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Back In The Water With Trepidation, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:20am

It has come to my attention that I have spent far too much time sitting on the sofa.

Don’t get me wrong. I like where I sit, I can see my garden. But I like it much better when I can return after long spells of walking very, very fast. Walking is off the list as my Achilles tendon heals. So, and I shudder even to think of it (but I must tend to my cardiovascular capacity because I do love to breathe), I am going to try lap swimming.

Oh dear, oh dear.

You guys I grew up swimming. Let’s talk about the good sort. Ducking under waves and closing one’s eyes against ocean salt. Jumping off boats into deep clear seas even if scary fish may lurk below. Or a casual lap up and down my father’s pool, midafternoon, on a California day when temperatures rise above 80.

But laps? Long cold rectangles of chlorinated water? And to be perfectly honest the huffing and puffing which even I need it I don’t like? Swimming is very hard work. But I have to try.


I’ll go to the neighborhood pool. Fine. I own flip flops. Fine. Other than that, I will need a new bathing suit, goggles, and maybe a cap? I do not want to spend much, it’s quite possible I won’t be able to force myself into this habit in the long run.

So I’m thinking about this, below. I know serious lappers wear Speedos and the like but I am decidedly non-serious so far. I like the simplicity, and the straight straps that widen to the shoulder look to provide just enough style for the purpose. J. Crew is often the malltailer I rely on for staples.

I’d want the aqua I believe. I’ve always wanted a pale blue suit. (Why do I need a new one? I have this already; the ruching is great for my vanity (on sale now BTW) but too much fabric for lap swimming, and I have this one, which, lace? Love it in Hawaii on a beach with my husband and pretty much nowhere else.)

You who have swum and will continue to do so – what if anything do I need to know about goggles and caps? For example, what about my long braid? Where will it go? How do I know which goggles to buy? Details please!

My cardiovascular system thanks you in advance for your help.


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53 Responses

  1. Hi, Lisa,

    I love swimming. I am very nearsighted and want to wear my contacts, so goggles that don’t leak are a necessity. I tried many brands years ago, including types that were guaranteed not to leak. All of them leaked, and if they were tight enough to minimize leaking they left impressions on the delicate under-eye skin. When I was in my 30’s I met a woman who swam a lot, and she had permanent rings under her eyes. She mentioned them once and said that she loved swimming so much that it was worth it to have the rings.

    Long introduction; I use masks rather than goggles. I’ve had mine for years. When I bought it, there was a kind that did not cover the nose. This one didn’t work for me so mine does cover the nose. It takes a short time to get used to this. You have to be sure that there is no hair between the mask and your face or it will leak there. If not, it will not leak at all, and it is much easier to see because much more light comes in than with goggles.

    I hope this helps someone.

    1. @Marie, I didn’t even know they had swim masks! I wear contacts too and swim goggles look pinchy and uncomfortable to me. I love to snorkel and have a mask that is just perfect, but I’ve been reluctant to use it in a public pool for fear of looking goofy. I honestly can’t imagine swimming without it (I am at best a mediocre swimmer but love doing it). My gym has a lovely outdoor pool and I think I will give it a go now! Thanks for this tip!

    2. @Marie, Thank you for the tip, and it’s just so helpful to hear that people I’ve come to know here are swimmers. Very encouraging.

  2. About caps, I use a soft lycra cap under a regular cap, because the outer cap pulls at my hair. There are caps available that will accommodate long hair; you could put your braid inside.

  3. Good luck. I’m very impressed that you’re even thinking of trying swimming. I also am at an impasse. Had skin cancer removed from my leg. I’m not allowed to walk yet. Gee, it’s been a month already. Still not allowed to wal. One of the incisions hasn’t healed yet. No way would I even dream of swimming. So I don my cap to you.

  4. I love your description of the pool. It captures my own feelings.
    I think you should exercise and whatever makes you feel good. Despite my problems with my spine the essential thing I have learned is to keep moving. So however you move Lisa your body will thank-you.
    I thank-you for your lovely blog and how I look forward to it on Saturdays.


  5. It turns out that swim goggles have changed quite a bit in the last 30 years! I may be able to get something smaller than my mask.

  6. This post made me laugh. Not too long ago I thought a similar thought. To lose weight, keep the muscles in place and for cardio reasons I joined a local club for their outdoor pool. I find indoor pools depressing. Soooo. Took myself there a few times and enjoyed it a bit, mostly the part where you lay (lie? Can never remember) on a chaise lounge and enjoy the sun. Can’t help you with goggles and caps, just sharing my misadventure. BTW, no longer recommend sun worshipping. I have the yucky spots to prove it.

    1. @MaryAnne, I make myself laugh with this nonsense all the time and I’m happy to have your stories for laugh augmentation:). It’s “lie,” I promise. I wouldn’t lie to you…

  7. It’s been my experience that if I buy stuff ahead of developing the habit I don’t develop the habit as well as if I do the activity and then buy the stuff. So maybe douse your braid in tap water to ward off the chlorine and head out in a suit you already own .

  8. I do swim laps for exercise and have for years. Now in our condo’s chlorinated pool as opposed to the saltwater lap pool we had at our home. I wear a suit very similar to the one you’ve shown, I used Aquasphere swim googles (Amazon), because I like large ones that don’t leak, but also don’t cover my nose, and no swim cap. I’ve tried, but it’s just a pain and doesn’t keep my hair dry anyway. When I’m not lazy i put some conditioner in my hair dry and pull it back into a ponytail and will braid when long enough. A warm rinse afterwards is good of course. I don’t wear fins either, but I have in the past. I actually love it…once I’m doing it. It’s very peaceful and it’s own form of meditation I find. I keep count by swimming freestyle for 4 lengths and then breaststroke on the 5th. My mind feels very clear afterwards too. It’s the build up to the swim that I find the most challenging – again, because I can be lazy.
    I hope you learn to enjoy it.

    1. @KSL, I’ll definitely get goggles. Very glad to know you do this, seems I might have a chance at keeping it up then. I’m still SO out of breath even after 4 lengths of breaststroke and only 1 of freestyle, so my ratio is the opposite of yours.

  9. I like the suit! Total sympathy (or empathy, perhaps) for the Achilles Tendon issue. I had 3 tears in my left Achilles followed by a year of [attempted] healing wearing a boot alternated with a cast. No luck with that method led to surgery and a year long recovery. About a year ago, another tear, but this time on the other Achilles. Sigh….I found a great podiatrist who was confident that she could get it to heal, and it did. I had a much easier recovery, and I wish the same for you. Swimming was great exercise, and you’ll get stronger quickly. Good wishes, Lisa!

  10. I do lap swimming every day I can at a local pool . Chlorine is less toxic than any sea around the UK . I second Marie and remember years ago having problems with goggles leaking – no more . I tend to lose them instead ! Swim caps ? I second KSL on the uselessness of swim caps (and I have v. short hair) but would add shampooing and conditioning your wet hair afterwards . I thought rinsing was adequate until my hair stylist said she could always tell when I came into the salon by the smell of chlorine that preceded me ! I wear Speedo swimsuits because they last for years ie don’t lose their elasticity & colour as soon as standard Lycra ones – not because I’m ‘serious’ . I mean the reasons are aesthetic and economic rather than because I fancy myself as sporty or am doing it grimly as a necessity . It’s a pleasure and I do take pleasure very seriously !

  11. One question/observation about the suit, are the straps adjustable? Or is there a mechanism in back that holds them together? This suit is lovely, but I had a similar one that the straps kept falling, and there was no easy way to adjust them. I did a sewing hack, but was not pleased. Just a thought. And Kudos to you for keeping active.

  12. I swim very slowly although sometimes with some effort and energy – I am just bad at it. I swim with a friend once a week and then we go for a lovely lunch and undo all the good. I have a Speedo type costume – from Zoggs – because all my life I wanted a costume with a racer back. I worried that it would look as if I was pretending to be serious but nobody stares. And – no cups. I just squash down my fairly substantial bosom and I’m ready to go. Don’t wash a costume too often – just rinse in the shower – as that makes them stretch and wear out. I only wear a hat if required, usually by cold. But I have short hair. I find hats come off so have a very old-fashioned looking one with a strap under the chin. Cheap goggles are usually OK – they all stretch out and fail after a while. Try to have fun. Lessons with a good teacher can be worth it. And hope the Achilles mends soon.

  13. The red suit is great. If swimming laps regularly I’d look into shampoos, conditioners and leave-in treatments for your hair as pool water isn’t kind. Even With a cap, the water will find its way in, especially if you like backstroke. Some extra nourishing face cream/treatment is also useful. Good luck with the laps. I used to love lap swimming and unlike most forms of exercise, I actually got quite good at it ;)

  14. Oh good–a subject I know something about!

    Ninety-eight dollars for a suit when you’re not yet sure you’ll enjoy lap swimming? Fuhgeddaboudit. Go to SwimOutlet dot com and search under “women’s water aerobics,” where you’ll find styles similar to J. Crew’s, but for one-third to one-half the price and twice the longevity. Tip: Size down one size from what you think you should wear. Order several styles to comparison-shop at home. They’re returnable.

    For goggles, decide whether you need corrective lenses. Then get yourself to a good triathlon store where they’ll let you try on goggles. Here’s what you do: press *one* lens against your eye socket, then remove your hand. The seal should remain tight; if it doesn’t, try another style. Check out the goggle-buying guide on SwimOutlet dot com, too. (I have to wear children’s goggles because I have a narrow head and close-set eyes.) I spend more time and effort–and sometimes more money–on goggles than on swimsuits.

    A Lycra cap will contain your hair, but it won’t protect it from chlorine. Get a silicone cap that’s designed for long hair. Silicone won’t tug on your hair, and it lasts almost forever. Again, SwimOutlet is your friend. No need to pay more than $8. Remember too that the cap is not only for your own benefit: it keeps hair out of the water and (more important) the pool filter. Consider your fellow swimmers, and the pool attendants, and wear a cap every time you swim.

    Many newer pools use very lightly chlorinated saltwater. (Not as salty as the ocean, just enough to separate the Cl from the Na.) Choose one of those pools if possible.

    Finally, I recommend peer pressure. I much prefer bay swimming to pool swimming, but you gotta put in the laps if you want technique and endurance. So I’m on a small masters team here in Oakland. Don’t worry; “masters” doesn’t mean “mastery”–it just means post-collegiate. Swimmers of all abilities join masters team, and the camaraderie and coaching are great motivators. Alternatively, find a swim buddy. Make it an immutable habit. You may even find you’re having fun! Then come swim with me in *real* water–cold and salty–at the Dolphin Club.

    1. @Nancy, I agree with Nancy. About 50 yrs of swimming in my life. Swim outlet is a great source for all “equipment” unless you have a good local shop. I recommend Tyr and Speedo suits (more polyester, less lycra for longevity). Silicone cap made for long hair ( a bit larger to accomodate the hair bun) works well. I recently switched to Aquasphere Kaiman goggles for the wider eye gasket for less pressure to skin around eyes. You will find them more comfortable than the traditional Speedo goggles, although a bit bulkier. That’s all you need! Give yourself 2-4 weeks to ease into lap swimming. Go slow and rest as needed. Your body will need time to adjust to the new “motor activity” that is totally different than anything else you do. It does get easier! You won’t regret it.

  15. I can’t help because I’m afraid of bathing with others (weird germ thing). Also, I live in Canada and I don’t have a cottage or live in a condo :-) But I think that suit would be great in aqua and I think your idea to swim as fitness (and social activity and excuse to switch up the view) is laudable. Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible for you to spend as much time on the couch as I have in the last 8 months! Oh, just don’t forget that you can do lots of yoga without using your feet much. Crazy, I realize. It becomes a very different sort of practice than the average, but it’s totally doable. You can prob even find some online classes that cater to yoga-doers with foot injury.

    Ironically – I’m a good swimmer. I used to be on the team and I’ve won a couple of ribbons. Inasmuch as I am the worst candidate for running (early onset OA, boobs, myofascial pain), I’m the poster child for the pool. I float miraculously well, um, what with my body fat percentage :-) And once you get rid of gravity, I’m quite strong.

  16. I taught myself to swim laps when I was in my 30s and my boys were in lessons. (I’ve always loved the water and knew how to swim but was never on any teams.) I get antsy if I’m not in the pool often enough. Regarding breathing, what I did starting out was breast stroke and back stroke so that I could breathe easily. (The crawl was a struggle back then. Not now.)

    My swimsuits come from Lands End, which has a decent number of long torso choices (which I need – you probably won’t). I’ve also gotten them from LL Bean, but they started rotting sooner than I thought they should, and I haven’t bought any there for a couple of years. The one you picked looks nice…

    My goggles are Finis Circuit. I buy them where I swim (one less shopping trip).

    I’m not going to discuss caps because I’m funny about what I use, but I know you can tuck your braid in one; I’ve seen the kids on swim team do it. I do recommend slathering cheap conditioner on your hair before you tuck it in – the recommendation from my hairdresser (who says the cheaper the better – the idea is to block the chlorine from the hair shaft). I also use Malibu Swimmers Wellness shampoo.

  17. Lisa
    I’m in a long term struggle to keep up my swimming. For caps, Speedo make a version for thicker / longer hair that’s pretty solid. I also apply a hair mask before popping on my cap. Laps AND a hair treatment simultaneously – can’t say no to that.

    Bathers wise, I’m still a big fan of boring Speedo racer back style bathers.

    Be well

    SSG xxx

  18. All great advice!! I have swum a fair bit and find it quite meditative. If you are serious, get a suit designed to withstand chlorine/pool chemicals. I’ve found LandsEnd is good and as said previously, have long torso options . Swimming wedgies are no fun. Other suits can become transparent, especially around the butt, and sometimes you can be the last to know. Try googles on for fit, as described above, before you buy. I put a hair mask on my hair as my hair is coloured. As you progress, consider some body lotion for afterwards. Set the bar low! Start with 10 laps. Swimming is the easiest sport to improve incrementally! Swim times: Avoid times when there buns and mums classes…Finally. , you may want to get a few lessons in stroke correction. It’s amazing how tweaking your stroke can have improve your swim and swimming longevity—doing it right means yours body can do it longer. Good luck!

  19. Sorry to hear you still experience foot issues. Swimming is great exercise. I choose not to use goggles and a cap. I shower prior to and after a swim. Removing chlorine or salt, depending on where I swim, is important. Otherwise, dry skin and hair/scalp will result. I do not maintain a strict swim schedule and only swim when the mood strikes.

  20. Lisa, there are people who swim with snorkel and/or fins and nobody thinks anything of it. (Not in a Masters program, but for sure as individuals during lap swim.)

  21. All lap pools that I know of require everyone to wear a cap, men included. You can get a cheap cap on Amazon in an extra large size for long hair. I wear an Aquasphere Seal 2.0 mask that does not cover my nose, because most goggles don’t fit my face. Good advice above to try them on at a store. I also wear an inexpensive Speedo suit which is great because it is light weight and fits tightly – buy it small – so it doesn’t cause drag. If you want to improve your stroke, I strongly recommend Total Immersion Swimming, which you can learn either through a coach or by using their self-teaching tools (you can find them online). I started swimming laps to train for a triathlon the year I turned 65, and swimming suddenly made sense when I tried that approach. It made an enormous difference for me, teaching me how to swim efficiently rather than wasting a lot of energy going nowhere. Hope this helps.

  22. I’ve had better success with Aqua Sphere swim goggles. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes and are even available with polarized lenses. I get mine at REI so I can try out a variety.

  23. Lisa,
    knee issues brought me to the pool. I have always loved to play in the water but laps? Not my thing. Over the course of a year I have developed a routine which includes 20 minutes of walking in the shallow end, 20 minutes of laps and 20 minutes of treading water. I am in the pool 5 days a week so I alternate 2 suits. I hope you’ll find the options of the pool that suit you and your recovery.

  24. I have just started swimming laps. For a suit, I wear one with long sleeves. They make really cute and flattering ones. Me skin tans really fast and I didn’t want to get that much sun. Try Athleta, swimoutlet or even Zappos. I agree with everyone about the conditioner under the cap, and also like the Aquasphere goggles. What’s made a difference for me in lap swimming is using my Apple Watch. It tracts laps and stroke. So I can swim without counting and enjoy. After a while I stepped my workout up with an app called Swimpro. It has workouts for beginners of all lengths. I am really enjoying the structure on my own pace.

  25. I’m a lap swimmer. ~70 yrs old. Wear just a plain bathing suit…Definitely not a Speedo with no inner construction. For a long time I wore prescription goggles bec I was so nearsighted. Since cataract surgery my eyesight has been corrected And I wear regular goggles. The more expensive Speedo brand from a sporting goods store. If they are tight enough to leave marks they aren’t fitting correctly. No advice on caps. My hair is fairly short and I use an elastic to corral bangs into a topknot…Pebbles style :-)

  26. No fins, cap or nose plugs for me either just a swimsuit at the cottage pools. I love awuafit classes at the local rec centre. But my choice of exercise is walking outdoors. I hope that your injury will mend soon.
    Lands’ End make great suits I purchased a miracle suit last month. It’s supposed to make the wearer look one size smaller… :-()

  27. I was on the swim team in high school and I have swum for exercise since. It’s hard!

    Goggles are essential – different brands fit different face shapes.

    I used to order just the grabbag Speedos – I don’t even know if they have them anymore. But the chlorine is going to kill your suit. Nylon lasts longer than lycra.

    Get your hair wet with tap water before you put on the cap – that will help keep chlorine from getting into it. We used to sometimes put conditioner on our hair before putting on the cap, but be careful that the conditioner doesn’t get into the pool water – it’s not good for the filtering system.

    The nice thing about swimming is that it’s so gentle on your joints, as you know. And it is a serious workout, which you don’t even realize until you get out of the pool and are exhausted. Have fun!

  28. Hey Lisa
    Swimming love it!
    Maybe talk Sibyll in to it!
    It doesn’t have to a body crushing grind.
    Get a partner or don’t.
    Count laps or don’t.
    Time yourself or don’t.
    But you’ll enjoy the fact no one can talk to you under water!

    Body wash and conditioner essential for hair and skin.

    Here’s what I use all on Amazon. Enjoy!!

    SBR sports
    Tri swim body wash

    Solpri LLC
    Shampoo and Body Wash
    Amino Conditioner

    1. @Rodrigo
      No one can talk to you under water. Love it!
      I swim laps once or twice a week. I mix strokes and have just learnt butterfly.
      Adds a certain something to the fitness regime

  29. Hi Lisa. I know how to swim but choose to do water aerobics. I have not been able to swim because I colored my hair but I’m going natural in the hopes I can swim. If you don’t like laps maybe you could do deep water aerobics? I have no idea how to heal your tendon properly but just s thought. Now that my hair is almost grown out I’m still scared to go in chlorine because my hair may turn green or be prone to breakage. Would love to hear your readers thoughts on that! Good luck! Oh and I like lands ends suits too! And I wear a rash shirt over it. Can’t be in the sun much.

    1. @Denise, the green comes from copper piping. All chlorine will do – not that this desirable,either – is bleach and dry your hair. Try getting your hair wet with tap water and maybe putting some conditioner on it before you put on your swim cap. That helps keep your hair from absorbing as much pool water.


      Former lifeguard and high school swim team member

  30. So much info about swimwear, goggles and hair! I’m hoping for some tips on how a newbie can start swimming laps in a pool full of exerienced, assertive, fast lapsters!! I was hoping for a “newcomers lane” or time but no such luck and it’s very intimidating.

    1. @Noelle, Oh, my. Is this during “open lap swim” and not during a Masters hour? I’m so sorry. Even our Masters has a newcomers lane (I’m told). Have you spoken to the desk people or the aquatics coordinator about the best time and place for a newbie to start? Is there ever a lane with people doing water aerobics that you might be able to share (split)? Even as somebody who has been lap swimming for a long time (but doesn’t do flip turns, etc.), I look for a good match in terms of being able to share a lane and being kind. Good luck!

  31. Lots of good advice here – and some good laughs too. “No one can talk to you underwater” – thanks, Rodrigo, whoever you are!

    We have our own pool, surrounded by trees, so my situation may be different from that of others, but I find swimming laps to be an almost Zen experience and I highly recommend it. Just remember to change strokes regularly.

    And, after all, we do come from the sea…

  32. I highly recommend Total Immersion Swimming. It helps you streamline your body in the water so you don’t have to fight the water to move. I hadn’t swam in almost 30 years, and I was able to build up to a mile pretty quickly. You can also swim easily without kicking, in case that aggravates your tendon.

  33. I am in the pool almost every day. The pool in my neighborhood is open from late May until the end of October; the rest of the year, I go to my gym which has an indoor pool. I don’t swim laps because I try not to get my hair wet, so instead, I walk or jog in the pool for an hour. I walk/jog forward for one direction and go backward in the other direction. I also wear weights on my ankles (5 pounds each) and hold waterproof weights in my hands (2 pounds each). I do arm exercises as I walk or jog, and finish my session with leg lifts and some yoga poses. I actually look forward to getting in the pool each day–and I usually don’t feel that way about exercise.

    In the outdoor pool, I wear a long sleeved rash guard and leggings with UPF 50 protection, plus a large sunhat and sunglasses. I’ve had skin cancer and I find wearing these pieces is a lot easier than slathering sunscreen all over.

    Good luck to you! Enjoy your pool time.

  34. I love that you had so many interesting, funny, and practical responses to a simple question about swim gear. Thank you, Lisa!

  35. I always swim wearing a rash guard, available widely now everywhere, and some are very cute. Make sure it fits tightly, so no flapping around in the water. It’s essential and will protect you from sun damage. You go girl..

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