01. TAKE YOUR TIME
Thanks to work, life and family, we all have time pressures when it comes to improving our ability to swim and boosting confidence in the water. So the key is to focus on the here and now. Be calm in the water, focus on the basics of what you’re working on, and try not to stress about whether you’ll be capable of doing the race you’ve entered.
02. KEEP YOUR HEAD LOW
To breathe, you want to fight the urge to lift your head and instead turn your chin to the side. This is where your body roll will come in handy. Focus on turning your chin toward your shoulder, looking directly to the side or very slightly behind you. With this, try and ensure that this is the only change that you make within your stroke.
Swimming can be really intimidating and cause you to feel tense. The more tense you are, the more likely it will feel like an uphill struggle. Having a smile on your face – even through gritted teeth – will help you to stay calm, more so than just thinking ‘relax’. This will then allow you to focus on the elements of your stroke that you intend to work on.
04. BREAK IT DOWN
Aim to break your learning down into segments by working out what your milestones are, and not just in terms of distance. Focus on working out your map to get to the distance: getting comfortable in the water, floating, moving forward and then making moving easier.
05. FINGERS FIRST
With your hands, aim to enter the water slightly wide of the centre – you want to keep your arms in line with your shoulders and hips – and finger tips entering the water first. This will help you get the best ‘hold’ on the water and pull you through stronger. In an ideal world your fingers would have a relaxed small space between each of them, but when you’re just starting out think about keeping your fingers closed together.
06. GET HIGH
The first thing I always want to work on is getting someone as high in the water as possible – making sure the back, bum and legs are all at the surface. Focus on lengthening your spine and legs (not necessarily your arms) and making yourself as long as possible. The chances are, you’ll be looking at least slightly towards the bottom of the pool, but hopefully you’ll find your whole body rising in the water.
07. FOCUS YOUR KICK
Saving energy by kicking your legs and providing some propulsion is very important. It’ll make you faster and make your swimming feel easier. Focus your kick from the hip – your knee should be almost straight – and keep your kicks smooth and calm. A relaxed and easy movement is best.
08. KEEP YOUR ARMS MOVING
Aim for big circles with your arms. Of course you can make it more complex than this but, as long as your arms don’t
stop moving (not necessarily fast or slow) and you reach your arms back past your thighs, it’ll be easy to get your arms out of the water and place them in front of you. Don’t worry so much about what your hands do for now, that can come later.
09. ROCK YOUR HIPS
Rock your hips with every stroke you take – as if you’re ice skating or kayaking. This body roll will help you move your arms smoother, reach further, give you more power and, most importantly, make it easier for you to breathe, easier to turn your head and easier to find air.
10. FIGHT YOUR INSTINCTS
Swimming is counter- intuitive. If you can remember this, it’ll help you fight your panic and survival instincts.
It takes time to override some of these natural thoughts – i.e. looking forward, lifting your head up to breathe, kicking as hard and as fast as you can. As a survival instinct, this is what your body wants to do, but logically (you’ll
see in the tips later) you almost need to do the opposite.
11. BE PRODUCTIVE
If you don’t enjoy the water, something that can put you off is thinking you have to be in the water forever. But swims don’t have to be hours and hours long. Just 20-30mins of water time each session can be plenty if you can make yourself comfortable and be productive with your time.
12. DON’T FOCUS ON DISTANCE
When you first start your swims and sessions, don’t focus too much on the distance you’re swimming. This can be daunting, especially if you think you have to do a particular number of lengths in a session, or a certain amount of time. Instead, focus on good quality, how you feel in the water and aim to do a little more on average every time. Some days you’ll feel rubbish so you might have to swim shorter; other days you’ll feel magic and go much further. And remember that progress isn’t linear.
13. KEEP YOUR SESSIONS REGULAR
You should be aiming to swim as consistently as possible every week. Once a week should be the minimum to get any improvement, as any less means that you’re almost starting from scratch every time. The more
often you can be in the water, the more you can maintain any improvements and retain how
you feel in each session without having to remember too hard.
14. FOCUS ON TECHNIQUE
To start with, your sessions should be all about technique. The smoother and more controlled you can make your swim, the easier you’ll progress and the easier it’ll feel.
Once you’re able to swim 400m, however, you can try and change the efforts that you put in. That doesn’t mean that you have to think about all-out effort, but the ability to change pace will positively affect your fitness, your endurance and also your enjoyment of your sessions.
15. BE FLUID
Your stroke should be continuous with no stopping points or pauses. Keep your arms moving – they don’t have to move fast, but as long as they don’t stop it will make your life easier, it will maintain your momentum and help keep you higher in the water.
16. KEY SESSION 1 FOR BEGINNERS: RELAX IN THE WATER
Try this balance and relaxation set for your first couple of sessions, and then repeat it to make sure you feel comfortable in the water. You probably won’t need anything serious for recovery – a banana will do the trick.
KIT: Kickboard/float if needed
1min getting used to floating on your back
1min floating on your front totally relaxed (‘Dead Man’ float)
1min floating on your front stretched out – arms in front, ears between your arms, legs stretched
2mins of sink-downs, getting used to going under water and exhaling before popping up
4 x 1 length (100m), breaststroke
4 x 1 length (100m) full stroke front crawl – take a rest at the end of each length
2 x 1 length kick (50m) – keep your arms still, aim for a streamlined position; you can use a kickboard/float here
2 x 4 lengths (200m) full stroke front crawl – minimal rest at the end of each length but take as long as you need at the end of each 100m
2 x lengths (50m) breaststroke
17. KEY SESSION 2 FOR BEGINNERS: STRENGTH PYRAMID
This pyramid session will
help build strength and also start you thinking about technique. You could do this session every week or every other week and note the changes in how you feel. Afterwards, eating a banana or
cereal bar would be perfect for recovery.
KIT: Pull buoy required
100m (4 x lengths) warm-up,
your choice of stroke(s)
MAIN SET 1
1 x [25m; 50m; 75m; 50m; 25m]
All front crawl with pull buoy
Take 20-30secs rest after each block
MAIN SET 2
1 x [25m; 50m; 75m; 50m; 25m]
All front crawl without pull buoy
Take 20-30secs rest after each block
50m easy swim
18.KEY SESSION 3 FOR BEGINNERS: ENDURANCE FOCUS
This is a more endurance-focussed set, with more swimming and added variety. You can do a version of this session every week – as you get stronger and feel better, reduce the recoveries and do more reps, or lengthen them. After this session you may feel more tired, so take a recovery bar with you. That or a milkshake to take the edge off things until you get to some proper food later.
DURATION: 40mins (1,000m total)
KIT: Pull buoy
150m (6 lengths), your choice of stroke(s)
4 x 100m, consistent freestyle swimming with 45secs after each 100m. Aim to keep the same steady speed and same stroke technique each length, so make sure you take the full 45secs rest.
6 x 50m with 20secs rest after each 50m. Alternate one 50m with pull buoy, one without, aim to keep as smooth and controlled as possible.
100m, your choice of stroke(s)