Everyone who loved exercise before lockdown found the restrictions pretty painful, if only because of the novice runners they had to put up with out and about. But swimmers had it the worst, with no facilities open and sea- and river-swimming subject to endless busy-bodying surveillance. It is a crowning insult that pubs and bookies in England opened up before pools, almost as if this noble sport matters less than draft beer.
But swimmers: while you wait for more pools to open, or join the inevitable queue to book, you do not have to lose your form. Nike Swim’s Jane McCormick, a member of the two-way crossing team that set a world record on the Channel, compiled a programme to stay water-fit without getting wet. Some of her tips might be a little too professional – for instance, she installed a ski machine at home to get the aerobic hit while mimicking the movements of swimming. But the important bit is the cardio: you can get that while cycling, running or even power-walking, although you want to make sure you are getting in to the red zone of your heart rate, which, tragically, will involve star jumps. I wonder if there is anything I hate as much as a star jump.
Otherwise, your concern is keeping up your muscle strength. I have actually done OK on the aerobic fitness over the past 10 weeks, but my tone is horrible; I look like I am melting. Sorry, too much information and also not that relevant to swimming, for which you are best concentrating on your lats, rather than doing a classic workout of mainly squats and lunges.
If swimming is your main exercise, stay away from weights and go for resistance bands, which are a much better approximation of the intensity you would get from water. I have said this many times, but they are colourful and cheap and every home should have some.
You can also build chest strength with wide-hand press-ups and tricep dips off a chair. If you urgently need to buy stuff, kettle bells, being heavy, perform the dual function of improving strength and cardio. McCormick – and I have never seen her do this, so you have to make a call on whether she is joking – says she performs an explosive clean and press lift using her three-year-old instead of a dumbbell. Watch a video before you try it: this is quite a serious dynamic weight-lifting move, where you squat to pick up the weight, lift it to chest height, then squat again to push it above your head. If I tried that with any of my giant 12-year-olds, it would kill me. Also, there is a fine line between entertaining your child and breaching their human rights.
Really serious swimmers can set up tethered swimming in a paddling pool – you create a kind of swimming treadmill by attaching bungee cords to your legs. It’s apparently quite hard to maintain good posture during this extravagantly weird business, and I would describe it – respectfully – as going overboard. Stick to the rest of the core moves and you’ll soon be pool-ready.
What I learned
Serious swimmers use visualisation, picturing their perfect pool while they dry train. Start by wearing your best swimming costume.