Injury time

It’s sunny; it’s warming up; it should be time to get out my wetsuit. If only my arm weren’t in a sling… The big question when your injured is, is do I keep form (and sane) when I can’t go swimming?

I’ve been working out like a fiend. My first event on the season is on June 11th; a lovely starter swimming a mile around Windermere as part of the Great North Swim. Last year, I did it in 35 minutes with cramp in both calves. All year I’ve been training with the aim of getting sub-30 minutes. All year. Only thanks to a little wobble on my bike, I now have a fracture in my left elbow.

As I’ve blogged before, swimming is my time out, my escape as well as my exercise. It’s so important to me mentally and physically. So not only do I need to keep sane, I also want to be able to get round the lake in just under eight weeks’ time.

The answer for the exercise part is high impact interval training (HIIT). Following the principles of Jillian Michaels creator of the 30 Day Shred, I’ll be doing a 20 minute workout five days a week that comprise of three minutes strength, two minutes CV and one minute abs. The question is what exercises, and how can I keep my upper body strength?

Cardio and abs are easy; high knees, high feet, jogging on the spot, ropeless skipping, and at the gym static bike and cross trainer. I can also continue with ab curls, crunches, leg lifts and so on. Strength is trickier. Unable to push weights, the focus switches to lunges in all directions, squats, core rotation, some with a dumbell in my good hand to add resistance and keep my upper body strong.

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Squat walking: hardcore!

But trickier still is the mind game. With yoga and swimming on hold, and also being unable to drive or work, the chances of getting bored are very high. Walking has to be a good start. There’s more scope for a wandering mind than when focussing on your stroke while swimming; I’ve been walking since I was 12 months old, so I don’t have to think about form. But at least I’ll be out there in the world.

I’m also going to try meditation and maybe dig out my old sketch book. Perhaps by viewing this as an opportunity to try things I don’t do normally, I won’t lose the plot!

Of course the moment I can, I’ll be back in the pool and lake. Swimming is wonderful for rehabilitation after injury, and is recommended by physiotherapists. My trouble, I know, is that I’ll push it. Starting with water walking with gentle pulling, I’ll progress to a one-armed stroke, and then a gentle stroke.

I’ve been very lucky that my radial head fracture (a crack in the nobbly bit at the end of the radius that sits in the elbow) is stable, and that means it can be exercised as the pain allows. I hope that by June 11th, I’ll be strong enough for a gentle swim around Lake Windermere.

Armless 20 min HIIT Circuit*

  • Warm-up (2 mins)
    • 30 secs running on the spot
    • 30 secs high knees
    • 15 secs neck rolls
    • 15 secs shoulder rolls
    • 30 secs high knees
  • Set 1
    • Strength: 45 secs static squat with abdo twist, 45 secs side lunges – repeat
    • Cardio: 30 secs butt kicks, 30 secs jumping jacks – repeat
    • Abs: 60 secs sit ups
  • Set 2
    • Strength: 45 secs lift left leg and raise dumbell with good arm, 45 secs squat walking, 45 secs lift right leg and raise dumbell with good arm, 45 secs squat walking.
    • Cardio: 30 secs high knees, 30 secs ropeless skipping – repeat
    • Abs: 60 secs ankle taps (with good arm – lean towards you ankle on the other side)
  • Set 3
    • Strength: 45 secs lunge with good arm bicep curl, 45 secs step through lunge – repeat
    • Cardio: 30 secs grapevine with abdo twist, 30 secs lunge jump – repeat
    • Abs: 60 secs full crunch – lifting legs as you sit up.
  • Cool down and stretch

*I’m neither a medically trained physio nor a qualified trainer – please check with your medical practitioners before exercising.

 

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Hold me!

Don’t rush it. Don’t wish it away. Don’t hurry it up. You hear these kind of phrases a lot when you have young children, mainly from old women whose glasses are distinctly rose-tinted. But they have a point when it comes to swimming.

With my older children, I measured their first lessons in the pool without me as progress. I watched from the side as they got in the pool with other small children and a teacher, and felt pleased with myself for taking this next big step. A bit like sleeping in a big bed by themselves, or taking themselves to the loo; it felt right.

But it was a mistake. My eldest, aged just three, and in expensive, private lessons where the teacher had just him and one another child, repeatedly nearly drowned himself, until the teacher told me he was ‘unteachable’. Well, dur, he’s three; he can’t be expected stay at the side for five minutes awaiting instructions.

My second was closer to four, and in council-led classes of eight other pre-schoolers. In a half-hour lesson, she ‘swam’ about four widths, suspended at the water’s surface by armbands that restricted the lovely pulling arms she’d mastered over the time she spent in the water with me in her Water Babies classes.

Now I’m a swimming teacher, I see it again and again. Strong, confident little swimmers who leave me and join mainstream classes and regress; struggling to follow instructions, limited by armbands, confidence and independence knocked.

Small children need to be held up by a parent. Not just physically having someone they love and trust to help them get the right body position and catch them when they jump in, but emotionally they are still so young, and only just starting to make their way in the world.

And why wish away that chance? Before long, they’ll be swimming on their own, and your time will be over. Yes, you may not exactly relish putting on your costume, but once in a pool with your baby, toddler or pre-school, there’s nothing more fun or satisfying than helping your own child learn to swim. The laughs, the skin-on-skin; it’s all immensely bonding.

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It aggrieves me that swim schools encourage classes for preschoolers and younger where the parent is absent. In my opinion, they do it for one reason alone: to make money. Rather than simply explain the many reasons why it’s better for small children to swim with their parents, they take their cash and let the children flounder.

Having a parent with them means learning far more than just swimming. Water is an incredible, sensory world that needs to be explored through singing, games, jumping, diving, splashing, playing. Just as you wouldn’t expect a three or four-year-old to sit at a desk and study all day, nor would expect them to swim width after width. Children learn through play, and that applies to swimming too.

Just as you read with your baby to give them early communication and pre-reading skills, exploring water together gives them important pre-swimming skills. At the stage, before they’re four or five-years-old, it’s about learning buoyancy, balance and streamlining.

It’s a question of safety too. Children should be supervised on a one-to-one basis. That supervision cannot and should never be substituted by flotation devices! Arm-bands are awful; giving a false sense of buoyancy, restricting arm movement, not allowing children to learn a good swimming position. That false sense of buoyancy is deadly: how can children be expected to learn how to kick up to the water’s surface, turn around and hold on? It’s unlikely they’d have on their armbands if they fell into the garden pond.

I’m still in the water with my third child, who’s just over four. That boy can jump, dive, swim on his front and back and enjoys nothing more than fetching sinkers from the bottom of the pool. He has the distinct advantage over his older siblings that I’m now a swimming teacher, and I can recognise that joining lessons where he swaps me for a piece of foam would be a disaster.

So what should you do? If you can find a swim school where you get in with your child, then go for it. Otherwise, the best thing you can do is take them yourself. It doesn’t matter what you do in the water, but avoid arm-bands and let them play and explore on their own terms. Remember that children learn through play, imitation and encouragement, and that they respond to you better than anyone else.

Strong is the new skinny

The prospect of not hearing about desirable thigh-gaps, bikini bodies and waifs is good news, no doubt. But the real progress is a) who’s driving this movement b) who moves up the ratings as an idol and c) what it means for our mental and physical health.

The 90s have my heart. Brit pop, trip hop, jungle, Adidas Gazelles, parkas, Courtney Love and Kate Moss. I emulated Heroin chic: smudged eyeliner, blood-red lips, grimy hair and short skirts. Only I really loved the college canteen’s chips with beans and cheese, and the local pub’s pound-a-pint night could only be cancelled out with cheese pasties.

Fast-forward to now, and Beyonce is up front with her thighs, booty and glossy Amazonian goddessness. This is A Good Thing for us women who choose food over hard drugs. It’s good for anyone who has a naturally athletic figure, who enjoys working out, who isn’t a pubescent white girl.

But where has this come from? As far as I remember, we were complaining about heroin-chic in 1997 while watching Trainspotting, shopping in Miss Selfridge and applying our Rimmel eye-liner. We wondered how it happened, how the curvy 50s figure had been usurped while our friends were pulling us across the floor of the fitting room in New Look by the leg hole of the hot-pants in which we’d got stuck (maybe that was just me).

Back then, Heroin chic was the new 1950s hourglass. And that ubiquitous phrasing favoured by lazy journalists everywhere sums up perfectly the driving force behind all fads and fashions before now. Blah is the new blah: the formula for the consumer market where one fad is replaced by another.

These trends, derived by whoever, pushed on (mainly) women by the world’s media, seep into our conciousness. I’m a savvy consumer: I like what I like. And yet I have four jumpsuits (they’re the new LBD), work the bronzer and highlighter (contouring, Rupaul), and have at least one Hemsley & Hemsley style cookbook (clean eating, not dieting). In other words, I’m as much of a consumer capitalist sucker as the next person.

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Contouring like Rupaul

And yet this strong woman movement seems to have emerged from somewhere else. I may believe this to be the case because at last, 20 years on, I’ve accepted that I’ll never look like Kate Moss, and decided to suck it up, and I got there before it started trending.

But I like to think that social media has allowed women to dictate how we want to look; a trend that has been started by real people and the market has answered our actual needs rather than creating them.

It may also be that, finally, health is taking the top line. That we’ve realised that being strong and fit is so, so much more desirable than looking like we’re injecting between our toes – and it’s better for our mental health, too.

Clearly we haven’t moved on enough to stop analysing the figures of women, like this excellent piece of journalism by the Mirror, but if the media inspires women to go out for a run rather than stop eating, then perhaps it’s progress. Maybe if people from ethnic minority backgrounds or with fuzzy gender boundaries become inspiring idols, then it’s progress. If we’ve, through the power of social media, picked our own idols, then it’s progress.

But the biggest bit of progress is just starting to creep into our collective conciousness. Not just that it’s ok to have big quadriceps that don’t fit into hot pants, but that exercise makes us feel better about ourselves on many levels.

When I started this blog, I wrote about the mindful, almost meditative state I enjoy when I’m swimming. But I could go further and say that I have never in my life felt so good, and so at ease with my body. Now! When there are a thousand baby-stretched, greying, random-pube sprouting reasons not to love my body, I am actually ok about how I look.

Back to Bey, and I do like to draw parallels between myself and Ms Knowles, and her video for her new Ivy Park activewear collection. Yes, it’s beautifully produced, and so is she, but it’s the fact that she talks not about she came to look so amazing, or what she weighs, or how many minutes it takes to run a mile, but the spiritual, emotional benefits of exercise. It’s the focus on how it makes you feel good, not what it does to your body.

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Beyonce launches her new Ivy Park range. Yes, it’s consumerism, but it’s spiritual, yeah?

The narrative is finally shifting, or so it feels, from how we look to how we feel; to our health, physical and mental. My weighing scale is currently buried under some decorating sheets, and long may it stay. While I cut through the water I feel stronger and more at peace than ever before. It doesn’t matter how old I am, what colour I am, even that I’m a woman, and to me, that’s a blissful state. Maybe at last, my heart can move on from the 90s.

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Just like Beyonce, see?