A long time ago, in my salad days, I used to go swimming a couple of times per week. My friend Juha and I were both keen on swimming and going together would be more fun and add the social pressure not to cancel. It worked out well. After a few times Juha declared 1,5 k would be the low point swimming distance for him. Everything above was acceptable. This distance would also allow for relaxation in the sauna afterwards. Juha stated early on the sauna visit was an integral part of the swimming session and by chance also indisputable in my book.
Soon however the 1,5 k felt a bit too lame and gradually the minimum distance increased to over the 2 k mark with little sacrifice of sauna time. Speaking of lame, we both used the breaststroke and consequently we imposed a speed limit based on the choice of stroke. Somehow to change stroke was not in our mindset at the time. Funny how habit can become an enemy sometimes.
A year ago I took up swimming again. Breaststroke with goggles on was default out of habit. Albeit swimming is my ideal form of exercise; all-round, good cardio, weather independent and with very low risk of injuries, something was missing. Progress.
Having served in the life science industry for many years and having had the fortune to meet a lot of experienced physicians I know all too well staying active is paramount to health. This holds true especially for many of the cardiovascular disease patients we serve with our technologies too.
With that backdrop I believe higher intensity training would be very good for me. Otherwise I fear I will gradually decrease the workload bit by bit in oblivion. Maybe it will also relieve stress and make me better equipped for long work hours. Perhaps it can energize me to cope with the life and work balance? Whoever the person I think we all have these thoughts and you can relate.
Consequently over the past year I have tried to upgrade to freestyle stroke and tried is the key word here. It’s been an arduous and painful experience. Whereas I can swim pretty much any distance using breaststroke, going at it with freestyle is another game altogether. A couple of lengths in the pool and I am wasted.
Why is this transition so hard? Am I really in that bad shape? I’ve thought about different tempos of the strokes and me not being used to overload endurance training. But I don’t know for a fact. It is all a very subjective feeling of speed and effort.
Maybe I can I some ways relate to you readers with a chronic disease who do prioritize exercise but still can’t win the fight. I think doubt is a highway to inaction and looking back over my swimming the past year it is certainly so.
In parallel there was another problem not related to fitness. Counting lengths. For me swimming induces a form of meditative state and an arena for uninterrupted thought. This is one of few times and places I am alone and can spend a good chunk of time to solve a problem or mull over something without anything or anyone interrupting me. The lane counting effectively chops that gem into less productive pieces. This constitutes a conflict between the need to solve problems and stay healthy.
So at this point I had two goals. Up my ante by transitioning to a more effective stroke and eliminate the length counting to create uninterrupted thinking time.
Enter Garmin Swim watch. A device specifically made to detect changes in swimming patterns and convert it to counting lanes and other metrics. After about a quarter of an hour of learning and configuring I jumped in the pool. Realizing the resistance to freestyle from earlier trials I had not spent time to reflect on a strategy to overcome it. I would just wing it and see where that took me.
It felt exactly the same. Grasping for air after a ludicrously short distance and having to stop and catch my breath. What a bad shape I am in. There was an immediate urge to once again abandon freestyle and retreat to breaststroke. An easy way out for sure. Then I could swim for a couple of kilometers and then pride myself of my accomplishment. To curb the urge I put up a goal and method to bootstrap my lacking ability. By chunking the swimming into manageable distances intervened with rest I would keep going for 500 m. By then I could go over to breaststroke with some sense of dignity.
Looking at the accomplished distance on the watch somehow manifested the hard work and gave me a boost in a way I had not felt before. Now things seemed more tangible. The distance, the time of each interval etc. Previously the distance and consequently the speed were blurred. Did I swim ten lengths or twelve? The Garmin delivered and after me, a natural born technophobe, figuring out how to work it – it really worked like clockwork. Now there was no way I would settle for 500 m freestyle. In an instant nothing had changed and at the same time everything had changed.
So after a few hundred meters I took a shot at swimming yet another length without a break. It was incredibly hard and the final meters I had to go over to breaststroke just to make it to the tiles. Soon, I somehow adjusted and this became the new low point. I reached 500 m and kept going. After 700 m I added yet another length to the self imposed distance to swim without a rest. The added length was still horrible but I made it. For the rest of the session I kept at it with the same regime. Finally I exercised the Juha low point at 1,5 k and felt I had accomplished something. Apart from the few meters of breaststroke once or twice to bring me to the end of the lane, I had completed the entire session in freestyle. A milestone in my book and a great start to my quantified self swimming.
To me this model of gradually increasing the workload and in later stages the distance will be the way to go. Honestly this time, despite the relief of counting lengths, there was not much of a meditative state. But it will come.
My Garmin Swim watch worked very well. It takes a bit of time to learn how it calculates the distances and avoiding confusing the watch. For instance taking breaks mid-lenght is difficult for it to understand. It supplies average times on each session, which really alerts my competitiveness and documents the exercise. By quantifying the exercise it allows for an objective assessment of my fitness progress. From a data perspective far superior to self reported exercise.
Learnings from the eHealth industry about wearables usage wears off and users often suffer from survey fatigue. By answering questions and documenting exercise and other key metrics it is thought the users quickly learn their levels of fitness and routines and by doing so at a certain point renders the quantification pointless.
Some say there needs to be gamification elements in such lifestyle management systems and apps to motivate users to keep going. They may very well be correct. A fair guess is the consistent benefit of the quantifying system is an essential part. Some say. To me it is with some sadness I take in this information. Have we as a species come to an end of sitting difficult things out and have a need to be entertained in everything we do? Maybe in a year or two there will be submersible displays towed by water drones conveying augmented reality simulations of shark attacks to inspire swimmers to go faster. Then even a technophobe like me will line up.