“Will you continue swimming in college?” This question made up the most frequent question people asked to me the summer before my freshman year of college. And I always said yes. After all, I didn’t feel ready to let such a huge part of my life — 12 years of it — go just yet. From local pool summer teams all the way to high school, I practiced nonstop, nine times a week. I’ve always loved the post-workout, out-of-breath feeling — the one where your heart beats over 200 bpm and you know you just gave it your all. I always felt so good after an intense practice, and that enabled me to love swimming up until the very end. During my senior year of high school, I used to say, “This is the best shape I’ll be in for the rest of my life.” Post-graduation came along, and I felt as though I predicted the future with that statement.
I immediately became less active, and I felt guilty about it, but I also struggled to work out on my own.
Many incoming college students, especially retired athletes, worry about the “freshman 15,” but despite my “break” that summer, I still felt like if I could manage my swim schedule, I could manage to keep myself in shape at school. Little did I know that optional practices coupled with the provision of free ice cream at the dining hall can flush that motivation right down the drain.
As much as I tried to show up to club swim practices, I found myself making excuses, like “I have too much homework tonight,” or “I have an important club meeting I can’t miss.” And when I did show up, no coach present meant I couldn’t be forced to complete the workouts as written. If I wanted to alter it, I could. If I wanted to leave early, I could.
I realized that the sheer love of swimming would never make me sprint a set of 200-yd IMs ever again.
In another attempt to keep myself in shape, I tried the workout classes at University of Maryland’s rec center. I mostly attended the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) class, which focused on high intensity exercises in a short period of time, and core classes, which worked the abs, back and butt. I went to a cycling class once in the first semester, but I hated it because I wasn’t on the correct bike setting and felt like I put a lot of effort in for little gain. Despite the various workouts I tried, nothing felt satisfying enough. I felt good after those workouts, but I still never felt like I was achieving the intensity level high after a workout like I wanted to.
During my second semester, I had a class and a job to occupy my evenings, so I had to reschedule my exercises again. I began doing my own core workouts three times a week and going to a cycling class twice a week. I tried cycling again only because my friend was teaching the class, and I actually grew to love it. Once I figured out how to use the bike correctly, it turned into a great cardio and leg/butt workout for me. I also learned from great instructors who were super motivating and encouraging to newcomers.
Instead of cycling feeling frustrated, it became something I looked forward to in my day.
I still swam, but not nearly as often as I did in the first semester. I began to feel much better about my exercise habits. They got me up earlier in the mornings, made me feel more productive and actually made me feel like I was working hard again. I’m not working out as frequently as I was in high school, but I feel fulfilled. Next year, I want to become a certified cycling instructor and teach at the rec center. Getting paid to exercise? Hell yes. I don’t think I could ever give up swimming completely, but I proved myself wrong this past school year. I don’t need to exercise at the same intensity and frequency like before to feel good about my progress and activity. I can get excited about something new, and feel just as good doing it.