Swimming is where I do a lot of thinking. Now, at first, when you start to swim, what you’re going to be thinking about is swimming. It’s very technique based and focusing on stroke, the feel of the water, your body position in the water, the relationship of kick to stroke and your breathing rhythm are all so overwhelming that when you’re in the pool, this is what you’re thinking about.
This is exactly as it should be. You do need to take time to work on these things, because swimming is very skill-based.
But after a period of time, all of this will become ingrained in muscle memory and you’ll be able to put your body more or less on automatic — except for maybe keeping count of laps and the stroke you’re doing, if that’s your thing.
Then you’re just in the water. It’s not silent, for all that we portray underwater as silent in films. No, there’s bubbles, splashing, and noise. Maybe there will be whistles if you’re in on a swim team practice. I generally am not, so it’s the bubbles and the splashing. But that’s a background noise that tends to fade away.
Then it’s really just you and the water. Unless you’ve invested in some expensive electronics, you’re probably not listening to music or audiobooks. There’s no television like the elliptical users often have in gyms. There’s just you and your thoughts.
It’s a great time to write. No, seriously. This is where I get a lot of my writing done. I can fantasize about characters, or I can think about turns of phrase or subjects I want to discuss. It’s not like meditation, because the point of meditation is to clear the mind. I make no attempt to do that, but find things that are interesting and ponder them.
Recently, I took a survey on how to make gyms welcoming to people who are overweight. You’d think a gym would be a welcoming place for someone who wanted to improve physical fitness, but there is a kind of weird aura around it. If you’re visibly trying to lose weight, yeah, you can get a kind of patronizing cheering section. I say patronizing, because there is this presumption that only if you knew HOW to lose weight, you poor ignorant thing, you’d do it.*
But what if that isn’t a major goal?
That can be stickier.
Me? I don’t need a gym to be welcoming. It’s five thirty in the damn morning. I need a lane to swim in, or a place at the squat rack, and a place to shower and dry my hair afterwards to get to work. Leave me alone to work out and I’m dandy.
Oh yeah, the locker room.
It is a sort of unspoken thing that you have to earn your place to speak up and participate in casual conversation there if you’re not visibly an athlete. For those who don’t care about that kind of thing, it’s awesome, ’cause you get left the devil alone.
For more social creatures, and for people who really do like to belong, that can really hurt.
Thing is, there are times when one DOESN’T belong to the specific group. A lot of the people I see in the locker room in the morning? They’re often triathletes. You know, endurance athletes who log hundreds of miles a years running, biking and swimming? Friends, I ain’t. I’m in there to keep from developing a blood pressure problem, and that’s about the extent of it. You’ll never see me in a spinning class, and I hate running to the depths of my being.
Now, that isn’t to say I don’t belong in the gym. I do. I paid to be there, and if someone had a problem with me working out during “athlete time” they can make a fool of themselves by making a stink if they want to. I genuinely don’t think anyone does have a problem with me being there, and even if they did, I doubt anyone really wants to risk me getting acerbic, anyway.
But let me let you in on something. If you spend all your time telling someone they’re unworthy because they’re fat, that they don’t deserve nice things because they’re fat, and then make them feel like they don’t belong in a workout space because they’re fat, they’re probably NOT going to respond with my sigma-6 level of scrappiness.
So, if you see the fat person in the gym, try something really outrageous.
Treat ’em like a regular person. Works wonders.
* It’s a subject I’ve studied in some depth, and it’s unlikely as hell that the patronizing person has done anything but read a few badly-reported studies in fitness mags whose main goal is to sell protein powder, for pity’s sake!