October 13, 2014

On Hating Exercise: 5 Tips for Sucking it Up (Temporarily)

photo upload: digitalNC

By Crabby McSlacker

So I don't generally advocate doing any sort of exercise you hate.  In fact, I think the most important prerequisite for attaining a lifetime of smug, annoyingly energetic health and fitness is: find activities you don't absolutely loathe!

And yet.. sometime life throws a few curveballs. Maybe it's a new job, a change of residence, a nagging injury, or you find yourself raising small humans with schedules that don't accommodate your favorite exercise options.

What do you do when faced with a choice between doing some sort of godawful thing you hate in order to get your heart rate up, or not doing anything at all?

Hello Swimming, Yeah, I'm Talking to YOU.

So, beloved regular readers may recall that I've been trying to swim for exercise and that I don't like it all that much.

A quick review:

  • I Suck at Swimming Freestyle And It's Not Getting Any Better. Because of my body type and poor form, it seems to be an anaerobic activity for me no matter how slowly I go. But endless breaststroke gets boring and my backstroke is pretty awful too and let's not even talk about butterfly, the Stroke of Satan.
  • Sharing Lanes is Awkward. Especially for a cranky misanthrope like me.
  • Immersion in Cold Chlorinated Water is Unpleasant.
  • In Hirsute Females Like Myself, Swimsuits Demand Increased Attention to Hair Removal or willingness not to give a shit.
  • I Miss My Bouncy Beats. Even if there is music it doesn't sync with my strokes to amp me up like it does running or ellipticalling.
  • Goggles Leak and Fog Up and Give Me Raccoon Eyes.
  • I Have to Set the Alarm for 4:30 a.m. The pool is at my old high school, and adult swimmers need to skedaddle before the kids arrive. 
  • Swimming is Just No Fucking Fun.

And yet I'm doing it fairly regularly!

I had a similar experience with attempted racewalking, as well as a post-hysterectomy recovery routine where all I could do for a couple of months to get my heartrate up was to walk up and down stairs.  (And I had to go backwards when descending because of plantar fasciitis.  Don't ask).

But I know I'm not the only one who's had to cope with this problem, either, so I'll be curious how you guys deal with less-than-ideal fitness options.  Here's my list of coping strategies:

1. Do Your Own Thing

If there's a way to modify something  and make it less hateful by doing it wrong, go for it!

There is only one swimming stroke I don't hate. I'm not the only one who thinks Breaststroke is the BestStroke.  But the rest of them suck, and kickboards are instruments of torture, and 40-60 minutes of nothing but breaststroke is way too tedious to contemplate.

How to mix it up?  Well, I force myself to flail through a little freestyle and backstroke.  But in a popular lap pool I can't attempt my bizarre version of aqua-aerobics for cowards.

However, I recently realized there are strokes besides the "official" ones that I don't hate so much!

For example, who decided sidestroke doesn't count as swimming anymore?  And who cares that I never actually learned sidestroke even when it was something people did?

I believe this outfit is what the last known side-strokers wore.
photo: wikimedia commons

However, my absolute favorite non-stroke when I have the lane to myself? It's the upside down breaststroke.

It's got the slidey-glidey rhythm of breast stroke, but without all the bobbing and jerking and worrying about getting your form right. But it's not all splashy and effortful like backstroke. I feel more like a playful sea creature toodling around the ocean, and less like a mindless human on a relentless quest to burn calories and get back into shape.

To accomplish this nonexistent stroke, I basically lie on my back and propel myself like a squid. Or, if I'm feeling more expansive, I do a "starfish" version with full arm extension over my head and a longer downstroke. Either way it looks completely ridiculous, but feels kinda good and makes a nice break from the right side up version. I'm sure I didn't invent it, but I'm too lazy to google to find out what other people call it.

Bonus: if lanes are filling up and new arrivals are trying to decide which person to share a lane with? Nothing says "yikes, not this one!" like a woman doing the "starfish".

2. Buy Toys as a Bribe

I can't think of an athletic endeavor that lacks gadgetry or apparel or some other materialistic bling to lust after. I told myself that continued attempts to swim would be rewarded so I bought myself a new thingy!

So yeah: it's not perfect. The earbuds fall out every now and then, and the buttons are stiff and hard to push, and the voiceover function doesn't work, and I don't have a swimming-friendly bpm playlist, but getting a waterproof source of tunes definitely helps!

3. Lower Your Standards

You have to give yourself huge extra credit for doing something you hate, and not expect the same level of badassery of yourself that would be more realistic with something you like.

I almost quit swimming for good last week, until I realized I was being overambitious. Not that I was asking much of myself, but I discovered whatever it was, it was too much. So, showing up several times a week and doing something in the pool? Good enough!

4. Focus on the Things That Don't Suck

Any time you change things up, there is the chance that some small aspects of it won't be entirely awful.

For example, I'm not a fan of exercising in hot weather, and it's been awfully warm here in Northern California of late, but with the whole "have to get in the water" thing that I dislike so much, the hot weather is suddenly not so much a problem!

Other good things include the news that swimmers may be less likely to croak early than runners are, as well as other impressive swimming health benefits mentioned in our last guest post.

And, so far at every pool I've visited so far, the swimmers seem really nice!

5. Keep Scheming

Doing exercise you hate is sustainable only for so long.  You may find that if you stick with it for a while and get a little better at it, you will become more comfortable and even come to like it a little, in which case, yay!

But if you, like me, find the hatin' is not going away after a couple of months, you need to be very clear with yourself that the situation is temporary.  And to do that, you need an exit strategy. Which means you need to get creative about finding less dreadful alternatives.   (Or at least alternatives that are dreadful in different ways).

I'm still planning to keep swimming for the time being, as I'm not ready to throw in the towel yet. Wet towels are really unpleasant to deal with when you need to dry off, everybody knows that.

But I do have some other ideas in mind as well... and if I can put any into place, I will no doubt be whining about them sometime soon!

Anyone else ever found themselves having to do an exercise they're not fond of?


  1. You made my day by verbing the word elliptical. I am now going to use it at every opportunity, with appropriate credit given of course. :-D

    As for swimming, I wouldn't be much help since I never learned anything past the dog paddle. The starfish stroke does sound fun, though. Gonna try that next time I'm in a pool.

    Good tips! Unrealistic standards are a problem of mine as well, and it's a great sense of relief to realize the pressure was self-imposed. This list will come in handy when we get back in the gym. :-)

  2. Lordy, I could have written this post a few years ago. You have a swimming-hating-sister in me! Sometimes you work with what you can, even though it absolutely does suck.

    As for bribe toys, I bought some hand paddles, fins, and a kickboard. Along with several pairs of goggles, trying to find the holy grail that wouldn't leak.

    Oh, and my two strokes? Side and back. And then I'd use the kickboard to go up and down the lane forever. Hang with it - at least you're doing something!!

  3. I've never had to substitute an exercise I hate for one I love, but I'm sure the time will come. (Well, I did buy the stationary bike to get indoor exercise during pollen season, but that's temporary by definition, and I don't hate biking per se, just the indoors-ness.)
    But I'll comment:
    1.a. Don't shave. Olympic athletes shave to improve their time by milliseconds. You're not trying to win medals, you're trying to raise your heart rate, so be grateful for the tiny extra effort of pulling the hair through the water.
    1.b. The Starfish is definitely a real stroke, or they wouldn't have taught it to us in Girl Scout camp in 1963, (along with the side stroke) although I forget what they called it.
    2.Toys just do not do it for me.
    3. Yes, I'm excellent at lowering my standards. Any movement is better than none.
    4. I'm highly talented at focusing on the positive aspects.
    5. Good luck!

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  4. In Canada in the seventies it was called elementary back stroke. I love it for the same reason I love breast stroke and classic cross country skiing; there is a nice long glide component to the cadence and I am all about the gliding.

    1. Yes, it is still called the elementary back stroke. You can take my word as a fully qualified Water Safety Instructor (well, I was in college 20 years ago), that this is in fact a stroke we actually teach.

  5. I can't swim and am scared of water more than four feet deep. I can dog paddle if I have to, but not for very long. If I was ever forced to swim for exercise it would not go well for me or others around me. That said, water...yay! I'd think about being in the water.

  6. I feel that way when I'm injured and have to do the horrid elliptical - I hate that machine with every part of my being - probably because I only do it when I can't run!!!
    Swimming - I suck at it - I think I do similar strokes to you minus the breast stroke because I always splash my face too much and I don't really like to put my face in the water or get water up my nose:)

    1. Find a stepper machine like the stairmaster. I can't stand ellipticals also.

  7. Some days, any exercise, of any form, is an exercise I am not fond of!

  8. I'm with Mary Anne on the hair thing. I tend to go for swimsuits that have more coverage (shorts, maybe even a t-shirt over the whole thing) partly for that and partly because I have a hard time loving sunscreen. And as she wisely points out, we are not in it for speed.

    My exercise options tend only to be limited when I am traveling, so I either let it go, run in unfamiliar territory (why, oh why do the people at hotel desks always want to send me on either a 5 or a 10 mile loop? why can't they create a few out-and-back routes to spare the pride of those of us who think 2-3 miles will be plenty that day???), or wrestle with un-maintained treadmills or ellipticals, soggy-saggy stability balls, and grungy weights - and I let myself feel just a little smug about being one of the stronger people there in spite of my white hair, and dream about how much I'll love getting back to my bike & gym. But I really don't have any solutions that would work for a prolonged interruption in my routine. Sounds like you are being pretty heroic.

  9. Being an exercise tolerator at best who sees it as time i could spend doing something i enjoy, i have to try everything possible to figure out the most efficient ways to get it done and over with. Any time i can combine aerobic exercise with strength training or stretching or anything else, it's a plus.

  10. Put "If you can't do the thing you love, love the thing you do" on your I-pod, lol!

    I'm glad your getting it done, Crabby. I hated running once, but I started doing it and eventually liked that I could do it. Notice I didn't say I liked doing it. The only exercise that I've ever liked has been a byproduct of playing sports. I just do it. I am jealous of people that love their exercise. Maybe they are jealous of my internal motivation?

  11. Don't give up on swimming! You can do it! Here are my favorite thing about swimming that you can use for your tip #4:
    1. Looks like you have an outdoor pool- have you seen the way the light plays on the bottom of the pool through the pool waves? Beautiful.
    2. Floating! When you get out of breath and you need to recover, you get to just look up at the sky and just hang out without moving. So much better than recovering out of the water (I still hate that in running- when do I get to float?!)
    3. That moment where you push off the wall and glide for a few seconds- glorious.

    Also, some other ideas to switch up from just breaststroke:
    1. Have you tried treading water? We used to do this is water polo and synchronized swimming and people totally won't judge you for it at the pool. You can do laps of treading or you can just tread in place and lift your hands about your head (or just out of the water to start).
    2. Does your pool have aqua jogging belts? You can put one of those on and run in the water (just a bit slower than running on land) ;) I bet you can find them on amazon if your pool doesn't offer them.
    3. If you want to avoid shaving and increase your workout, add clothes! We used to swim with long shirts on and with pants and (old) tennis shoes. Adds lots of resistance.

  12. Yeah, the hair thing. . . I don't deal with it. I got myself a tankini (Land's End has some that fit nicely, wear well and cover what I want covered). Since I'm not aiming for speed either, this works nicely and since I'm working harder with this suit on I'm actually getting a better cardio/muscle workout!
    I have a waterproof player too and I love it! I listen to pod casts and love it. I want to sing when music is on and that is obviously not an option in the water :) Pod casts keep me happily entertained for an hour of laps.

  13. I couldn't agree more! I have never been the kind of person who loves exercise, but there are things that I like to do that get me the exercise I need. I'm into sports, so if I can I'll go and play racquetball, basketball, soccer, pickleball, or even yard work. I've noticed for myself it's just about getting out and doing things and getting involved. For instance, I coach my son's soccer team, so at least once per week I'm running around the field with them. One day down!

  14. I just got a new bathing suit and have been dying to go swimming at my gym, but just haven't fit it in yet. I choose not to shave and I'm pretty hairy for a lady, and have contemplated what to do once I go out in public. I mostly don't care as I see shaving for women a stupid socialized practice that's expected for no good reason. I'm a rebel, but I am still afraid of showing it in a big way like that, too. ;)

    I hate stair steppers. I have never tried the elliptical. I like the treadmill a lot but I like walking outside more, and hiking in nature even more than that. Totally agreed that you have to find something you enjoy, otherwise all you're doing is torturing yourself. :)

  15. I have seen an number of invented strokes at the pool I go to. We have one fellow that looks like he is having a seizure more than anything. I think the point of that stroke is too splash as much water as possible into the air. I get a fair amount of comment on my torpedo which has me travelling backwards with my feet hitting the wall first. When my back is sore I also lie on my back drop my butt and swim backwards with the flippers.
    My hated exercise is the elliptical. I should do it more often because I am dying for breath in ten minutes on that thing.

  16. I get this Jan! My knees are bothering me & it worries me I might have to do things I dislike like swimming & not the stuff I love like weights.. we shall see..... I hope you are better soon!!!

    Are you ion SD county? I am working a lot so if you were in OC, I would see if I could see you.

    or, rather, my hips do :/

  18. We may need to have a serious discussion regarding your loathing and hatred of swimming. I just can't fathom it! Well, maybe I can…I have the same type of feelings when it comes to golf. I can't understand why anyone would ever want to do it!

    Glad you are still getting in the pool though!

    1. My father's uncles certainly didn't understand golf--except for the youngest (of eight boys, ALL of whom played football); they used to tease Jack about "chasin' a little white ball around with a stick."
      Mary Anne in Kentucky

  19. I like swimming, so I can't relate on that part, but I sure do on other things. I guess the point is to just do *something* right? :)

  20. I have to swim... I also do yoga... I find that when I exercise I can't sweat properly like most people can and I get overheated and pass out. The water keeps me from being overheated and the yoga somehow centers me so I don't get so hot... I'm glad there's an alternative, I hated traditional exercise for the longest time because I just couldn't do what most people could, due to this weird inability to sweat out the heat.

  21. I love to swim, it's one of the only exercises I really enjoy... I hate exercise itself, but I know I have to do it. The other one I originally scoffed at that ended up being a ton of fun was a game called dance dance revolution on a gaming console and a big plastic mat. Once I got over myself and the laughing fit, I realized that I was sweating up a storm and it was actually working quite well, and loads of fun to keep your mind busy while you sweat!

  22. I absolutely hate doing lunges but I know that it's a good exercise for me to do. So I try and throw them in at random times in my work out. Thats way it makes them a little more tolerable instead of doing a million in a row. I try to put on loud pumped up music when I do them as well so i can ge through it!

  23. I loathe the one-legged split squat to the point of utter misery. But it's damn good for shaping the thigh, so I keep it as part of leg day.

  24. Oh, lordy, racewalking. I did this for some time while trying to get my knees recovered from years of too-much-running, and while I never did learn to love it, I got pretty good at persuading myself that it had wonderful benefits in terms of overcoming self-consciousness, learning to not give a damn what other people thought of how I looked, and accepting my innate dorkhood.

    1. Oh shoot KA, I came too late to reply when there was any chance of you seeing it, but I had the same experience with racewalking! And if there's any exercise that provides a better reminder of innate dorkhood I can't think what it is.

  25. HAHA good tips. I used to hate doing squats but now I love them! Force the habit!

  26. Thanks for the post! Definitely have to work on this myself, but the more I learn the easier it is to motivate myself.

  27. Those are some great tips, and I would also add some kind of reward system, even if it is something you would already do for yourself, it's just a way to keep you motivate. For instance, think about going home at night, having a nice relaxing bath and watching your favorite movie on DVD, or buying yourself something small that you really wanted but you always forget (like a new book or a cute cup of tea). it doesn't matter what it is, as long as it's something that makes you happy.


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