You may think there isn’t much to write about swimming – it’s just one arm after another and remember to breathe, right?!
Well, you’d be very, very wrong. Between pools and lakes, lidos and oceans, there’s a rich choice of literature about swimming, with something to appeal to all kinds of swimmers.
Within our guide of the best books about swimming we have newly-published options exploring the science behind cold-water swimming and why it’s good for our health, as well as established text books on swim technique.
There are guides to lidos and open-water dipping spots, accounts of the history of swimming and evocative descriptions of magical watery adventures. Finally, we’ve even got a novel (if you need a swim-based holiday read!). Dip in and enjoy…
Best books about swimming
Swim Smooth by Paul Newsome and Adam Young
There can’t be many triathletes who haven’t heard of Swim Smooth – arguably the most famous swim technique coaching system in the world – and its founders, Paul Newsome and Adam Young.
Based out in Australia, both have written regular articles for 220 in past years and there are Swim Smooth franchises offering coaching all around the world.
But if you’re not able to make it to a coach (or can’t afford the outlay), then the good news is this handy text book lays out all the theories underpinning their coaching for anyone to access.
The book begins by identifying the common swim ‘types’, which most swimmers fall into and which you will hopefully recognise yourself in! These range from the ‘bambino’, who may be a nervous, new swimmer, to the ‘Arnie’, who is a more confident, powerful swimmer. It also includes categories for those swimmers who overglide or kick too hard!
Once you’ve identified your swim type, the rest of the book gives superb tips on improving your technique, with examples of sessions and drills to focus on.
The book has a strong focus on open-water swimming, too (Paul Newsome is the winner of many iconic open-water events), and will prove invaluable for any triathlete wondering how to sight, swim straight or turn efficiently around a buoy.
Chill: The Cold Water Swim Cure by Mark Harper MD PhD
Cold water swimming is what could be termed a ‘moment’ right now… But why does it make us feel so good and – maybe more crucially – what are the implications for health and fitness?
For triathletes, this is a pertinent question, as many of us will head back to the pool as soon as temperatures drop and forget about open-water until things warm up again. However, this would be a mistake, argues Dr Mark Harper, author of Chill.
In his work as a consultant anaesthetist, Dr Mark Harper is responsible for keeping patients undergoing surgery warm. He’s also a keen outdoor swimmer, though, and the combination of these two passions led to this remarkable study on the healing properties of cold water.
Here, he provides evidence that cold water can positively influence our health physiologically and psychologically. As well as the theory, the book provides practical tips and inspirational case studies that any swimmer will find fascinating.
Swim Wild & Free by Simon Griffiths
Outdoor swimming comes with lots of questions attached. What do you wear? Where is safe to swim? How can you improve your technique?
In this friendly and easy-to-digest book, the founder of Outdoor Swimmer magazine, Simon Griffiths, covers all this and more.
Nicely balanced between photos and info, we like this textbook as it provides a knowledgeable yet not intimidating reference point for new outdoor swimmers and would be open-water athletes.
Winter Swimming by Dr Susanna Søberg
Originally published in Denmark in 2019, this fantastic and informative hardback text by Dr Susanna Søberg has recently (2022) been translated into English for the British Market.
Although Danish scientist Søberg may be lucky enough to swim in a country where swim and sauna culture is prevalent, this book is still hugely relevant to us in Great Britain.
This step-by-step guide talks the reader through the ‘cold shock response’ and what happens to our body when we enter cold water. It discusses how our hormones, ciculation, heart and lungs respond and how the activation of brown fat can benefit multiple health conditions.
Rather than being a dry read, though, Winter Swimming is packed with friendly tips and advice to inspire even the most reluctant of cold water dippers!
Wild Swimming by Daniel Start
The author of many ‘wild’ books now, the Wild Swimming book by Daniel Start first published in 2013 is still a faithful companion in our van glovebox.
Perfect for swimmers who like to have a dip or swim whenever on a road trip, it details 300 hidden dips in the rivers, lakes and waterfalls of Great Britain.
The book is divided into regions and for each swim spot you get maps, as well as practical advice about water access, where to park and what kind of swim to expect.
Whether you want a secluded dip or the thrill of a rushing waterfall, this book is the place to find them.
The Lido Guide by Emma Pusill and Janet Wilkinson
Where Wild Swimming looks for wild outdoor spots, The Lido Guide is concerned more with finding you outdoor swimming pools to enjoy.
There are a surprising number, too, with 130 from the UK and the Channel Isles listed. This book was a real labour of love for the authors, who went on a nationwide trip to create this resource.
As well as telling you a little of the history of each lido, it also details useful info such as opening times, refreshments, accessibility and whether the lido is heated or not.
Open Water by Mikael Rosén
Here at 220 Triathlon, we first met and interviewed Swedish swim coach Mikael Rosén at the ÖtillÖ World Championships in the Swedish Archipelago, where he was competing as well as advising athletes on swim technique.
An absolute walking encyclopaedia of open-water knowledge and head coach for the Swedish open-water team, Rosén is well-known on Instagram.
Now, all that knowledge has been compiled into one stunning hardback book which details the history and technique of swimming and is packed with history, science and trivia.
The Outdoor Swimmers’ Handbook by Kate Rew
Kate Rew is the founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society, so as you would expect, knows a thing or two about swimming outdoors.
This beautifully illustrated hardback book takes the reader on an adventure through the UK’s lakes, rivers, seas and estuaries and, along the way, details the nature you might find as well as including practical tips on accessing the water, understanding how it behaves and staying safe.
Chapters on winter swimming and night swimming add advice for those who wish to take their outdoor swimming a step further.
Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui
Given we’re land-based, upright, walking creatures, it may sometimes seem odd that humans are so drawn to water. If this is a question that you’re keen to have answered then Bonnie Tsui’s fascinating account of what makes us want to swim is the one for you.
Covering everything from evolution to open-water competition, this book draws from swim stories and history around the globe to offer you a mine of interesting facts and insights into our watery obsession.
The Lido by Libby Page
This guide is made up wholly of factual books… until our last choice. The Lido offers a ‘lighter’ read, but is filled with references to swimming and the history of our lidos, which will make it a read to enjoy for most outdoor swimmers.
Detailing the fictional story of a lido threatened with closure and the swimmers past and present who frequent it, this reads as a love letter to our outdoor pool swimming history. One for by the (actual) pool on holiday, or by the fireside in winter!