Swimming pool practicalities

22 January 2017 by Jennifer

Like going swimming, and don’t get around to it? Or put off by the chilly moment of stepping into a cold pool? Some practical ideas which might be useful. (a.k.a. “Life hacks” if you want a swanky term for this kind of thing.)

Blue-grey goggles rest as if on the bottom of a swimming pool, with a turquoise blue background. Squiggly white cursive writing says "swimming pool practicalities".

If you happened to read my earlier article, New habits of movement, you know I’m a big fan of shrinking the obstacles and smoothing your way.

As with so many situations, some of the biggest obstacles to going swimming aren’t shrinkable by one person alone: for example, no money to spare, no local pool & no transport, inaccessible building, or no childcare (if your child isn’t gonna come swimming too). Those are more about the systems we live inside of, which is a whole other story. And of course some people don’t want to go swimming anyway.

But for me, the two most likely obstacles to going swimming are things I could address, and which I suspect some other people experience as well…

  1. Usually the hardest part for me is getting up the energy & organisation to manage to leave the house and actually go there, especially if the weather outside is unattractive.

  2. If I’m warm and the pool is cold, I don’t like the bit where you first get in and get wet and it feels chilly. And the thought of that bit used to put me off.

As I said in the other post,

Give yourself abundant permission to tweak tiny details to support the future you. It isn’t overkill if it helps!

So I thought I would share my routine developed over many swims, for other people to copy or adapt if useful.

Swimming bag & what’s in it

I have a bag which I’ve designated as my swimming bag. It doesn’t have another job, and some things live in it all the time and don’t have another home. This is my main way of reducing the momentum it takes to get going and leave the house.

The bag hangs on a hook on the landing wall, not far from the banister rail where I dry my costume and towel afterwards. The dried-off things go back into it either when I’m tidying up, or on a day when I decide I might swim.

Then, when it’s time to leave, I can just add a water bottle, pick it up and go.

In the swimming bag, in the main bit:

  • Swimming costume

  • Towel

  • Towelling bathrobe

  • Waterproof flip-flop sandals, in a plastic bag to keep their wet/dirty underneaths off the clean things

  • Water bottle

(If you change into your costume at home, that bit of the list would also want “underwear for afterwards”.)

In the swimming bag, in the outside pocket:

  • Goggles

  • Little bottle of shampoo

  • Coin for the locker (spare, in case I forget to put one in my pocket)

  • Not swimming-related: A few leaflets for current things, in an old envelope. This is just in case I get into a conversation with someone in the changing room and want to give them a link or more info.

In my pockets:

  • Keys

  • Hanky

  • Money/card

  • Phone

Swimming gear tips

When buying swimwear, I recommend looking for the long-life fabrics such as Speedo’s “Endurance” range, which are designed to be less affected by the pool chemicals. They do come up second-hand on eBay sometimes.

The ordinary ones from a fashion shop are fine for the actual swimming – the difference is just how long they last before the fabric goes weird. I once had a plain black costume from BHS which only lasted about 6 months or 20 swims, even though I’d rinsed it every time. I took it back and explained, and to my surprise, the shop person said that was about the expected time for those costumes to last – one holiday season. (They did give me half the money back.) In comparison, my “Endurance” one has lasted for years and years – probably more like 400 swims by now. So if you can get a long-life one, it may work out better value in the long run.

A tip I was given about trying on goggles: Put them up to your eyes, not using the strap (i.e. with the strap dangling loose), and push them gently into place. If they fit well, then the air seal where they meet your skin should keep them on your face for a moment before they fall off. If they fall straight off, that’s not such a good fit.

Clothes and footwear

Going out on a swimming trip, I deliberately dress not-too-warmly, in comparison to what I’d normally wear in that weather. This is part of my “lose heat gradually so the pool doesn’t seem so cold” method.

In winter, I just add a hat, coat and shoes to whatever clothes I happen to be wearing already – even the ones I’ve slept in, if they don’t look toooo obviously like pyjamas. This minimises the amount of “getting ready”.

In summer, I might quickly change clothes, enough to not feel conspicuous going out.

I’ve experimented with getting changed into my costume at home. For me, it turned out that that felt more bothersome and offputting than getting changed once I’m already there.

My favourite shoes for swimming trips are some sandals which are comfy enough to wear without socks. This has two advantages:

  1. Unless it’s very hot weather, my feet have already cooled down before the swim, so the pool feels warm.

  2. After the swim, I can put my sandals on with my feet slightly damp, and they’ll carry on drying. This removes the dilemma of “put slightly-damp feet into socks, versus take longer to dry them”.

Also, I like the freedom-of-feet feeling of my sandals :-)

Timing reminders

When I started up this swimming habit, I was originally going with a friend. But that friend couldn’t go any more, so I’ve tried to build up a habit which doesn’t rely on having company.

There’s one swimming session a week which is my “default” one. It’s in my diary as a weekly repeat, and I try to avoid booking other things across that time. I’ve come to enjoy saying hello to a few of the same people most weeks – the “regulars”.

I hadn’t been using my phone calendar at all, and then one day I had the idea that it could show me swimming times. I took the time to put in repeat-every-week-to-infinity items for the various swimming sessions at my nearest pool, omitting any that wouldn’t be open to me anyway. The result is that the phone calendar widget automatically shows me today’s options at the top of the list. So if I want to fit in more than one swim one week (or if I miss the main one for some reason) I can easily see when else I could go.

Alongside the calendar widget, I have a bookmark to the leisure centre swimming times web page, so that if the session I’m thinking of is near a holiday or one I’ve not been to recently, I can double-check it’s on.

The phone calendar can do reminders before an event, so I use that as a silent alarm before my favourite session.

Before I thought of using the calendar widget, I’d also experimented with software that can change a phone display by day of week. And sometimes I’ll have a reminder on my computer screen as well, using Remind software.

Before the swim

First thing in the changing room is I pick a locker and put my locker money into it. This is to head off the mistake where everything is in the locker and then you suddenly think “ooops, now I need my locker money!”

These are the kind of locker that give you your money back at the end, so I sometimes test locking and unlocking it before I put my stuff in – rather than risk the annoyance of having everything stashed and then the door won’t lock. If it’s one I used only recently, I don’t bother with this step, reckoning that the stats of random chance are in my favour :-)

I change from sandals into waterproof flip-flops, which I use for walking around the pool area.

Cartoon of a pair of bright orange flip-flop sandals. The soles are decorated with a pattern of large lighter orange flowers with yellow centres.

My flip-flops aren’t really this colour! I just felt like drawing some cheerful ones!

Shoes go in the locker first, so that any dirt on the bottom of them doesn’t touch the rest of my things. On top of them goes the bag with my clothes, then my coat and then the towel.

Last in are the things I’ll later take to the shower: my towelling bathrobe and the shampoo bottle. So they’re now ready to grab when I come back wet.

I always go in the shower before my swim, at least briefly. The last phase of my “gradually losing heat” method is to walk round to the pool having already got wet. By this point, the water usually feels pretty nice even if it’s only at a middling temperature.

I leave my flip-flops by the wall near the steps down into the pool.

In the pool

Usually I do a few stretches at the start. I’ve found from experience that launching straight into energetic swimming is more likely to result in twinges.

Typically I’ll mostly just go up and down the pool, mostly underwater. I don’t set any kind of goal for how many lengths of what. What’s more important to me is to tune in to my body and do what I feel like that day & that moment.

I generally prefer to be in a lane, because that means less attention required to avoid bumping other people, so I find it more relaxing. My favourite swims have usually been when, by luck and/or by staying until most people have got out, I get a whole lane to myself.

Depending on what seems enjoyable moment to moment, I might swim fast, or I might swim slow and relaxed, or I might stop and do some wiggling or stretching or floating, or dip down to the bottom. I learnt to swim while living in the Netherlands as a child, and everyone in our school was taught breast stroke first – I suspect because it’s the most useful for underwater and rescuing people. You could learn crawl later, only I never got that far :-) I might also try a bit of back stroke, or do breast stroke on my back. Sometimes I’ll invent a challenge like can I swim a whole length underwater, or I’ll time how fast a length is – but not as a rule.

The main thing I do is think, and let my thoughts wander. I’ll have an idea about something I’m writing, or think through plans, or mull over some situation where I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do.

When either it’s the end of the session, or I just intuitively feel like I’ve had enough, I get out.

After the swim

When I leave the pool, I put on my flip-flops.

I get my bathrobe and the shampoo, and re-lock the locker.

In the shower, I take off my costume and rinse it, and hang it over the door to start drying out. Then I usually wash my hair. If there’s no-one else waiting and I’m not in a hurry, I might stay in the shower a while. It’s more thinking time.

Once or twice in the past, I accidentally lost a whole bottle of shampoo by leaving it behind in the shower. (I’ve also sometimes discovered other people’s accidentally left-behind shampoo in the shower cubicle!) So then I started decanting just a little bit of shampoo into a leak-proof smaller bottle.

The smaller size means I’ve lost less if I do lose it. It’s also indirectly led to a better method for not losing them: there’s a hook in the shower cubicle, and I put the key-bracelet on the hook, and then I wedge the shampoo bottle into the bracelet. It’s only a loose fit, but if you get the angle right, it’ll sort of balance there. Since I started doing this, I haven’t forgotten my shampoo :-)

Photo. An ordinary stationery-type rubber band is looped loosely around a small white plastic bottle labelled "Shampoo". The top of the rubber band loops over a hook. The friction of the rubber band stops the shampoo bottle falling down even though the rubber band is not tightly holding it.

Illustration of the principle! I took this pic at home, using a rubber band instead of a locker-key bracelet. The balancing method is the same.

An alternative habit is to pop the shampoo bottle into the pocket of the bathrobe when you’ve finished with it.

Sometimes I’ve been pondering stuff in the shower, and then I get out “on autopilot”, and then I think “bother, I meant to wash my hair, and I never did!” So I might initially put my shampoo bottle upside down, as a reminder, and then have it right-way-up after I’ve used it.

At the end of the shower, I’ll put on my towelling bathrobe (literally made of the same fabric as a towel would be), so that starts me drying off. By the time I’ve opened my locker, and used the separate towel to dry my hair, and got out the rest of my stuff, I’m mostly dry.

This stage also delivers the main win-point of the flip-flops. They mean that after the shower, I’m not picking up floor-crud with my damp feet, and I can dry my feet with the towel without getting the towel dirty. (It’s possible the flip-flops are also protecting me from verrucas – not sure really how much difference that makes.)

I’ve already rinsed my costume in the shower. I leave it drip-drying till I’m nearly ready to go, and squeeze it out one more time. Then I roll the costume and the towel up together, so that the costume is like the jam in a Swiss roll. This blots off most of the remaining water; when hung up at home for the last bit of drying, it won’t drip.

Cartoon. Two hands hold the roll of a partly-rolled-up blue towel. An orange swimming costume is disappearing into the roll as it rolls up: trolls up: the lower part is shown, the top part is hidden in the roll.herolls up: the lower part is shown, the top part is hidden in the roll. lower part is shown, the top part is hidden in the roll.

Packing my backpack, I make sure that anything lumpy (e.g. the flip-flops) goes towards the outside, not next to my back.

Back home

When I get home, I unzip the main part of the bag, then gently upend the bag to tip out the damp things.

All the “things that live in the bag all the time at home” (e.g. goggles) live in its outside pocket. This means if I keep the outer pocket zipped closed as I tip the bag, the right things fall out.

A purple backpack is upside down. Flip-flop sandals and a rolled towel are falling out of the open main compartment. A wide orange arrow points downwards to indicate the falling-out motion. The backpack also has an outer pocket. This remains closed. A bottle and goggles are outlined in a grey colour as if you're looking through the pocket to see them. Each group of items has an orange circle around it, to draw attention to "things staying in the bag" versus "things falling out".

The things that need to dry, get hung up to dry (or, in the case of the flip-flops, just left somewhere nearby). The rest stays in the bag… ready for next time :-)