Answering Questions About Channel Swimming

July 22, 2016

swim the channel swimming questions answers
Did you watch the documentary film on BBC4 this week – “Swim The Channel”? It was a touching, very honest look into a world most people know very little about.

I know a fair bit about this random topic – I swam the English Channel solo in 2004 and again in 2008, and have also been part of a relay team that swam there and back. I also swam around Jersey in 2007.

This blog has a decent amount of posts, pages, and FAQs about Channel swimming. So I’m not surprised to see that lots of people have found their way here this week, from Googling various Channel swim-related search terms.

Here follows the laziest blog post ever a timely and responsive blog post 😉 , using exact search terms people have Googled… and answering them.

“what fat do they use on people swimming the channel”

As far as I know, it’s still Vaseline or similar. That’s what Barrie (the guy you saw “greasing people up” on the BBC4 film) used on me last time his be-gloved hand smeared its way around my armpits. I recall (all too vividly) the one day in training that we all tried something different. It wasn’t good. We emerged from our 6+ hour training swims that day red raw and chafed to smithereens. Back to Vaseline, please!

“cover body on goose fat for swimming”

I’m not sure what the three people who typed this into Google meant. Let’s have a guess….why do/do Channel swimmers cover their entire body with goose fat for swimming?

They don’t. I believe they did, once, many many decades ago. They certainly used lanolin (“sheep grease”). If you have a picture in your mind of a Channel swimmer coated head to toe in a thick white layer, that’s probably where you’ve got the idea of “goose fat” from. It’s kind of a Channel myth which won’t die.

Nobody uses goose fat, goose grease, or indeed lanolin any more. It stinks, it’s heavy, it gets cold and breaks off in chunks, and it covers everything it comes into contact with (including your goggles, and your pilot boat when you get in).

“why do swimmers wear goose fat”

See above. They don’t. Goose fat is for excellent roast potatoes, not for swimmers.

“why do swimmers grease up”

To prevent chafing. Think about it: hours and hours (9 if you’re fast, and lucky, 24+ if you’re not) of swimming in salt water. Your costume will chafe you. Your own skin will chafe you. Chaps, your stubble will scratch your shoulders as you turn your head repeatedly to breathe. Even if you shave before leaving for Dover marina, by the time you finish your swim it may be starting to grow back (if you are uber-manly).

A Channel swimmer might maintain a stroke rate of 60 spm during the swim. The average swim time is probably 15 hours. That’s 50,000+ turns of the arms. 50,000 times the armpit skin will rub against itself. 50,000 times your thighs might rub together. “Grease” (Vaseline) goes some way to easing the chafing.

It’s not to keep warm.

“channel swimmers why grease duck fat”

See above. No. This myth is strong in this one!

“why 6 hour swim Channel swim”

I think the four people who Googled this are referring to the 6-hour qualifying swim which was mentioned in the BBC4 film. To be eligible to swim the Channel, you need to do various things (including a medical) – one of which is complete a 6-hour swim in water of relevant temperature. This is part of the paperwork. If you haven’t done your qualifying training swim, you won’t be able to start your swim.

Ideally, that’s the very least you’d do. Be realistic – your Channel swim is likely to take 12+ hours. If you’ve only ever done one 6-hour swim, you have no idea how your body and mind cope from 6:01 until…whenever you finish. I swam in late July, and I did 7 hours (Saturday) and 6 hours (Sunday) several times. If your swim is later in the season, you should be doing 7+7 or 7+6 as often as possible. It sucks, but not as much as aborting your swim at 7 hours because you haven’t prepared properly.

Think of your 6-hour qualifying swim as a milestone in training, not the end goal.

“swim channel in dark why”

Channel swims set off according to tide times. So – unless you’re very fast, or swimming on the longest day of the year – you will probably swim through darkness for some portion of your swim. Both mine started at around 2am (just a coincidence). So I started in pitch dark, and swam through the dawn. It was beautiful, one of my most cherished memories, and something I can’t really put into words. Other swimmers might “land” (finish) their swims in the dark. Just one of those things!

“why do cross channel swimmers not wear wetsuits”

They can do. You are allowed to swim the Channel in a wetsuit. But it won’t “count” as an official Channel swim, and you will not be listed in the record books or the lists of successful Channel swimmers. Why? It’s just the way it is. The rules of real Channel swims state you can wear a swim suit, hat, goggles, ear plugs, and a lightstick for night swimming. That’s it. It’s a bit like asking “why can marathon runners not use roller skates?” They could. They’d still cover the 26.2 miles. But they wouldn’t be in the list of people who ran it.

There are various challenges that involve swimming across the English Channel, wearing a wetsuit. Arch to Arc is one such challenge. Clearly if you do that, you would have “swum the Channel” as part of “completing the Arch to Arc”. But you wouldn’t be able to say you were a “proper” Channel swimmer.

I hope that doesn’t sound elitist. It’s just the rules of a very old (and purist) sport.

Hope that was useful or at least interesting! Do you have any questions about Channel swimming?

I have another Channel swimming blog post planned after watching the BBC4 Swim The Channel film this week. I’ll get to it!

Answering Questions About Channel Swimming is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


My UK Health Radio Interview: Bodybuilding and Channel Swimming

July 3, 2016

nicola joyce interview uk health radio bodybuilding

Does ANYBODY like the sound of their own voice? I don’t. It won’t surprise you that I’m far more comfortable being interviewed in print

…but UK Health Radio managed to persuade me to go on their Fitness Hour Show to big up the sport of drug-free bodybuilding. I’ll take any opportunity to talk about it people who might not know about the sport. So… here I am! In all my “I sound like a 5-year-old” glory.

You can listen again to it via this link >> Nicola Joyce bodybuilder interview on UK Health Radio

(I’m the opening interview on the show – it’s just after the first song – at around 5 minutes in)

As predicted, I went off-piste… here are a few of the topics the interview covers:

– My background in Channel swimming
– What goes through your brain when you’re swimming the Channel?
– What are the skills you need to be a Channel swimmer?
– Is swimming the Channel scary?
– How and why did I make the transition from swimming to bodybuilding?
– Can anyone get involved in bodybuilding?
– Is age a barrier in physique and strength sports… or a bonus?
– What are the different categories and types of bodybuilding?
– Is bodybuilding healthy or not?
– How can a bodybuilding lifestyle benefit our health?
– Why is lifting weights and eating like a bodybuilder healthy (even if you don’t compete)?
– What does “clean eating” really mean? Is it always a good thing?
– Healthy lifestyle improvements vs extremes of diet and exercise
– Advice for anyone wanting to get into bodybuilding

Hope you enjoy the interview. If you think it would be interesting or useful to anyone you know, please do share.

Nicola Joyce UK Health Radio Interview: Bodybuilding and Channel Swimming is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


“Oceans Seven” Adam Walker on ocean swimming technique

January 11, 2016

Those of you who’ve known me (or the blog) for long enough will know about my other life.

Back in the day, I used to be a swimmer. Specifically, a Channel swimmer. I’ve swum the Channel twice and done other long open-water solo swims. (You can read more about all that here).

But Adam Walker‘s sea swimming accomplishments are something else. Adam was the first British person to complete “Oceans Seven”, thought to be the toughest seven sea swims in the world:

– English Channel 2008 (finished 11 hours 35 mins)
– Two-way Gibraltar Straits 2010 (finished 9 hours 39 mins – he broke the British Record one way and was the first Brit to swim back)
– Molokai Straits in Hawaii 2012 (17 hours 2 mins)
– Catalina Channel in USA 2012 (12 hours 15 mins)
– Tsugaru Channel in Japan 2013 (15 hours 31 mins) (the first British person to complete this swim)
– Cook Straits in New Zealand 2014 (8 hours 36 mins)
– North Channel Ireland to Scotland 2014 (10 hours 45 mins)
AdamW-0265-2t_sm
So when Adam asked if he could grab a guest-blog spot on TFW, I had no hesitation. If I still have any open-water swimming readers, Adam’s story and stroke technique advice will be golden for you. And for the rest of you? Be inspired by his story, and consider reading his book “Man Vs Ocean” by Adam Walker (published by John Blake Publishing and available at Amazon here – Man Vs Ocean, Adam Walker, Amazon).
Man V Ocean Book Jacket

Over to Adam for some serious technique talk.

On 6 Aug 2014 I became the first British person to swim the hardest seven ocean swims in the world, known as the Oceans Seven.

My swim stroke was the conventional style of a high head and winding my arms, entering long and flat.

I trained with this style for 18 months, resulting in a ruptured bicep tendon whilst swimming the English Channel. Having completed the swim I had to have two operations. The surgeon told me that the bicep tendon had attached itself to the supraspinatus, and they were unable to separate them. He advised me to give up swimming as the arm rotations would irritate it and cause more injury. He said “If you do another long swim you will have serious long term problems!”

Giving up was not an option for me. I love the sport so much. So I began studying the front crawl stroke and how to take pressure off the shoulder, limiting irritation, and becoming more efficient.

At this stage I wasn’t concerned with speed, I just wanted to find a way to prolong my swimming career. Here’s what I learned.

Head position

After many months of practice and video analysis I established that having a still head looking downwards is critical in the stroke: if it’s not still, you could zigzag.

If you immerse your head then your legs will come up if you are on your side. It’s better to work with the water than lift your head up (which takes energy), not beneficial when the head is the heaviest part of the body.

Core movement

I thought about other sports such as golf, cricket, bowling, tennis and cross country skiing – they all use core stomach muscles to instigate the initial phase. Therefore it didn’t make sense for me not to use rotation as part of the swim stroke.

Rotating using the core only, allowing the hips to push the arms forward instead of throwing them overhead had a number of big benefits:

– Using fewer muscles
– Less impact when entering the water
– Reduced pressure on the shoulders
– Stronger propulsion in the stroke
– More length out of the stroke

If I drive the arm/hand into the water, I am using my chest as well to do this, using more muscles than necessary. Using the core helped keep my hand and arms as wide as my hips. If your chest dominates, more often than not they will drive into the centre line, particularly when you breathe.

You will then have to push them out again in order to pull back which takes time and is an added unnecessary movement. By driving them into the centre you have the potential to pinch tendons and cause friction which will eventually tether and cause significant damage (something unfortunately I know a lot about!)

Early arm entry

I was taught to enter my hand into the water as far out in front as possible to gain a good pull. However, if your hand enters the water early with a bent elbow and then extends under water this creates less resistance and will take pressure off your shoulders.

If you think about diving off a block in a race, they only allow you to go 15 metres under water. Why? Because you are faster under water than you are on top of the water. Therefore the sooner you get your hand and arm into the water the better.

Recovery arm

I discovered that by holding the front recovery arm in place until the stroking arm is just about to enter the water, I gained constant momentum. This aids with stability, which is necessary if you get knocked by a competitor or if a wave is about to hit you. This happened to me in the English Channel with my old stroke and I was flipped onto my back.

Pulling

Pulling to your hip only is your ‘power section’ – beyond that it turns into a tricep movement with your power significantly reduced and delaying the time needed to get your hand back in for the catch.

Leg kick

My leg kick is just enough to keep me afloat, nothing too vigorous. 70% of energy is used up in your legs and you don’t get that benefit back. The kick is a sideways kick as you are swimming hip to hip (never flat).

By carrying out a simple two-beat kick I’m not wasting excess energy and am limiting the calories burnt. This is also important in colder temperatures.

My suggestion is to swim the majority of a triathlon with a two-beat kick, then kick a little more in the final 50m or so to get blood flow into the legs in readiness for transition. The limited leg kick will serve you in good stead when you get onto the bike as they have had limited use. On my 17 hour Hawaii swim, when I climbed out of the water, my legs were so fresh they didn’t feel as if they had be used.

How my new stroke technique has saved my career

This stroke, which my clients are calling ‘The Ocean Walker’ technique, has not only saved my swimming career but meant I was the fastest man on a 21-mile two-way swim in Windermere, and completed all seven channels including fastest British crossing of Gibraltar Straits one-way, and became the first British person to do a two-way crossing.

I’ve had three operations in total on my left shoulder, I can’t sleep on that side and I can’t hold over 10 kilos of weight with a straight arm, yet with the ‘Ocean Walker’ stroke I can swim 17 hours and am 1:15 mins faster over 1,500 metres and 5secs faster per 100 metres.

And my stroke rate has gone down from an average of 72 SPM to 52 SPM, showing that holding form in the stroke is generating more speed. I am saving 1200 strokes per hour! I am not pulling any harder than I did previously, actually if anything I am pulling with less power, showing the importance of body position and efficiency.

What I have realised is the key to swimming efficiently is to make the water work with you. By being relaxed, getting body position right and reducing resistance you will go faster.

The best athletes in the world are normally the ones who make it look effortless, use timing to their advantage and are efficient in what they do. Just look at Roger Federer or Usain Bolt!.

(It’s me, Nic, back again…. 😉 )

Thank you Adam, what an incredible amount of information. For more information on the ‘Ocean Walker’ stroke and Adam’s swim camps and 1-1 coaching, go to Ocean Walker.

Want to read more about Adam’s amazing swims? He’s on a “blog tour” and here’s where you’ll find him:
Man vs Ocean blog tour banner

“Oceans Seven” Adam Walker on ocean swimming technique is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


How do others see you? 8 year olds on sport and fitness.

July 1, 2012

We all influence other people. Perhaps your job puts you in a position of power, or maybe you’re in the public eye. It could simply be that one person sees you as an inspiration. Whatever the reason, each one of us influences those around us. Hopefully in a positive way!

Have you ever wondered how other people see you?

When my friend Katherine – who’s a school teacher – approached me recently to ask if I’d help out with a school project, I said sure! I didn’t know what she had in mind but I’m always keen to help out with anything which informs or inspires kids about sport, healthier eating and activity.

So, “year 3” (for the clueless – like me – this means boys and girls of eight and nine years old) sent me a load of questions about the sports I’ve done.

Hi Nicola,

We have learnt a bit about you today and some of the sports that you have done. We have some questions to ask you about the things that you have done, and Miss Palmer says you have very kindly agreed to answer them! We loved your photographs on your blog, you must work really hard when you are doing all your sports. Here are our questions:

Some of the questions were hilarious, some were cute and some really made me think. Here are just some of them:

Do you enjoy being an athlete?
Do you have to work hard to do your sports?
Have you ever coached anybody else in any sports?
What did you see when you swam in the sea? Did you see any animals?
Were you cold in the ocean?
Were you exhausted afterwards?
Why did you enter the triathlon?
Is bodybuilding easy?
How did you grow such big muscles?
What exercises do you have to do to be a bodybuilder?
Do you have to eat healthy food to make your muscles bigger?
Do you go on the treadmill? Do you go on the exercise bike?
Do you have to eat different sorts of food when you are bodybuilding to when you are channel swimming?

I love their curiosity and imagination! I also think it’s really interesting that the “top three” questions for Channel swimming (goosefat, sharks and water temperature) didn’t crop up at all, and nor did anything about tan for bodybuilding. I wonder why adults tend have such a limited range of questions to ask (at least at first) whereas these kids presumably either understood why we wear tan, or just thought it was too boring a thing to ask – a waste of a perfectly good question 😉

So, I answered all their questions, unsure of what the project was or what would be done with my replies. I felt quite a lot of pressure suddenly! For all I knew, this could be the first time some of these children had ever learned about or thought about nutrition, being active, body image. I didn’t want to patronise, but nor did I want to pitch it too high and risk them switching off or feeling overwhelmed. I really wanted to encourage them, to spark some interest, perhaps even to encourage a dream of their own. (As I told them, I was exactly their age when I first thought about swimming the Channel.) Here was a great opportunity to get these children to realise that they have the power to achieve anything they want to, and that dreams should be dreamed big! I didn’t want to mess it up!

A few days later, my inbox was full of the most wonderful pictures and stories. They are just about the best thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve printed them all out and will keep them in my kit bag. I can only hope that I inspired and motivated at least some of Year 3. They have certainly inspired me.

Thank you, Year 3!

Read on for some of the pictures they sent me, as well as a few choice quotes from the stories they wrote.


This one is quite simply immense. The power! That triangle-me is owning that stage! I can only hope to be this large and in charge when I next compete 🙂


Crazy separation I’ve got going on there! As well as the most muscley shins I’ve ever seen. I think I need to work on my quads a bit more, though 😉


I’m so happy in this one! With good reason – I appear to be shoulder pressing two 80kg dumbbells overhead. I’m not sure what I’m wearing. I love that I am training outside on a beautiful sunny day, and also love that one of the podiums (?) says “well done” on it.


Just me and some crazy-cute seals hanging out together. Check out the whiskers on those seals! Adorable!


Hi! I’m swimming the Channel and there’s a really big tanker and I’m really happy about it all! 😀

Now for the words of wisdom. I should point out that these are not my words, they’re written by Year 3. They presumably read my replies to their initial questions and then let their imaginations go… Quite right, too. That’s the best way to write sometimes: just get going and start writing, then see what came out.

If you want sporting success, Musfirah tells us to “look insid, start being healthy!”

Imaan tells us that, to build muscle, you must “lift really heavy weights or small, digit number weights. Then you can enter the competition, but you will have to show off your muscals to the jujes.” He also reminds us of the importance of safety when cycling. “..she had to were a helmet for safety just in case she falls off.” What are you saying, Imaan? 😉

Jasmine has a few words to say about diet. “…lots of eggs, meat, fish and even kangoo – but it is meat, it keeps you fit. When you are a body builder you can’t eat cakes or choclett!”

Adeed has the impression that I am a “musly millionair”, love him. Perhaps he has had some sort of premonition? Fingers crossed. He chronicles my 2011 season by saying that “on her first day she won a trophy and she was proud of her self.” Well, yes, I suppose I was, and should be more often! “Eat meat, fresh eggs, kangaroos, healthy food and sports drink,” advises Adeed (as opposed to rotten eggs, I assume!)

Elliot keeps it real. “If you want to be a body builder, get to that gym!”

I’ll leave you with these simple truths from Haiden and Joshua W:

“Give it a go!”
“Always remmember, don’t give up.”

They said it!

What did you dream of doing when you were eight or nine years old? Have you done it yet?

How do others see you? 8 year olds on sport and fitness. is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


Channel swimming vs bodybuilding

January 17, 2012

As some of you know, my previous incarnation was as an English Channel swimmer. I’ve swum it twice. In fact, when I started this blog, I wrote a lot about Channel swimming (hence the Channel swimming tab and Channel swimming FAQs, both of which I urge you to read if you’re at all interested in the pursuit).

Sometimes, when I’m pondering my general awesomeness, I wonder if I’m the only person to have swum the Channel and competed as a natural bodybuilder (perhaps one day I’ll do the research). From the outside looking in, they seem poles apart. But when I think about the two sports from the point of view of the athlete, I realise they’re really not that dissimilar. “But you’d never catch me fannying about on stage in a pair of budgie-smugglers,” the Channel swimmers amongst you cry. “And you wouldn’t catch me getting in that dirty cold water,” the bodybuilders agree.

They’re not so different. To prove it, I’ve conjured up this handy chart (click for a larger version, if my formatting incapabilities render it impossible to see…)

Channel swim vs bodybuilding

Which would you rather do? Jump in the sea in your swimmers all by yourself? Or jump on stage in your swimmers in front of an audience?

Edited to add: it has been pointed out to me that the “you are up at 3am because…” answers are the wrong way round. But you spotted that already, right? *oops*!

Channel swimming vs bodybuilding is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


thefitwriter talks bodybuilding to BBC Radio Berkshire

October 26, 2011

Hi! Just a quick one with a link to yesterday’s radio interview: it’s on iPlayer (probably for a week or so) so you can listen to it if you want!

The link is here and I’m on from 02:02:43 onwards – the interview is split into several sections with music/news/travel/weather in between, so keep listening!

She started off by asking me about channel swimming, and gets on to the topic of bodybuilding after that. I think I gave OK answers to her questions and she certainly seemed enthusiastic and very interested about natural bodybuilding. If you do decide to listen, I hope you enjoy the interview!

thefitwriter talks bodybuilding to BBC Radio Berkshire is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


Surprising similarities: Channel swimming and bodybuilding

May 29, 2011

Those of you reading who’ve known me for a few years *hi Mum!* already know that my sporting background isn’t in bodybuilding (my current challenge). New readers might be surprised to hear that I’m probably best-known for a very different type of sport: I’m a Channel swimmer. I’ve swum the English Channel twice (as a solo swim), once (as a relay swim, both there and back) and I’ve done similar swims like around the Channel Island of Jersey (USA readers: the Channel Islands are between us and France. They’re nice. Go and visit some time!)

So, when I decided to give bodybuilding/figure/physique* competition a go, I felt as if I’d taken a sudden and rather odd turn off my normal sporty track. Channel swimming had always been the big one for me, and I was also passionate about triathlon (and its component sports, swimming, road biking and running). (*back when I made the decision, I didn’t know which category I’d end up in).

Bodybuilding felt completely alien, brand-new and so far outside my comfort zone that I could just about see my comfort zone on the horizon if I looked behind me through binoculars.

However, here I am several months later and it’s dawned on me that Channel swimming and bodybuilding aren’t so different after all. Externally, yes, they’re worlds apart. But what goes on inside isn’t so different.

I’m not sure how many people out there have both swum the Channel and competed in bodybuilding but, if there are any reading, I’d love to hear your take on this in the comments.

Common themes in Channel swimming and bodybuilding

Get used to wearing swimwear
This is the theme which got me thinking about all the others. When I was training for my swims, it wasn’t unusual to spend 8… 10… 12 hours a day in a swimsuit. I thought nothing of it, it was just my kit, my uniform. OK, so the “swimsuit” I wear for bodybuilding is a little different (I’m not sure the velvet would cope for long in salt water!), but it definitely helps that I have no problem wandering around in swimwear. As a nice aside, I always used to choose to wear a two-piece swimsuit for Channel swim training (quicker to get off and therefore quicker to get warm clothes on). But they were a little bit bigger than my competition bikini!

Tweak your body fat

To swim the Channel, I had to get fat(ter). I consciously had to pack on bodyfat – and keep it there throughout all the training, in order to keep me a bit warmer. We don’t use wetsuits, so I had to grow my own under my skin.

To compete in bodybuilding, I’m having to lose bodyfat. There’s no point building all these muscles if I step on stage with them all covered up. That would be a bit like building a kit car, taking it to a show but forgetting to take the dust-sheet off.

Body temperature
This goes hand-in-hand with purposefully changing your bodyfat levels, but get used to changes in body temperature. In Channel swimming, I got so hot so easily. I gave up wearing shoes unless I had to, lived my life in shorts and t-shirts, and slept without a sheet. Partly because of the extra body fat and partly because I spent so long swimming in cold water that my body adapted and acclimatised.

During bodybuilding prep, I’m often chilly and it doesn’t take much for me to be sitting on the sofa dressed in hoodie, jeans and slippers with a rug around my shoulders. LOL!

Accept that external influences are bigger than you

In Channel swimming, you can be the fastest, strongest swimmer who’s trained better than anyone else. But if the weather’s against you, or you get sea sick and can’t hold your feeds down, you’re out. You have to accept that this thing is bigger than you. Bring your best and try your hardest, but there is always a chance you won’t make it, no matter how hard you try. That’s not defeatest. It’s realistic.

In bodybuilding, people are telling me to take the same kind of mental approach. Train hard, be as good as you can be and bring your best on the day. That’s all you can do. Then accept that external factors over which you have no control – the other competitors, the judges’ opinions, the subjectivity of judging – will play a large part in how you place on the day.

Consistency is key
Both Channel swimming and bodybuilding demand and reward consistency and compliance. In Channel swimming, you must swim regularly in cold water, or your mind and body won’t build up the physical and mental stamina they need to get you across. In bodybuilding, you must be compliant 24/7, particularly in the latter stages of prep: training, nutrition, sleep (ha!), rest, stretching, posing… there’s a lot to do and you have to be consistent. Every little decision counts. Each one can take you towards or away from your goal.

No cheating: it’s all up to you
Neither Channel swimming nor bodybuilding give you anywhere to hide. You can’t style it out. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready, and no-one can help. It is all down to you. That can be a pro or a con, depending on who you are how you take it. It totally works for me: I like relying on myself. I know what I can do (I also know what I can’t do!) and I like to get on with it. When you’re out there in the middle of the English Channel in the dark, you’re the only one who can keep your arms turning and your mind focused on how the sand will feel beneath your feet when you get to the other side. In bodybuilding, you’re the only one who can decide whether or not it’s worth eating that bit of cake, or whether it will matter if you put your weights down a kg because you’re tired.

Of course, you have people who care about you and support you in both sports: in swimming, your boat crew, the boat skipper, your personal crew, and the people back on land who are thinking of you. In bodybuilding, you probably have a coach and if you’re lucky a partner, family and friends who support you. But when it comes to the crunch, you’re the only one who can decide whether to push on or give up.

Public interest
My husband told me to put this one in: he says both sports mean you need to get used to the fact that members of the public will stare at you, come up to you and ask about training, or ask random questions, either during training or just generally. I suppose this is true but I hadn’t really thought of it!

Misconceptions
I guess both Channel swimming and bodybuilding are unusual sports, odd even. Certainly niche. That’s probably why I come across a lot of misconceptions with both past-times. Misconceptions which naturally lead to…

The top three questions…
Channel swimming:
“Do you cover yourself in goose fat?”
“How far is it?”
“Do you swim it all in one go?”

Bodybuilding:
“Will you dehydrate yourself/not drink any water in the week before your show?”
“Aren’t you worried that you’ll get all bulky/look like a man/muscle will turn to fat after you stop?”
“So you have to cut all the fat out of your diet, right, because you need to lose bodyfat?”

(And, as a bonus, my least favourite “Why do you want to do that to yourself?!” <— this from a close friend…!)

Your grocery budget will skyrocket

True story: I found a receipt the other day from a supermarket shop I did one Saturday with two Channel swimming buddies. This was just for the 48hours we were spending down in Kent. It included a big packet of dried pasta, doughnuts, bread rolls, cheese, deli meat, chocolate, milkshakes, bananas… etc. It really made me laugh, because it so instantly transported me back to that Summer, when we’d swim from 9am-4pm and then have 4:05pm-8am in which to refuel, get ready for the next day’s swim and try to pack on a little more body fat. Of course, we could have made better choices and probably should have done, but it’s damn hard to meet a Channel swimmer’s calories needs in vegetables. So we indulged at weekends. And that amount of food costs!

Now of course my diet is markedly different, but I’m still eating a lot, and the amount I spend on vegetables, egg whites and other protein sources is noticeable! (Not to mention the supplements!)

You need a mentor
I know I just said that, in both sports, it’s all down to you, but of course you can’t go it alone. You need a support system, a team, a system of accountability, expert guidance. In both sports I’ve been fortunate enough to find the perfect coach and mentor. The legend that is Freda Streeter for Channel swimming, and my coach Kat for bodybuilding. There are many, many others who have helped along the way of course (in both sports). Too many to list!

You have to like your own company
Self-explanatory!

The exhaustion

Both Channel swim training and bodybuilding training leave me exhausted right down to the marrow of my bones. I guess it’s tiredness on a metabolic level. I only realised that a lot of people don’t know what I mean, when I tried to explain it to a non-sporty friend and she genuinely could not understand what I meant.

Running and road biking never made me feel this way, even training for marathons and long sportive rides. They made me very tired, but in an achy, sleepy way. Swimming in cold water, and lifting very heavy weights, both shatter me. I might not even be sore or achy, but I am drained of energy, to the extent that even the idea of leaning down and picking something up off the floor seems too much of a challenge. I can often be found standing in one spot, staring down at a bit of mud the dog’s brought into the house. I am OK. I’m just wondering whether I can be bothered leaning down, focusing on it, picking it up and straightening back up again. Then of course I’d have to walk out of my way to the bin. It’s all a bit much, you understand? 😉

Have you done sports which seemed totally different but, actually, had similarities? What were they? Aaaand which would you rather do, swim the English Channel or enter a bodybuilding competition?

Surprising similarities: Channel swimming and bodybuilding is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


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