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Your Best Swim

Stay focused in the pool—and get in your best workout—by addressing common issues that can throw off your stroke
Written by 
Sharon Liao
Updated on: 
June 6, 2014

When you commit to having your best swim, the last thing you want is a leg cramp or goggle trouble sidelining your efforts. Professional athletes and casual swimmers alike experience these and other common problems when they hit the water, but those who are successful in making their laps count when it comes to fitness know how to solve them and continue on.

Here are four obstacles that could disrupt your stroke, how to address them in the moment and prevent them from happening the next time you dive in.


Water Shoots Up Your Nose

That sudden burst of water can be unexpected and cause a burning, choking sensation that throws off your rhythm.

  • Fix it: Take a moment to regain your breath. Although it’s unpleasant, there’s no danger in getting a little waterlogged. Once you start swimming again, focus on blowing bubbles out of your nose; humming can help keep water out of your nasal passages.
     
  • Avoid it: Perfecting your exhalation will help this issue; it will relax you and make your swim easier. In fact, the entire time your face is in the water, you should be exhaling, blowing bubbles out through your nose. If you’re still having trouble, try wearing a nose plug to block out water and exhale through your mouth.


You Can’t See Through Your Goggles

A blocked view—whether from water that has leaked in or fog due to your body heat— can throw you off course.

  • Fix it: It may be just as simple as tilting the bottom of your goggles up to let out the water, or wiping away the fog before continuing with your workout. But if the problem persists, take a moment to adjust the fit of your goggles by tightening the band and nosepiece. And, although unappealing, a little saliva may do the trick for that fog as its proteins help keep the lenses clear: Spit on each lens, rub with your finger and then dip them into the pool to rinse. Be sure to shake out the water before putting them back on.
     
  • Avoid it: Sidestep this problem altogether with more personalized gear: Ask a sales associate at the swim or sporting goods store to help you find a better-fitting pair of goggles for your face’s shape. You may also want to consider choosing a pair made with anti-fog material or using an anti-fog spray.


Your Foot or Leg Cramps Up

Kicking through the water with fatigued or dehydrated muscles can lead to a foot cramp or Charley horse.

  • Fix it: Trying to swim through the cramp can make matters worse, so it’s best to stop, rest on the side and slowly stretch the knotted muscle. For calf pain: Extend your leg, pressing the ball of your foot against the wall and leaning in; hold for several seconds until it relaxes. For a foot cramp: Grab your toes and pull them toward you, feeling the stretch along the sole of your foot. You can also massage either of the areas gently. Once the knot subsides, resume your swim while making an effort to relax your feet and ankles, which can help these issues from recurring.
     
  • Avoid it: Make sure you’ve had plenty of water before diving in and take a moment to hydrate in between intervals or stroke changes. Pre-swim snacks like bananas and yogurt are high in potassium, calcium and magnesium, which can help prevent cramping. Also, stretching before your workout can help ward off pain too: Incorporate a quad, calf and foot stretch into your regimen.


Your Ear Throbs

That ache you’re feeling may be a sign of swimmer’s ear, an infection in your outer ear canal.

  • Fix it: This condition isn’t dangerous, but definitely needs to be addressed. If you can handle the ache, it’s fine to finish your workout. Then schedule an appointment with your doctor, who will likely prescribe antibiotic eardrops to wipe out the bacteria. Be prepared to skip some swim time until the infection clears, though.
     
  • Avoid it: Wearing a swim cap or ear plugs (or both) is a good way to keep water from trickling in. Consider custom fit plugs if other kinds don’t feel secure. Over-the-counter preventive drops can be helpful too (or create your own drops with equal amounts of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol). After each swim, dry your ears thoroughly. Tilt your head to drain excess water, and use your towel to gently wipe your outer ear.  
     

You Feel a Stitch in Your Side

While there may be some truth to waiting after you eat before jumping in the pool, there’s no exact explanation for that sharp pain you might feel mid-workout. It could be unrelated to pre-swim actions—sometimes, your torso’s repetitive movement during your working can irritate your abdominal cavity and lead to a cramp.

  • Fix it: Take a break until the pain subsides. Stand in a shallow area or step out of the pool to stretch the affected side: Reach your arm on that side high overhead and take deep, controlled breaths. Also try using your other hand to apply gentle pressure to the area.
     
  • Avoid it: Diving right into a tough workout can lead to heavy, irregular breathing, which may pave the way for a side stitch. Instead, take time to warm up at a slower pace and gradually build your intensity. Steering clear of big meals an hour before your workout could help prevent cramping as well.
Reference(s) 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Mayo Clinic
National Institutes of Health
About the author 
Sharon Liao is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and editor specializing in health, nutrition and fitness. She contributes to many print and online publications, including Real Simple, Better Homes & Gardens and Fitness.