Swim tracking, or what happens when you start logging your exercise in a spreadsheet

Published on 8 April 2019 in , ,

On Monday 6 April 2015 I went swimming. I swam 70 lengths, in a 25m pool. Although it’s not logged, that pool probably was the branch of Virgin Active at Merton Abbey Mills (a branch now owned by Nuffield Health) in South West London. Later that week I went another three times, and swam an additional 180 lengths. In total I swam a distance 6.25km.

I know all this because on that Monday in April I started logging details of my swimming. I didn’t do anything particularly fancy. Just built a simple spreadsheet using Google Sheets. And I’ve been updating it ever since. Every time I go swimming, I update the spreadsheet. Since I started four years ago, I’ve swam over 935km. That’s 581 miles if you work in old money.

By the time I started the spreadsheet, I’d been swimming regularly for several years. I had been swimming regularly for some time before my son was born in 2012, that much I do know.

For many years I swam at that branch of Virgin Active. Well it was five minutes walk from my then house in London. I’d joined (if I recall correctly) in 2005, with the intent of getting fitter. I intended to do that by swimming. I’ve always loved swimming. I used to go a lot as a child and a teenager. I was in the swimming club. So in 2005, in my late 20s, with a pool on my doorstep and a need to get fit, swimming made sense.

Which is why I ended up using the the gym instead. Treadmills. Cross-trainers. Weights. All that.

It was dull. I never really clicked with the gym, despite doing it for several years. In the end I realised I was only going once or twice a week. My motivation wasn’t there. And that meant I wasn’t getting great value out of my membership. So I did one last roll of the dice, and switched to swimming. And instantly found I could quite happily go swimming three or four times a week, no problem. And I did. And I still do.

I can’t recall why I started tracking my swimming. Perhaps it was idle curiosity. Perhaps it was a desire to see how much I was swimming. And how much value I was getting out of my gym membership. And now I’ve started, I can’t stop.

The spreadsheet has a whole heap of information in it. There’s the number of lengths swam, and the length of the pool. Any pools that aren’t 25m long (pretty much the de-facto standard length these days) have the data converted so that swimming can be compared between pools.

There’s a three week average calculation. And a 12 week average. So I can spot trends. Last week I went swimming three times and swam 8km. Over the previous twelve weeks though, I’d gone swimming on average 2.17 times a week, and swam an average of 5.35km. For whilst my goal is to go swimming three times a week, I don’t always make it for whatever reason. My most recent 12 week average was rather hit by a bout of (proper) flu that led me to be bed ridden for nearly a week, and where I didn’t have the energy to go swimming for two weeks after. When I did finally get back to the pool, it was really hard going and I didn’t swim even half what I normally do.

One of the most interesting things (to me anyway) that the spreadsheet reveals though, is the change in the way I swim. Back in London in 2015 I was going four times a week, swimming 60-70 lengths a go. Although not specifically recorded in the spreadsheet, I would go first thing in the morning, almost always weekdays before work. I’d usually wake up around 6am, have breakfast, get everything ready, go to the pool, then get the tube to work.

When we moved to Greater Manchester the following year, I initially did the same. Then our daughter arrived, and the complexities of a new born and a three year old made my swimming plummet for a bit, until I managed to get into a new routine of mostly swimming in the evening. My current regime involves going Monday and Tuesday evening, and first thing on a Saturday morning.

Although I usually go less, I swim longer. Instead of 70 lengths, I may do 90 or 100. Tonight I did 120. There’s more time, so I can do a little bit more. So the spreadsheet tells me that the distances I swim now are more than I used to swim when I went to the pool more often.

But perhaps the metric I pay most attention to is cost. Although – since August 2016 – I have a membership with Life Leisure who run the local council pools, I keep a log of what it would have cost me if I’d not got a membership. To see how much my membership saves me.

I actually pay for a years membership up front. There’s a slight discount. 12 months for the price of 11 if you do it that way (and if you don’t, then you can’t as Life Leisure don’t offer it as an option any more). It costs me something like £240 for the year. The most recent period started at the beginning of September 2018. And since then, if I’d paid in cash every time I would have spent £270. It’s still got several months to run, but I’m already £30 up on the deal.

Of course when all is said and done, there’s not a huge point to doing all this. Do I really need to be able to see your life in exercise, shown over 210 rows on a spreadsheet? No. It’s just tracking things for tracking things sake really. After all, what real use is it knowing that in the week starting 1 June 2015 I only went swimming once, and I managed a mere 7 lengths, due to some stomach bug? No use at all. But is that going to stop me?

Well what do you think?