Six common swimming struggles for beginners
Six common swimming struggles for beginners
Training > Beginners

Six common swimming struggles for beginners

From knowing what to focus on to getting daunted by the pool environment, coach Joe Beer offers help

Are you a beginner just starting out in the world of triathlon, but struggling to get to grips with the swim? Fear ye not, we’ve asked coach Joe Beer for his advice on how to overcome the six most common setbacks.

Problem one: getting confused with what to focus on when they first start to swim 

I believe that being relaxed is central to learning and enjoying the pool environment. To do this you have to be able to breathe, see well and have a safe environment.

You solve these three conundrums by breathing with a pattern of breaths and choices of sides that suits you – you do not have a set bilateral, every fifth stroke or such like on your mind – just breathe as you see fit.

Second, use good goggles that don’t leak so you can see properly. Lastly choose quieter times/pools and those with lane ropes and lane direction etiquette. 

Swimmer in training

Problem two: worrying about speed, or lack of it 

Yes we all want to get faster but it takes a lot of hours and some pretty natural ability to get fast when soon into swimming as a new sport.

Take the time to learn how to control your effort, your speed and your ability to pace yourself – even a simple test of how consistent you can swim single lengths, then double length soon shows how random a person's effort can be when learning a new sport. Enjoy the process of being able to swim smooth and efficiently and speed follows.

Swimmer being coached

Problem three: being daunted by the poolside environment

Granted you are in minimal lycra, on show to the world so swimming is a very public type of training. However, the more you swim and feel that you are entitled to be there and call yourself a swimmer (albeit a triathlon swimmer with another two strings to your bow) can vastly improve how athletes visualise the swim pool. 

If you feel you’re an outsider, not very good and hindering others you will be unable to be confident and relaxed in the water. Smile, get in and train, everyone respects a person who tries! 

Problem four: how many pool toys to take with you 

Okay so opinions differ but I think being able to have the basics: spare goggles, hat, cossie; then the tools such as kick board, fins, central snorkel (be brave they are a great tool) and some small paddles. The hard part, and where group or personal coaching comes in, is to know when, why and how to use these “toys”.

Pool tool

Problem five: not mixing things up in the pool and getting bored

Again I think as a multisport person, like the person who does gym bike-treadmill bricks many times over to break things up. For indoor sessions I like to suggest getting a Deep Water Running belt (e.g. Speedo Hydro) and split your pool session into swim sections and deep water running.

Yes you need the pool to allow it (catch up please pools, this is a potential for runners and duathletes to use your pool if it catches on with endurance types) but it is great cross training – and you’re a jack of three trades right?

Swimmer doing Deep Water Running

Problem six: balancing time training so they ditch the swim at the first sign of time crunched times up ahead

If you want to do triathlon then you have to be competent to complete the swim at the very least. No amount of biking or running helps you swim if you are not a natural swimmer.

Keep an eye on your pool visiting consistency and use whatever it takes to get you there: others to meet up with; a new swim cossie; some stroke coaching; another new cossie.

(Images: Jonny Gawler)

What’s your biggest struggle with swimming? Let us know in the comments!


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I can honestly say all of these have gone through my head. I used to be a good swimmer but have not been for few years. Now my breathing and stroke are well out of whack and I have my first tri on 21st June? EKKKKKKKKK wondering how im going to do this now???


My biggest struggle - is getting past the 2-lengths hurdle. Up to 25M I'm ok if not great (35 secs); 50M getting raggedy (70 secs); somewhere between 50 & 70 I corpse. I've tried going slower, but that just makes it longer between breaths & I hit oxygen debt. Tried different breathing patterns of every 2nd or 3rd of 4th stroke, all to no avail.


Follystone - this will sound like arguably the dumbest thing you have heard (and you look equally stupid unfortunately), but I originally found that my breathing was poor and determined that I wasn't using my time efficiently when my head was out of the water.


In order to correct this problem I would generally spend a few minutes (ideally when the pool was quiet/empty) once or twice a week like face down in the water with my feet hooked over the steps and doing "bubble bubble bubble breath" to focus on limiting my head movement and improving my breathing quality and efficiency (I did move my arms almost doggy paddle underwater to mimic my stroke rhythm but didn't apply any power). I found that without having the distractions of actually swimming I was able to focus on how I was breathing, how my head and body reacted to the way I was breathing and tweak my movements to reduce "head up, legs down" syndrome and make breathing more comfortable and natural - and the benefits of this can then be felt when actually swimming.


Thanks Andrew, I can definitely see the logic of that suggestion. I'll give it a go.

rob chalmers

I've recently been going through the same thing, really struggling to pass 50m. 

lets go through the 6 problems....  in reverse order.

6. Lacking focus to train at swimming - Swimming is a key issue for m, I'm VERY focused on training on it, in fact I do it more than both other sections combined

5.Getting bored - I do have the patience of a four year old with ADHD but I've never got bored so far, but I do mix up distance and the few drills I know

4. Pool Toys - don't have any, not a problem

3.Daunted by poolside - I'm 5'9 and weigh 15st, my gut hangs over my jammers. Once people have seen me, they've seen me. Yes i don't like what I see in the mirror but Hey, I'm sure anyone staring at me probably has a few niggles about themselves too

Points 1 and 2 are the Keys for me.  

Thinking about times for your 25 and 50 are all well and good but that can focus you on speed for that short distance. Remember for most sprints you've got to do ten times that 50. This may seem like a cop out, but initially focus on just getting to the end of the fifty, then 75, then 100.  

For me the big one is point 1 knowing what to focus on. Breathing is key. But as it says don't think you've got to instantly be in a 1in3 pattern or a 1in4... 

The reasons you're out of breath after 50 is likely to be 

A. You're not breathing comfortably

B. You're putting in one hell of an effort

C.  Both. 

Listen to me trying to sound like I know - I've only kind of passed this struggle. ..

Confidence in the water allows you to focus on other things, rather than your impending death by drowning if you don't make it to the wall.  That Confidence comes from Comfort. if you're comfortable breathing once every 2 stroke - breath  once every 2.

Secondly I went to a local Tri session, swallowed what little pride I had left from plodding out on to poolside andgot in the beginners lane, within ten minutes the coach spotted a few key things.  I was constantly looking forwards, this was tilting my head back, and dropping my hips. Instantly that means my ample midrift was in the line of fire as increased frontal area going through the water. More front area = more drag = more effort needed to swim. This was improved(not 100% solved, because I still glance forwards) by learning to look direct down at the tiles below me on the pool floor.  For the first time EVER I my bum got cold because it was at the surface! 

The next hint he had was to point my toes, lock my knees and use paddle from my hips.....  If you're using energy to bend and straighten your knees, thats energy you could be using elsewhere.  


how some of this random stuff helps


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