The YMCA where I work out offers a a variety of fitness classes, none of which have I ever tried for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I like to exercise around as few people as possible. There used to be an aquatics class with the word “sweat” in the title and the description boldly proclaimed, “You can sweat in the pool!”
I know they were refuting an unspoken argument of “I love swimming because I don’t get all sweaty!” but since they didn’t mention that part, it sounded less like a counterpoint to a misconception and more like ill-advised permission. (Before I started writing this, I checked the class schedule to make sure I had my wording right and that class doesn’t meet anymore for some reason, and maybe it was a really good class – like I said, I never went – but part of me is relieved just knowing that description isn’t hanging out there giving people ideas about what other bodily fluids are fine to add to the pool).
The other odd thing about the declaration was that, for this pool at least, it’s not hard to imagine that one could work up a sweat whilst swimming. It’s heated to the point that it almost feels like bath water, which is great for the older members looking for low-impact, arthritis-friendly activities, but is not great for lap swimming. One time the outside door got left open overnight and the heater couldn’t keep up and the windows were all coated with frost and I swam so fast. But most days it’s kept at a temperature that I would consider helpful for blooming yeast at the start of a bread recipe.
When I first get in the water and start swimming, the water feels too warm, sometimes so warm that it burns my toes, still cold from crossing the frozen parking lot in sandals. (I just can’t make myself wear closed-toed shoes to the pool; it feels like asking for wet socks and is right up there with encouraging people to sweat in the pool. Gross.) As I swim a few laps and warm up, I get a little more used to the warmth as I find my rhythm. It reminds me of going for a run in the summer (or really any outside activity in summer). It’s hot, and stays hot, but you get used to the hot.
I often have hopes of setting a new personal best of some kind when I swim, nearly every time. This is obviously unrealistic. Sometimes I think, “Okay, I can’t push myself for the whole hour, maybe I can just not stop. Slow laps are fine, but don’t stop.” And this is a fine goal now and then, but inevitably my cap slips and ear pokes out, or my goggles leak, or I need to surreptitiously pull my swimsuit out of my butt, and I take a quick break to make those necessary readjustments.
And here’s where it gets weird: after that little break, even though I didn’t get out of the pool, and I didn’t stop swimming for more than a few seconds, the water feels significantly cooler on my face when I resume swimming. The most I can figure out about this is that my body temperature has risen from the effort of swimming and is now significantly higher than the temperature of the water. But I don’t understand why this phenomenon is only noticeable after the brief pause. In the five seconds it took me to readjust my goggles, my body temperature didn’t change, nor did the water temperature. I don’t know enough about biology (or perhaps psychology, as well) to provide any more information (if you know, feel free to share in the comments), but as I continued swimming, with no other distractions but bubbly sound of my breath, I mulled it over.
Maybe it’s nothing more than another example in the endless list of reminders to pause in life. Like my constant desire to push my limits week after week, we live in a society that tells us go, go, go, all the time, and that idle time is wasted time. We’re told that making time for rest and recovery is important, but are often shamed when we do it, making the effort that much more difficult. We push ourselves until our bodies, minds, and spirits give out, fearful that stopping to take a deep breath means we’re failures. But rest is necessary, even in a push to meet our goals. And when we’re uncomfortable, even a small break is enough recalibrate our sense of discomfort in the chaos so that, even though circumstances haven’t changed, we’ve acclimatized and can proceed refreshed, focused, and balanced.
Try to find some time this weekend (or sometime soon, anyway) to pause, even if it’s just for a minute or two, even if you feel like you don’t “deserve” it, even if you don’t want to. And try not to think about how much sweat is in the swimming pool.