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Swimming Fasted

One of the more disappointing aspects of my current insane studying commitment is the lack of time for exercise. I am certainly feeling it much more now that spring is (hopefully) here, the sun is shining, and then snow is melting. I would love to go for a run; I feel like the road and the fresh air is just calling out to me! However, I suspect that running would not be the best form of exercise for my sad and frozen back.

My other favourite form of exercise is swimming. Actually, I kind of have a love-hate relationship with swimming. I love the repetitiveness and somewhat hypnotic feeling that accompanies swimming. I love swimming when I actually get myself in the pool, and I love how exhausted my whole body feels after swimming. What do I hate about it, you ask? I hate the anticipation of having to get ready to “go swimming.” It’s not like running where you can just strap on a pair of running shoes and go out your front door. Rather, you have travel to the pool, change into a suit and cap, and get into a cold pool before you can even start exercising. Then, after you’re done, you have to shower, wash hair, get re-dressed, and then travel home. It’s like you spend more time in the “peri-exercise” stage than the actual exercise.

Anyhow, I decided this weekend that I needed to get back into swimming and at least semi-regularity, for the remainder of my study season. I spent an inordinate amount of time last night convincing myself to go and rebutting my own excuses for why I didn’t want to go or shouldn’t go. Begrudgingly, I woke up a little earlier than usual, grabbed my studying stuff, and walked out the door without even a coffee. I pulled into the parking lot of my neighbourhood YMCA, trudged up the stairs to the locker room, and prepared for my swimming chore. It wasn’t until I got into the pool that I was thankful I pushed myself to get there.

Like everything else in my life, I have “streamlined” my swimming regime. I used to swim 40 laps in about 30 min. But, given the amount of extra time associated with preparing to swim and the relatively little amount of extra time I have in my schedule, I’ve adapted my approach. Now, I swim 20 laps as hard as I possibly can. I do this with the intent of completely exhausting my major muscle groups.

I warm up with 4 laps of freestyle. Then 2 laps of legs only – fluttering my legs as hard as I can. Then 4 laps of arms only, pulling the water as hard as I can. Then I follow with another 2 laps of legs only (it’s too exhausting to do 4 legs only in a row since I work so hard). Then I do 4 laps of backstroke, again pulling and kicking as hard as I can and given that I don’t have to regulate my breathing as much I can push the arms and legs hard. Finally I finish with 4 laps of freestyle again, not as a cool down, but as an attempt to further exhaust every muscle in my body. I am usually successful in this regard because I have that “if I do anymore exercise I might puke” feeling and when I haul myself out of the water, I can barely even walk straight.

My motivation for “working to exhaustion” isn’t actually only the time factor. The primary reason, actually, is based on the principles of High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, as well as the idea that muscles will build more muscle in their recovery period if they are worked to complete exhaustion. They will also build more mitochondria (which are the powerhouses of our cells). To exemplify this effect, I almost always exercise in a fasted state, meaning I don’t eat before I exercise, so that I can ensure that my muscles are using up all their stored glycogen and possibly even switching to fat metabolism for their energy. This also enhances future mitochondria production and promotes the formation of mitochondria that are more efficient at burning fatty acids and glucose. (This is a very oversimplified explanation of this process and my rationale for fasting… more on this at a later date).

It’s not challenging, at all, for me to exercise in a fasted state because I have been doing this for at least the last 2 years. Even on days I don’t exercise, I partake in daily intermittent fasting and will not eat until lunch, or even later. His works out great for my work schedule, as well as my body and general health (again, more on this at a later date). I am a huge proponent of intermittent fasting, either alone or in combination with a low carbohydrate way of eating. Incidentally, I participate in both and have found this lifestyle to be immensely beneficial for me.

So, all of this to say that I did manage to force myself to swim, before settling down to study, and in a completely fasted state to ensure maximum physical, emotional, and mental benefit.

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