Friends, in this 3-5 minute read I’m going to tell you all about how I was wrong in 2016. Well, maybe not wrong, but I got pretty frustrated about something, and I’ve since changed my mind.
At the Perform Better Summit that year, I heard one of the world’s most elite level athletic performance coaches talking about the benefits of doing workouts in a pool for recovery.
That coach was Mark Verstegen, who runs a company called EXOS, which has perhaps had the single biggest impact on bringing high-level exercise science practices for training athletes, to regular people like you and me.
Mark was doing work with Speedo to introduce, or rather spruce up, the idea of water aerobics and strength training. At the time, I was frustrated that there’s such a minimal percentage of the population that has access to a pool, and I thought there weren’t really any action steps from the talk. Until I realized that I have access to a pool.
I live across from Jackie Robinson Park in NYC, and this summer my wife’s been swimming in the pool almost every morning. I’ve been going once or twice per week, and I’m using it as my recovery, play, general physical activity day.
While I definitely want my clients, and the Ninjas at MFF, to follow steady training plans that let them track their practice while training hard, I think it’s also important to have lower intensity days of more gentle exercise.
These are the workouts where you’re playing, you’re moving, your heart rate gets up enough, and at the end, you’re feeling more relaxed or rejuvenated than when you started.
A theme that’s come up in my continuing education in the last year has been how much our brains and beings crave activities that require intentional breathing and rhythmic or cyclical activities.
This explains why the major civilizations have had martial arts practices, why traditions of Yoga have become so popular in the Western world, and the allure of the Runners High. There’s something therapeutic about those repetitive activities that draw people into them, and I think this is what it is:
We’re naturally drawn to activities that are calming for our nervous system while stimulating our metabolic pathways.
Sure, at competitive levels, all activities are neurologically demanding – this is true. But at submaximal intensities and when practicing technique, these activities draw the user into a state of calmness that simply doesn’t happen in the modern world of hyper-stimulating group fitness.
In NYC you can find paddleboard yoga in pools, pilates classes that include treadmill sprints, and a new gym just opened that has a full liquor bar. These are all symptoms of our modern dopamine addictions, and a lot of high-intensity people don’t need high-intensity workouts.
Exercising in water, whether it’s a traditional swimming workout or water aerobics, has a minimal joint impact but can be as metabolically demanding as you want it to be. Some people will sprint and do intervals in the pool, while others like me will use their time in the water more therapeutically, as a calmer recovery workout. The intensity is entirely a choice that you can make, but the benefits are undeniable.
Katie’s been enjoying it immensely, and she even encouraged her mom to go to. Yesterday morning I swam for an hour with my mother-in-law, and we had an absolute blast!
Reflecting back on the lecture that Mark Verstegen gave 4 years ago, maybe I wasn’t actually frustrated with Mark’s talk, as much as I was frustrated with the reality that most of America won’t take action. After all, I got into fitness because I watched my Dad’s health body fall apart from complications of diabetes. I now realize that the topic wasn’t actually the problem, but how that topic sits in our convenience-driven society.
I’m fortunate enough to benefit from this convenience and can get into a pool within 5 minutes of leaving my front door.
Most of America won’t have this benefit, and frankly – I’m not sure how to help in that case. The challenge isn’t convincing someone of the benefits of regularly swimming or the benefit of any health-enhancing action for that matter. The challenge is that the inertia of our habits often paralyzes us from taking action – action that we want to take – because changes to your health and fitness practices are truly changes to your lifestyle.
My personal experience swimming at Jackie Robinson Park is that I’ve never seen somebody get out of the pool and not smile. Maybe it’s the community that is there every morning, but it seems as if the experience of swimming is as therapeutic for the mind as it is good for the body.
Based on these observations, and my continued evolution as a coach, I think that anyone who has access to a pool should go out of the way to use it at least once per week.
Access is the barrier that’s easy to recognize, but habit is the hard one to address. You have to first recognize that you have access to a pool, and then make a plan to go – and let me know when you’re going! I’d be happy to hold you accountable so that you can get in the water!
That’s it for this article, friends. I’d love to hear your thoughts so leave me a comment or send me a message. As always you can watch this video on Instagram TV as well by clicking HERE.