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Here's What To Do For Your First Swim

Let's be real, starting anything new is hard. I get it. We’ve all been there before.

We can all reminisce our childhood days when our parents stuck us in summer camp, football camp, [insert any new activity here], and it frightened the bejesus out of us.

“Heecccck no”, I would say. But that didn’t stop them from plopping us into a new class.

Learning a new activity is hard. It’s not just the act of acquiring a new skill. It’s also doing it in front of others. In public. No one wants to suck in front of others or feel embarrassed because they’re not a pro (I don’t know why that’s an expectation in the fitness world, but that’s something we need to change). But, we all have to start somewhere.

The great thing about swimming (amongst many other wonderful things) is that the swimming community is extremely welcoming. From the experienced veterans to newcomers, I have never met a swimmer who looks down on beginners. If anything, the swimming community is excited whenever people hop in the pool for the first time. You just completed your first lap? A round of applause for you. You’re out of breath? Join the club.

In this community, we love to share our love for the water with people of all ages and skill sets. We want others to experience the water and find joy in this sport as the rest of us already do. With swimming, you will find a community who will happily give you tips (if you ask) and guide you along the way.

If you’re adding swim training to your workout routine for the first time, here are some things that you’ll want to know:

  1. Start easy. I know it’ll be tempting to hop in and sprint across the pool, but I’ll assure you that’s a fast track to a shortened workout and an afternoon nap. Remember, you’re operating in a completely different medium. Most people aren’t used to moving through liquid. You’ll be expending more energy and depleting your oxygen reserves quicker than you’re used to. Take your time and get acquainted in the environment you’re in. Here’s an example of what your first water training might look like: swim for 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds. It may seem easy, but when you’ve done 10 sets of that, you’ll start to feel the fatigue set in. If that was easy, do 10 more. The purpose of your first day is simply to gain familiarity in your environment and develop some form of baseline for your next training session.

  2. Focus on your kick. Establishing a strong foundation in your kick will go a long way. In fact, all swimmers that I’ve coached and competed with have fluid and efficient kicks. It’s important to master the fundamentals in kicking because that will serve as your “propeller” in the water. For flutter kick, you want to mimic a whipping motion, where the power of your kick is generated from your core and is transferred out through your toes. When first learning to swim, most people will kick with their knees. This is inefficient when compared to the former because your lever arm is much shorter, and therefore less powerful. Overtime, you expend much more energy despite the inefficiency of your kick. You want to work smarter, not harder.

  3. Change it up. You started with 30-seconds on (swim), 30-seconds off (rest). Now, aim for 45-seconds on, and 15-seconds off. Altering the duration of your swim and rest periods will tax your aerobic and anaerobic capacities differently. Each have benefits and will improve your overall exercise and fitness capacities.

  4. Use the clock. Most lap swimming and competitive pools will have pace clocks for you to use. Definitely use them to alleviate any counting you’d otherwise have to do to keep track of your intervals. If the clock is too difficult to see, consider using a water resistant watch with a stop watch feature. Swimming will be difficult enough, so use the tech around you to help you keep track of your workout.

  5. Gradually build your routine. Start swimming twice a week, spacing it out throughout the week. Build your endurance and tolerance to the pool. When twice a week feels comfortable, add a 3rd training session to the week. Again, spacing it out throughout the week so you get recovery days (land training) in between pool training. If you feel that 3x/week is too much, drop back down to 2x/week until you’re ready to up your pool time. Consistency is key.

  6. Have fun. The most important thing is to have fun. Nothing is sustainable if you’re not enjoying it. Learning to swim can and may feel like a marathon, and that’s okay. You have to remind yourself that you’re learning to move in a different medium, different environment, and in a different plane. That’s just the beginning. You’re also performing ranges of motion your joints are not used to, while also learning breathing techniques so you don’t choke on water. Learning to swim and adding it to your fitness tool kit is a process, so make some friends and have some fun doing it.

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