I’m a successful adult and child swim teacher with 15 years of experience, but here’s how I almost gave up on learning lap swimming. Don’t let this story intimidate your swim goals. I’ll get you there in three steps.
Years and years ago, at the age of 23, during my first day of the lifeguard training at the part where we do 8 laps in the pool back-to-back, the instructor stopped me. “I don’t think you are going to be able to do this,” he said to me.
I didn’t get it. What I didn’t get was why a very athletic person like myself wasn’t just picking lap swimming up. I could see why the instructor had concern — after four laps I was totally winded. I was struggling to breathe. Yet everyone else around me was calming swimming that 200 yards, back and forth, doing flip-turns and pushing off the wall like a ping pong balls. No choking on water, no heavy panting. Yet I was almost hyperventilating. What was I doing wrong?
Step #1: Not being winded has everything to do with how you are breathing and blowing. Swimming laps well isn’t about fast kicks and strong arms and getting to the side as fast as you can. Swimming laps well is first about coordinating your breathing. It is about building distance stamina by making your breathing work for you.
- FIRST-TIMERS LAP SWIMMING EXERCISE: Start it out slowly and with a kickboard. Body horizontal on the water, begin kicking with straight legs, holding the end of the board not too tight with two hands. With your head looking at the bottom, start to slowly blow bubbles. Now let your left hand go and pull straight down, bringing the arm all the way around to grab the kickboard once again. Move onto the right – but when that right arm has finished pulling down and is stretched behind you, roll your body to the right side and take a breath. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Soon this exercise is modified to a simple phrase: One arm (bubbles), two arm (bubbles), roll and breathe.
Step #2: Prepare to humble yourself with one-lap victories.Seriously, how many times do you think you need to repeat this process to make it 25 yards, or one end of he pool to the other? For a newbie, I’d say 35 times. That’s 35 inhales and 35 exhales. That’s 70 arms movements, and an innumerable amount of kicks. You’d better paced yourself. Because your goal is to get to the end of the lap without stopping AND not be winded. Then your next goal would be to do two laps and not be winded. And then three laps and not be winded. We call that progress.
- FIRST-TIMERS LAP SWIMMING WORKOUT GOAL: In swimming one lap is there and back. Each distance is 25 yards. We would be bored to tears (not to mention totally lost) if we just counted laps. So we breakdown a workout like so:
- Warm Up/4×25 straight or flutter kick only w/ board (100 yd. or 4 laps);
- Conditioning Phase/ 4×50 freestyle stroke (150 yd. or 8 laps with stopping on same end and not both ends);
- Cool Down/ 4×25 freestyle slow (100 yd. or 4 laps).
- TOTAL WORKOUT = 16 laps or 400 yd.
Step #3: Getting good at lap swimming is a slow-building process.I took to heart what my lifeguard instructor said and had two weeks to prove him different. Everyday I showed up at the pool and practiced. I built up my ability slowly and conditioned myself through proper breathing. There’s really no other way. You cannot “power through” or “bite the bullet” with the sport of swimming (like I did with lacrosse, softball and tennis).
There is a great quote by Arthur Ashe I like to recall when I feel intimated or overwhelmed with something (kind of like how you might be feeling with lap swimming). “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” So start with one good breath at a time. Speed and technique comes later. Want to learn more about how to swim laps on Squidkid.org? My life is dedicated to turning beginners like you into lap swimmers. Check out these links: