Practice Suggestions for Newbies

Find a great spot for practice

We’ve been teaching adults how to swim from scratch for over 20 years, and the most common thing that we hear is that new swimmers are timid about going to the pool to practice. It makes a lot of sense. You are scared of the water, all of the skills you’ve learned are new, and, quite honestly, you don’t want to look bad at the pool. The only way to make any of those three things better is by getting to the pool regularly to work on your skills. Time spent in the water exploring how your body interacts with it is critical for new swimmers. Here are some suggestions that we give to our newbies to help ease their nerves:

Go to a pool with a lifeguard on duty

Not every pool has a lifeguard on duty. Most health clubs take the ol’ “swim at your own risk” approach to water safety; those that do might not have them on duty at all time. When selecting a place to swim, ask the membership representative whether they have a lifeguard and if there are times when they are not on duty. Generally speaking public pools and pools at schools and universities have lifeguards on duty. In Chicago, some examples are the Chicago Park District facilities, the YMCAs, and the pools at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Having someone watching the pool can be a big source of comfort.

Find the “Floating or Walking Lane”

Often facilities have the lanes divided for “speeds.” While people have been known to be incapable of reading signage, it generally works. Many public pools will have a “floating or walking lane” along one of the pool sides. That lane would be a good place to start to work on floats, glides, and short swims. If it’s crowded and you are afraid to bump into people, stick to more stationary activities.

Look for visual landmarks and depth markers

Take a moment to learn something about your pool. It’s comforting to know where you are when you are swimming, especially that you aren’t floating into the deep end. First, look for depth markers — they come in the form of wall signs, written on the pool edge, or written on the gutters. Sick to the areas where you feel most comfortable being able to start and stop your skill activities. In those “safe depth areas,” look for markers on the ceiling, so you know where you are and where the walls are. Examples are:

  1. If the pool has backstroke flags, those ribbons with triangular pennants, the flags are 15 feet from the wall.
  2. Look for vents, lights, or other markings on the ceiling. If you are swimming on your back, they are invaluable.
  3. Look for ladders and other equipment or room features to the sides.
  4. The “T” at the end of the lane line on the bottom of the pool is roughly 6 feet from the wall.

Knowing your practice area will help lower your stress and blook pressure.

Shorter, more frequent practices are better than one long one.

You goal in this early phase is to increase the number of times that you can get your body into the weightless aquatic environment. There’s nothing on lane that prepares you for what it’s like in a pool or open water. Go to the pool for 20 minutes initially and see if you can do that two times per week outside of your lesson. Tack it onto the end of your aerobic training or weightlifting. The cold water is great for sore muscles. 🙂 This is the same recommendation that music teachers give you. The brain and body adapt to more frequent input than long, dispersed input.

If it feels easy and controlled, you’re doing it right.

One common reason I hear from swimmers is they don’t want to practice because their coach isn’t there to tell them whether they are doing it right. I’ll set aside that this excuse is a total copout and suggest how to feel more confident in your practice. If you are doing an exercise at this stage, and it feels smooth, easy, quiet, and controlled, you are doing it right. If you are making a lot of splash, lurching into and out of the movements, and they feel like a near-death experience, you are doing it wrong. If your performance falls into the latter category, go back a step or two to a skill that you can do well, reset, and then try to work up to the more challenging one again. Practice flow, not struggle.

If you need some help on learning the skills and want to find awesome coaches, look into signing up for our adult learn-to-swim program.

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