Why you should get out of the kiddie pool and into the lap lanes

December 11, 2014                 3m read time
Libby Lowe

Swimming is a fun and effective full-body workout. But if you've stayed out of the water as an adult, how do you move from dog paddle to butterfly stroke? Follow these tips to emerge from your swimming cocoon.

If you asked me, “Can you swim?” I would say yes. I mean, if you threw me into a pool I wouldn’t drown. But, if we’re being honest, survival in a pool is as good as my skills get. Like many people, I learned to swim as a kid and, after high school, never again bothered to pay attention to things like breathing properly or correct form in the water.

According to swim coach Priscilla Weston, I’m missing out on an effective full-body workout. Weston, who has coached Olympic-bound athletes, national champions, and newbies alike, now works as a private coach helping adults like me move from doggie paddlers to respectable lap swimmers.

Dive Back Into Swimming

Most cities have master swim classes (if you have no clue what that is you’re probably not ready) and beginners courses designed for people who never learned. Many of us fall somewhere in between, so when we get in the pool to work out, we are not getting all of the benefits.

And the benefits of a water workout are pretty amazing. “You can hit everything at once—strength and cardio. Other than the push off of the wall, swimming is no-impact, which is important for knees and hips. And you burn four times as many calories swimming as you would jogging,” says Weston.

If you haven’t done a proper stroke in years, working with a coach is a great idea. But to prep your body for the actual workout, you'll have to be willing to do the stuff that isn’t as entertaining—like spending time with a kickboard. Skipping this sort of solo training is a common rookie mistake. Below are some other beginner missteps (misstrokes?) to avoid.

Common Newbie Mistakes

1.  Not employing props: Kickboards aren’t for kids. “The better your kick, the less pressure you put on your upper body. Even Olympic athletes practice with kickboards,” Weston says. She also suggests wearing fins to give yourself a boost and using a snorkel to help with breathing until you build up cardio strength.

Polar bear on kickboard Valerie If this guy isn't scared of the kickboard, you shouldn't be either.

Polar bear on kickboard


If this guy isn't scared of the kickboard, you shouldn't be either.

2.  Going too fast: It’s not a race (yet). “New swimmers tend to swim too hard and burn out. They kick across as hard as they can and then they’re exhausted in 15 minutes. These 7 and 10-minute workouts are not fun. It’s way better to take 30 minutes and make it enjoyable so you will actually stick with it,” she says.

3.  Thinking you have to swim the whole time: Thirty minutes of swimming is hard. If you can do 10 minutes, do 10 good minutes and then spend 20 minutes jogging.

4.  Stressing out: You have to be relaxed to swim, explains Weston. “It’s like singing. If you are uncomfortable, you will sound horrible—and you won’t enjoy it. When you swim, you don’t have to be fast. You’re not there to impress people.”

Pro Tips

1.  Track your progress: Once you’re going it alone, track yourself. Use a waterproof device like a Garmin Swim or just write down what you did and how long it took.

2.  Get a waterproof iPod and headphones: Because music makes everything better.

3.  Learn the rules of the pool: Sharing lanes is expected and acceptable. Try to find someone with a similar pace—or one that is a little faster than yours to inspire you to keep up. And make sure the person you are joining sees you before you jump in. 

4.  If you think you’re faster in some pools than others, you’re right: Pools that are flat, rather than those that go from shallow to deep, offer swimmers more speed.

. . .

Keep these tips in mind and jump on in. According to Weston, with weekly training sessions and regular time practicing alone, most people can develop a solid swimming technique in about a month.

Libby Lowe

Libby started writing—and kept writing—because she loves telling stories. She has spent the last 15 years as a marketing/communications professional and journalist. Libby lives in Chicago with her husband and her Great Dane, Bucket.

Subscribe +

Get the best stories and activities, personalized just for you. Go on, get out there!

You might also enjoy: