoveries from the frontiers of neuroplasticity. Viking.
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