7 Lapless Ways to Stay in Shape
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Welcome to that weird, between-seasons period of every swimmer’s life. School starts in a few weeks (give or take), yet summer swimming for a number of age groupers is over. This is likely the first real “break” many swimmers encounter during their swim year. There’s no school swimming. There’s no club swimming. It’s a lull of activity.
Breaks are needed, but you don’t necessarily want to be completely sedentary, either. You don’t want to show up to the first day of practice after gaining 40 pounds from continuing your Michael Phelps Diet (hint: “12,000-calorie swimmer diets” only work if you’re still swimming.) Here are some great ways to stay in shape that don’t involve 100x100’s butterfly.
1. Go to the beach.
If you live near a beach, utilize it! Not only are they fun, but they’re also great for a different style of water training. That doesn’t mean drive to the beach, spread a blanket, and simply go to sleep. Jumping in waves, swimming and treading water, stroking out to a buoy and back (as long as you’re swimming with other people)… these are great ways to keep that feel of the water yet not be at practice.
2. Try (gasp!) land sports.
There’s a misconception that all swimmers are hopelessly uncoordinated, constantly tripping over themselves, unable to catch, throw, jump, leap… For the most part, swimmers are athletic. They just haven’t had any time to play any other sport besides swimming. Well, this is your one time of the year to play some basketball without worrying about injuries. Join a kickball league, or play beach volleyball, or shoot some hoops. My swim team used to play ultimate Frisbee games whenever the weather was warm. It was fun, it kept us running and jumping, and it was way better than another round of stretch cords.
I am probably the least flexible person in the history of competitive sports. As of this writing, not only can I not touch my toes, but I can barely touch my knees. It’s bad. If you’re similar, don’t lose your small gains in flexibility between seasons. Wake up in the morning, go on a little walk somewhere, and stretch. Or do some arm circles and stretch your arms. Always warm up before you stretch (to prevent injury), but try to keep relatively loose and flexible.
Yoga is a phenomenal dryland exercise for swimmers. Most yoga classes work your core body and improve flexibility, both key fundamentals in the world of swimming. Not only that, but it relaxes you while working your body, teaching you to breathe properly and maintain (somewhat) a Zen-like presence. If you swim for a YMCA team, check in with other group classes. Many YMCAs offer yoga courses for free or cheap.
5. Water polo.
If you absolutely need your daily chlorine fix, instead of doing laps on your own, find a group of people who want to play water polo. At swim practice, we occasionally played water polo as a welcome game break from lap swimming monotony. In water polo, you kick, pull, and tread water, so there’s still a relative amount of swimming happening… but it’s also tons of fun. It helps keep you competitive in the water.
6. Go on an adventure.
Grab your hiking shoes, some water and some food, and head out on an adventure. Swim practices often keep swimmers locked into a daily schedule, which limits the amount of adventuring you can do. You have to be at a certain afternoon practice at a certain pool every single day of the week. Now that you have free time, take a road trip to those nearby falls or that state park or the nearby sand dunes. Go on an adventure, park your car somewhere, and hike. Swimmers spend so much of their day locked within the concrete confines of the pool, many swimmers get cabin fever. Use this break to get out. Explore. Hike a trail. Ask a teammate to go with you and get as far away from a pool as possible.
When you’re in college, you’ll bike everywhere. Biking is a great way to get a great workout without feeling like you’re working out. Similar to the previous point, swimming can sometimes feel like you’re on an underwater treadmill. The average swimmer by college graduation stares at a black line for over 10,000 hours. Biking is a wonderful way to break up the monotony, and it’s also 1/3rd of the triathlon, should you ever feel inclined to take up triathlons later in life. And on that note, while triathlons would be a great way to stay in shape, a triathlon is almost a little too much. Remember: You want to maintain your shape and also not get competitively or physically burned out. These activities will get you off your couch and out of your house, but they won’t make you feel like you’ve got the heart rate of a holiday workout.