Stuck in the Process of Learning How to Swim? Don’t Stop! Ten Facts Every Adult Should Know

by Larissa

Not too long ago, I addressed some of the myths the general public perpetuates about swimming (and learning to swim). Over the last few days, I’ve had some interesting conversations with adults who want to learn how to swim and some who have tried lessons, but never became the swimmer they’ve always wanted to be. As we spoke, I quickly found myself correcting a lot of misperceptions which led me to realize those pesky myths are once again up to no good. They’re powerful and they’re REALLY hard to get rid of, but with the right information, new adult swimmers can push through these mental roadblocks and reach their swimming goal once and for all.

Ten facts every new adult swimmer should know:
1. MYTH: This is embarrassing. I’m the only adult who can’t swim. Only kids take swim lessons. FACT: As many as 50-65% of U.S. adults don’t know how to swim. There are plenty of swim instructors across the country who teach adults. The National Drowning Prevention Alliance encourages everyone to learn how to swim, including adults. The whole family should know how. This is how we keep everyone safer in the water!

2. MYTH: It’s easy for adults to learn. We learn faster than kids because we’re older and more experienced. So why does it feel so hard? FACT: Regardless of age, everyone starts at the same place in the pool (once upon a time even Michael Phelps couldn’t swim until someone taught him how). Learning to swim takes time and you’ll probably wonder at first why you’re so spectacularly bad at the different swimming drills. Don’t worry … with a little practice, you will improve your skill. Patience is key. Accept the learning process for what it is and don’t let embarrassment or frustration stop you. Trust your swim instructor. He/she will get you there in no time.

3. MYTH: I must be a really poor learner. My instructor keeps having me repeat many of the same drills. FACT: This is intentional. Why? Because repetition and practice builds skill. You’re working towards something called “muscle memory.” When you swim a stroke correctly enough times, your muscles eventually remember the movement and only then does swimming begin to feel natural.

4. MYTH: Adults don’t need swim aides/accessories – only kids do. It’s embarrassing to have to use them during my lessons. FACT: Swim aides are a critical part of the learning process. Many of them help support different parts of your body in the water while you isolate certain stroke movements; they provide a little extra buoyancy. In fact, regular swimmers (and yes, even world-class competitive swimmers!) use all kinds of swim aides to improve their strokes and performance. Sure, kids use them, but so do almost all adults who swim — especially those who lap swim regularly.

5. MYTH: I’m a conditioned athlete. Something isn’t right because I get so winded in the pool. I guess I’m not a swimmer. FACT:  Swimming is really challenging at first due to the resistance of the water. Not only have I seen this first-hand in other adult students, but I have experienced it myself. Remember, everyone has to start at the beginning, regardless of your fitness level. The physical activity of your swim lessons will eventually condition you for the water. Be patient; you will definitely get there! And that’s also why your swim instructor will push you to swim a little farther each time — it’s important to build endurance in the water.

6. MYTH: Swimming is intuitive, so something must be wrong with me. Why is it taking so long to learn how to swim? FACT: Humans are born with no innate swimming ability. We must learn it. If swimming were instinctive, far fewer people would drown each year. Children and adults who can’t swim and accidentally fall into the water drown because they don’t know how to keep themselves at the surface of the water. That’s why everyone — young and old — must learn how to swim. Swimming will feel a lot easier once you’re taught the correct form and have spent a sufficient amount of time practicing it.

7. MYTH: I want to learn how to swim, but I have to start with lessons and that’s too big of a step right now. FACT: If you’re not comfortable in the water, there are other ways to build your confidence in the pool, such as water aerobics or other aqua fitness classes (where you can stay in the shallow end of the pool and never have to put your head underwater). Many adults start there and eventually realize they’re ready for more and transition into learning to swim. (It’s what they call in the industry: transitioning from “vertical” water-based exercises to “horizontal” swimming activity.) It’s a great way to ease yourself into the world of aquatics!

8. MYTH: Once I finish swimming lessons, I’m on my own. But there are still some things I want to improve. FACT: There is no time limit on seeking out professional help. If you complete your lessons but still want to learn more, don’t hesitate to go back to your swim instructor or find a swim coach (check out U.S. Masters Swimming). Think in terms of an aquatic personal trainer. Seek out those experts as much as you’d like. That’s what they’re there for!

9. MYTH: I’ve put my children in swimming lessons, so that’s the best thing I can do to keep my family safer around water. FACT: As a parent, you are your child’s lifeguard. You are responsible for their every interaction with water. It is absolutely critical to put children in swim lessons, but parents need to have the skill as well. There are countless examples of adults who drown trying to save their children because they weren’t able to swim themselves. The whole family is safer around water when everyone knows how to swim. It’s never too late to learn.

10. MYTH: I get that swimming can save lives, but I avoid water. So really, what’s the point of learning to swim as an adult? FACT: Water avoidance seems like a great strategy for those who can’t swim, but 70% of the people who drown in this country never intended to be in the water in the first place. A better strategy is to learn to swim because once you do, you will open up a whole new world of fun water activities. Better yet, swimming is amazing exercise. It’s a low-impact, high cardio-conditioning activity that can be done well into old age. Swimming not only saves lives by preventing drownings, but it can also improve the health of those who do it frequently for exercise.  

If you want to start swim lessons or give them another try, visit Swimmunity for help getting started! We can also help you find non-swimming, water-based exercise classes in your area if you’re not yet ready for swim lessons.