My husband has arthritis in his hip, so we've had to cut way down on our early morning fast-walking, which was our primary form of aerobic exercise. We've replaced this with swimming at the local YMCA, doing an hour's laps three days a week. So far, probably because it's still new, it's been wonderful, filling me with a well-earned tired feeling throughout my body afterwards, as if I've given every muscle a good workout.
At first, I had the usual self-consciousness at changing in a locker room, walking into the very public pool area under glaring lights in a bathing suit, wearing mantis-like googles, etc. And then, as I swam, I was ashamed of how slow I was, how everyone - even the kids who were just learning to swim with kick-boards - was passing me. But this soon gave way to the demands of the moment, as I discovered that if I didn't concentrate on what number lap I was on as I was swimming, thinking it like a mantra at every few strokes, I'd forget how many I'd done and have no measure of progress to keep me going. Practice at anything, at least for me, is supported by a sense of progress, and I know so little about swimming, that all I had at the start was the goal of trying to extend the number of laps each time I swam. My husband and I started at 10, and we're now up to 31. We write them down (with pride!) on our calendar each evening.
And now I'm happy to say I'm no longer self-conscious. There's too much else to think about, namely technique. Not wanting to shell out money for lessons, I'm trying to pick up tips watching the fast swimmers all around me; I know one of the obvious things they're doing to boost their speed is somersault-turns at the walls. That's low on my list of priorities, because it'll require me to spend extra time beyond my allotted workout hour to practice flipping at the wall into a tight, quick underwater sumersault. For now, I'm trying to pick up small techniques that I can incorporate immediately into the laps.
One of these is to change my breathing habits from turning my head to catch a breath every time I raise my right arm to do a crawl-stroke, to not taking a breath till the third stroke. It's gratifying to find that I'm quickly gaining lung-capacity this way. When I started, I could only do two sets of three-stroke breaths, then I'd return to my old habit of gasping air every righthanded stroke. But now I can go a whole lap on three-stroke breathing. The next challenge will be to learn how to alternate sides I take breaths on. My old habit is to turn my head only to the right to breathe.
And I've learned to angle my hands downward as they enter the water, fingers first. So that the entire time they're in the water, they're pushing water backwards. Before, I was bringing my hand down flat onto the water and making wasted effort to push it down without getting any propulsion out of it. Angling my hands has shaved 10 minutes off the time it takes me to do 31 laps.
Once I get these new techniques cemented into habits, I'll use this extra 10 minutes to increase the number of laps I do. But till then - and it takes slow, steady practice to break old habits - I'll take my reward in the many luxurious sensations of swimming: the silky feel of the water, the extra rythmic power when you keep your legs underwater to kick, the cozy warmth of an oversize towel after the post-swim shower, the slickness of body-lotion rubbed into tired legs and forearms, and finally, the refreshing feel of clean, dry clothes. This workout has so much going for it, an ironic vein of gold in my husband's arthritis.