Objective vs. Subjective in the Pool

I was looking up some material on working out and heart rates. Spinners, bless their hearts, aren’t even allowed to work out without a heart rate monitor. Back in the 1980s when aerobics was the thing, most classes would stop every so often to check your heart rate to make sure you’re working out in the target zone. I guess that sort of training rubbed off on me, because I do check my heart rate after a workout from time to time.

And according to some sources, going for the land-based target heart rate means I work too hard in the water. I generally match that ideal target heart rate for aerobic exercise just out of habit when I’m working out. But, the fact that you’re horizontal means your heart is beating 10-15 beats a minute less than for land-based exercise. I generally hit the land numbers and the theory is that this is pushing too hard.

Now this is nonsense. You know what working too hard feels like. It hurts, you’re gasping unpleasantly, and your heart feels like it’s going to pound out of your chest. You do not feel pleasantly mellow after such a workout with slightly elevated breathing and (if you’re fair skinned) a little bit red in the face. If you feel exhilarated and good, you’re probably not pushing too hard.1

I understand the desire to train by the numbers, and hit specific non-subjective goals. I prefer concrete goals, myself. Training myself out of doing that in favor of putting in that half hour working out is a lot more challenging than I would have believed. I still ask myself if I got in enough yardage swimming, or if I have pushed hard enough. Yes, in a way I’m teaching myself to tolerate being bored by exercise. I don’t tolerate boredom well, and I’m realizing that for some very limited things, it’d be better if I could just a little. I can be frenetically mentally active the other 23 ½ hours a day if I must.

It’s still hard because I want so badly to evaluate each workout beyond, “Did it happen for half an hour?” Even though I’ve gotten away from numbers, I’m still asking myself how I feel. Of course, that’s different every day, and often has less to do with how well I’m performing in terms of speed and heart rate, and more to do with how I feel emotionally about my form and power in the water. If I’m feeling clumsy in the water, I generally don’t feel like it’s been a “good” workout. When I get my Orca on, I feel fantastic, no matter what the numbers say.



1 This is the average exerciser we’re talking about here. You adrenaline junkies who get off on extreme sports are another breed entirely.

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