Learning to Swim from Scratch – 6 Steps to Mastering the Basics of Swimming

Learning to swim from scratch is something we often take for granted, but for some of us it can be a big challenge. The best time to learn to swim is when you’re around 4-5 years old, but many people miss the boat and leave it until later in life before taking the plunge.

What if you’ve left it too late?

If you’re a non-swimming adult, don’t worry you’ve still got time and your certainly not alone, in fact it’s quite common. Anyone can learn to swim at any age. 

Whatever your level, we have some comforting news for you, anyone can become a confident swimmer, it’s never too late to learn.

1 in 5 people in the UK cant swim, why?

Here’s the three most common reasons:

Just never learnt – lack of opportunities.
A bad past experience  – avoidance of swimming activities.
Missed the boat swimming lessons never quite clicked.

No matter what your story, it’s best to start right at the beginning with some basic skills before trying to swim the full stroke. We’ve put together a step by step guide to help you understand the process of learning to swim.

1.  Building Water Confidence
2.  Putting Your Face in the Water
3.  Breathing Technique

4.  Balance
5.  Floating
6.  Developing a Strong Leg Kick   

When learning to swim, we always advise that you are accompanied by a competent, experienced swimming teacher, who knows what they are doing and has the appropriate insurance and qualifications.

Step 1: Building Water Confidence

The first step in learning to swim is to build up your water confidence. You might be surprised to hear that this stage doesn’t involve any swimming, but instead, moving around in the water.

Explore the pool, stay close to the edge, walk around and feel the resistance of the water. Breathe slowly and deeply (in through your nose, out through your mouth) Try to stay relaxed and keep paddling around until you feel comfortable.

Step 2: Putting Your Face in the Water

Putting your face in the water can seem like a big deal. In reality it’s not a big deal, it’s just seems that way. You can either put your face in the water on your first trip to the pool or your tenth, you might as well do it right away and save yourself some time. After a few attempts you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about and realise, actually it’s not so bad.

Don’t rush this step. Spend a while practising putting your face in the water. It’s a strange sensation, but you’ll quickly get used to it.

Step 3 – Breathing Technique

You’ve heard the phrase doggy paddle or granny breaststroke right? Well it refers to swimming head up out of the water. Often this style is used because breathing hasn’t been learned. The main issue with swimming with your head up is resistance created by a poor body position, it can also result in pressure on the neck and back.

Developing sound breathing skills can aid relaxation, improve flotation and contribute to a well-rounded swimming stroke. It’s worth investing the time into breathing before aiming to swim.

Step 4 – Balance

To swim at your best you need control, the first exercise involves getting from a horizontal position back to standing. Sounds easy right? well for some people it comes naturally, for others it takes a bit more practice.

For safety, all swimmers should be confident at standing up in the water before moving on to swimming. This step is often overlooked, but shouldn’t be, you need to know how to stop and stand up.

Step 5 – Floating

The benefits of floating go way beyond just learning to swim, Dave Asprey says “Floating helps combat depression and anxiety by minimising your cortisol production”

The key to successful floating is good head position, body position and relaxation. The aim is to create a horizontal body position with legs fully extended out behind (heels almost breaking the surface of the water) but not quite.

Learning to float will help you relax in the water and build your confidence, it’s a key part of the process.

A key skill for anyone learning to swim from scratch is floating on your back. It’s a useful skill to have for activities like relaxing in the pool on holiday or floating around in the sea.

Floating on your back is a popular goal for holiday swimmers, it allows for leisurely drifting around, whilst keeping your face dry.

Step 6 – Developing a Strong Leg Kick

A strong leg kick is the engine that propels you through the water and helps you balance. There’s a few different types of leg kicks for the various strokes.

Which one is best? well that’s personal preference, try out the different styles and see which one works for you.

Experiment with different kicking styles to find out what works for you, you might find that you favour one more than the other.

It takes determination and effort to build a strong leg kick, so don’t worry if you struggle to gain momentum in the early stages, just keep practising.

If you struggle to get going, try a pair of fins. Fins are like flippers, you wear them on your feet to give you a boost.

Here’s the flutter kick on the back…

What’s the Next Level?

Once you’ve mastered the basics swimming skills you’re ready to move on and learn about the correct arm strokes, timing and breathing patterns.

Here’s some useful links to our guides on:

Front Crawl
Treading Water

Safety in the water

Your safety is the most important thing. Swimming can be a really fun, enjoyable experience. But you MUST remember to stay safe at all times. We recommend that all non-swimmers and beginners, are accompanied by a qualified teacher AND also a lifeguard present at all times.

What to look for in a swimming instructor?

Learning to swim can be a memorable journey, so it’s important to find someone you enjoy working with. Look for a teacher who’s attentive, understanding and patient. Of course you want results, but it’s important that you enjoy your swimming experience.

Ask for an initial consultation or an assessment lesson before committing to a teacher/company, be sure to check out they have the relevant qualifications and certificates.

About Water Phobia

Water phobia makes it harder to learn, it can take a while to break down the mental barriers. You might take longer than others, especially if you’re learning to swim from scratch, but just remember, everyone has the ability to learn to swim and anyone can float.

Positive thinking has a big part to play, it’s certainly a case of mind over matter, then learning the correct techniques and repetitive practise. If you’ve made the decision to learn to swim you’re half way there, the rest is a step by step process.

Learning to swim from scratch or having water phobia means you’ll likely take a bit longer, but that’s okay.

by Alistair Mills

In 2016 I saw an opportunity for a new swimming company that did things a little bit differently and here we are almost 4 years later, having built a family of teachers and clients that we are all really proud of.

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