I Swam For 6 Weeks To See If I Could Change My Body And Mind

by Lydia Mansel

I was supposed to start this article back in January.

I told everyone about my plans to swim for six weeks and how excited I was. My mom even bought me a swim cap and goggles.

Kylah Benes-Trapp

Days, weeks and months went by while I went through every excuse in the book not to get in the water.

A one-piece swimsuit was too expensive. I didn't have time. I was on my period. I needed to get a wax.

I didn't even really know if I could do it. The last (and only) time I ever swam laps was in 1998 when I was forced to take swim lessons with my sister.

Long story short, I didn't buy a swimsuit until March. I didn't go near the pool until April and, when I did, I took one look at all the people, quickly put down my swimsuit and headed for my trusty stair stepper.

In May, I finally took my favorite cheesy, cliched quote to heart:

If you want something you've never had, you must be willing to do something you've never done.

I wanted to be happy with my body. I wanted to hold up my biceps and have a visible muscle.

In order to achieve this, I knew I had to talk to an expert. Enter Jenni Lynn, a swimming instructor at New York Health & Racquet Club.

During my 60-minute consultation and lesson, she had me swim laps, all while pointing out the fact that I knew all the basics; I just needed to focus on breathing and learn a few other water aerobic techniques and practices.

She showed me the key to success in the pool, at least for me, would be diversity. I'd get bored doing the breaststroke day after day, lap after lap.

I could feel the soreness creep into my muscles as we incorporated water aerobics with the standard strokes -- and it felt good. It was the soreness I missed from high school sports, the soreness I had loved so much about spin class (a habit that ended up wrecking my back).

The most helpful thing Jenni Lynn taught me, however, was this:

Do whatever feels good to you.

And I did.

Over the next six weeks (five to six times a week, 30 minutes to an hour each time), I performed the backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle, used a kickboard, noodle and those water aerobic weights, and swam my way to a completely different mindset and body.

Here's what happened.

I lost 5 pounds.

I really didn't want this experience to be about numbers; I wanted to feel good, strong and toned. I didn't want to measure myself each week, and I certainly didn't want to base my success on what the scale said.

I wanted to find a sustainable workout -- one I didn't complain about, and one that was friendly to my body.

But there's a scale right next to the showers at my pool. I couldn't help myself. And six weeks and five pounds later, I stepped off the scale feeling accomplished and lighter.

My butt got bigger.

Kylah Benes-Trapp

I didn't go into this expecting my butt to change. While I have a large head, massive feet and shoulders that made my birth a bit difficult for my mother, my butt has always been pretty flat. Pretty much nonexistent compared to the rest of my body.

Thanks to the resistance and thousands of lengths in the gym's saltwater pool, I almost, kinda, sorta have a butt.

(Yes, I also went to the beach and got a tan during this six-week period.)

My arms and shoulders got toned.

Kylah Benes-Trapp

As I said to a rather skinny man catcalling me and my friends one night, "I have more muscle in one arm than you do in your whole body." While that may or may not be accurate, my upper body has never been that strong or toned.

The walk from Trader Joe's, carrying $50 worth of gluten-free and pumpkin-flavored groceries, is a whole heck of a lot easier now. I'll catch myself looking in the mirror at those back muscles, feeling accomplished and confident.

I even see the satisfying ripple of a muscle when I grab the pole on the subway to hold myself steady.

I had to do laundry a whole lot less.

Without sweaty sports bras, underwear, tank tops, socks and gym shorts, my laundry basket doesn't fill up as quickly as it did when my gym routine consisted of hand weights, stationary biking and climbing a million flights on the StairMaster.

And when you don't have laundry in your apartment, that's huge.

My work didn't follow me to the gym.

The precious little iPhone 6 that's rarely out of my hands had to stay in the locker room, less I wanted to drop $200 to fix water damage.

As someone who would email, message and check on work incessantly while I exercised, I was pretty stressed during my first few sessions in the pool.

Over time, I grew to look forward to the small chunk of time I carved out for myself. The career-driven, anal, ambitious side of me had to take a backseat for 30 minutes, learning the world would not end if I didn't immediately respond to everyone's work questions.

Exercise became a hobby instead of a chore.

These days, I need the pool.

I crave the peace the water brings me. Work and boy problems don't seem as important or consuming when my mind is focused on breathing and not running into the other swimmer in my lane.

No, I'm still not 100 percent happy with my body. And no, swimming for six weeks didn't totally reverse the damage of 24 years of being self-conscious.

But my daily trip to the gym is no longer a torturous activity designed solely to change my body and make sure my jeans fit. It's relaxing, effective and, dare I say, enjoyable.