Swim England recently launched a campaign called ‘England Swims’ and it instantly made me nostalgic remembering learning to swim as an adult.
Learning to swim as an adult in my thirties, was undoubtedly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done yet at the same time it was rewarding and liberating. I can’t even describe what the sense of accomplishment truly felt like to be honest, nor am I exaggerating when I say learning to swim was a skill that changed my life.
But before I share more about how and why I learnt to swim and my journey since, I wanna share a bit more about the Swim England campaign.
England Swims When We Speak Up.
Part of the national England Swims campaign is a survey which resonated with me a lot as Swim England are hoping to receive the largest response to a survey of its type in the sport and leisure sector and they’re especially looking to hear from diverse communities.
It’s a chance to share our views and experiences of swimming – with the aim of helping to make water-based activity more accessible and enjoyable for everyone.
And yes, it includes you; whether you can swim but choose not to, you can’t swim, you’ve tried and not had a positive experience or you already enjoy the water.
The results will significantly shape the future of the sector and Swim England’s next 10-year strategy, which will be its most ambitious yet in terms increasing diversity in the water.
Why I Never Learnt To Swim
I have memories of being a small child in Barbados (6years old or younger) and spending time at the beach with friends and family… even in the water but never swimming.
When we moved to the UK, during my years in Primary school, we would have lessons very sporadically. I remember someone telling me that “no-one forgets how to swim” but somehow I managed. But maybe that was because I never learnt properly?
My best friend in primary school was a great swimmer and I remember watching her do breast stroke and decided that was what I wanted to do too. But I didn’t have confidence to put my face under water so it was more like a “wading in a Greek pool” kinda swim.
I did manage to gain my length certificate (25m) with my sad attempt at breaststroke though then it was only secondary school and no more swimming lessons.
For me though, it wasn’t just a lack of confidence. I had had my hair chemically straightened (relaxed) since the age of 9 and chlorine was another chemical my hair didn’t need. My hair wash routine wasn’t straightforward and the time needed post swim was definitely a barrier to me continuing.
As I got older though, I felt like swimming was a life skill… it was something I should be able to do and something I really wanted to do but cost and time were yet more barriers at the time.
Learning To Swim As An Adult
I think the biggest shift for me happened after I stopped relaxing my hair. It meant I didn’t have to worry about the chemicals and my post swim hair wash routine was a basic wash and go with natural hair.
So when the opportunity to do a triathlon arose, it seemed like a good idea! I had about 6 months to figure out this swimming thing, so I asked friends for swimming lesson recommendations and found Strictly Swimming. After chatting to them, we decided one to one lessons were the best place to start and when ready I could move onto the small group sessions specifically for triathlon.
Before you jump into the water, here are a few tips I want to share with you:
Build Strength Ready For Swimming.
Of course you’re gonna build your strength from swimming itself, but it never hurts to put in a bit of work out of the pool to get strong and keep your training varied.
Add in simple moves like pushups, core exercises and lunges to your current routine. Pushups help strengthen your shoulders, arms, chest, back, and core muscles. They also improve your posture and balance.
Core exercises work your abs, lower back, and obliques whilst lunges work your hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, glutes, and hip flexors. They’re an excellent exercise for building leg strength.
Master the Art of Breathing Underwater.
One of the biggest breakthroughs for me was working on relaxing in the water and breathing underwater. I can still remember the exact moment I cracked it. I wrote here on the blog back in 2015:
“This is gonna sound like nothing to those of you who swim autonomously but for me it was huge. It meant my breathing wasn’t forced. It meant I was more relaxed and not panicking. It meant I was breathing under water and not having to tell myself to breathe.”
“I need to remember how far I’ve come and not get frustrated. Just a couple weeks ago, I couldn’t even lift my head up to breathe in just once (using a kickboard). Now I can do that comfortably 3 or 4 times in succession. Just 8 weeks ago, I’d never even attempted to swim freestyle.”
So, find yourself a good pair of goggles, a pool with a shallow end (my fav was a warm relaxation pool in my gym that was always empty) and then just spend some time in there getting comfortable between lessons.
Learn Stroke Mechanics Through Swimming Lessons.
I can’t emphasise the value of lessons enough. Swimming is one of the only sports I know where relaxing makes it easier. Above that, understanding the mechanics of the strokes makes you more efficient and faster.
During my lessons I learnt how to breast stroke properly as well as learning front crawl from scratch. We figured out things like how many strokes I could complete before I needed to breathe and if I could breathe on both sides or just one.
Having someone to feedback on your stroke or video you in the water is also great to help you improve. Group lessons will be much more affordable than one to one, but I saw it as an investment.
This was another tough area of learning to swim for me – developing endurance. If you’re new to swimming, you’ll need to develop endurance before you can start swimming laps.
As with most things, this will come from building up your time and distance in the water gradually as well as working on your technique. You could aim to swim two to three times per week for 30 minutes each session.
More On My Swim & Triathlon Journey:
- 5 Things No One Tells You As A New Swimmer
- #GetSpeedoFit – Train and Race Team Speedo
- TRI | CHECK | DO: Swimming is…
- How I’m Swapping 5km On The Road For 1km In The Pool
- Beginner Triathlon Preparation | Dotiv The Podcast Feature
My memories of learning to swim are some of my greatest. I found swimming to be one of the best ways to stay fit and active with benefits like helping to build muscle strength and endurance as well as being a low impact sport.
It also was the sport that made me the hungriest… ever!
“I’m excited to get back in the water, see where I’m at and find that love for the water that I worked so hard for!”Elle
Before I learnt to swim, I would go on vacations and avoid the pool or the sea. I always felt like worse case scenario, I’d be able to tread water should I need to, but I wasn’t 100% confident about that. Now though, I’m excited to get back in the water, see where I’m at and find that love for the water that I worked so hard for!
This post was written as part of a collaboration with Swim England to support their campaign ‘England Swims’ to get more diverse responses. All thoughts, opinions and experiences of learning to swim and then forgetting are most definitely my own!