How to learn to swim as an adult 

It’s never too late to learn to swim. Take the plunge confidently with these top tips.

Swimming is a great form of exercise, with many health benefits. In fact, there’s a movement to promote swimming as medicine.

It can also be incredibly therapeutic; being in the water can encourage calm, helping us to reconnect with our bodies, and improving sleep patterns. And it can be a good social activity, too.

Smiling man in swimming hat and gogglesCredit: Shutterstock /
It’s never too late to learn to swim

However, many people fear swimming. It may be they never learnt to swim, or they did, but they lack confidence in deep water.

Swimming didn’t become compulsory in schools until 1994, so lots of us were reliant on our parents to organise lessons with a coach or teach us themselves. But if they weren’t keen on swimming or were short on time, you missed out.  

It’s never too late to learn something new, though. So if you’re looking to increase confidence in the water, want to learn to swim all the strokes, or just want the courage to lift your feet off the swimming pool floor, we have all the tips you need. 

Learning to swim as a beginner

Find the courage to start

Hannah Banting is a Swimming Teachers Association-qualified coach who runs Kingfisher Swim in Winchester. She is also training to become an Aquaphobia coach, helping people overcome a fear of water. If you want to learn to swim, and are a bit anxious about it, she recommends doing your research first. 

There are so many incredible benefits to swimming, at any time of life, but you need to listen to your body and go at your own speed,” she says. 

If you’re nervous or apprehensive, break it all down. Research the pool and look at photos online. Ask your local pool for a tour. Having a member of staff show you around can really help in overcoming that initial apprehension.” 

Banting adds: “Just knowing in advance how you’ll get in and out of the pool safely can help relieve any concerns.”  

Women learning to swimCredit: Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia
Enjoy the sensation of being in the water

It’s also a good idea to wear swimwear you’re comfortable in. For women, many costumes are now available that cover the tops of the legs or have skirts that cover them. Men might like to wear a rash vest (available in most sports stores) to cover their chest. If you don’t like getting chlorinated water in your eyes, goggles are a must, and nose and ear plugs can be useful too.  

Take a few minutes to acclimatise to the water,” Banting advises. There’s absolutely no rush, so give yourself time to enjoy the sensation of just being in the water before anything else.”  

You don’t have to swim lengths

It’s not just about swimming, Banting says. Aqua exercises are brilliant for body and mind, too. Try an Aquafit class or do your own water resistance exercises, like gentle arm curls, calf raises and leg swings. Try moving through the water by walking, hopping or jumping.  

“Even just moving your hands and feet increases the blood flow to your heart and lungs, and helps give your mind and body a healthy boost.”  

Relax and float

Once you’re comfortable in the water, try letting yourself float. As your confidence increases, you’ll find this more relaxing, and it’s a good way to switch off.  

Learning to relax and float is the foundation of good swimming and water confidence,” Banting says. It puts your body into a better streamlined position and it’s how you rescue yourself if you’re ever in trouble in the water.  

All the flotation devices are there to help you – they aren’t just a bit of fun for the kids,” she says, suggesting you try using a pool noodle placed across your back or chest to support you as you float. 

Look into swim classes for adults

Adult swimming classes aren’t as widely advertised as kids’ classes, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  

Swim England has a pool finder, and from there you can see all the pools in your local area and the services they offer, and click straight through to their websites,” Banting advises. You can also ask your local pool for a timetable of pool sessions and aqua classes.” 

If you have any specific health issues, Good Boost is a resource that can support you with a specialised aqua therapy programme. Banting helps run these sessions at her local pool, and they’re available nationwide.  

Good Boost provides specialist aqua therapy exercise and wellbeing progammes online,” she explains. You submit details about your condition, and they produce a personalised series of exercises for you to complete using a waterproof iPad in any pool.  

“It’s a great way of accessing a specialist hydrotherapy service without the need to have a physiotherapist in the pool with you. And as they’re group sessions, there’s a really friendly, supportive feel having others in the pool doing their own exercise sets at the same time as you.”

Swimming can be a great social activityCredit: Shutterstock / Karelnoppe
Swimming can be a great social activity

Improving water confidence

Taking the next steps (or strokes)

It might be that you can swim a basic breaststroke or front crawl already, but you’d love to be able to swim for longer. If that sounds like you, the good news is you’re only a few strokes away from unlocking a whole new hobby.  

Begin with one swim at a time,” Banting says. Think of all the positive outcomes of every swimand remember that the feeling of just being in the water can be the best reward. Set small goals to help you get or stay motivated. Be proud of yourself for giving it go. Every time.  

“The greatest successes come from practising regularly – and that starts with celebrating every swim win.”  

Most pools have dedicated lane swimming times, which might be a good thing if you’re trying to increase your distance. These are usually divided up into slow, medium and fast lanes. You just pick the one that’s most applicable to your level. 

Focus on yourself

Swimming can be difficult if you have issues around self-confidence. It might be you’re worried about being watched as you walk from the changing rooms to the pool, or you think everyone will be a better swimmer than you.  

Rest assured that everyone at the pool is far too busy thinking about their own swim to focus on what you’re up to. In that regard, we’re all in the same boat. Banting recommends wearing a robe or towel poolside if that helps. She also points out that no one is there to judge you.  

I really try to remind and encourage all my swimmers that it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you swam, or how much or little you can swim, there is absolutely no judgement, only support and respect for you giving it a go. 

Every swimmer is always learning something new, adjusting their techniques due to their individual situation, be it progress or setback because of illness or injury. So please don’t compare yourself.” 

Enjoy the social aspect

Exercise is a brilliant social activity. It brings people together and it’s proven that being active and social is good for your health.   

The social aspect of going for a swim or joining an aqua fitness class can really help to avoid feelings of isolation or loneliness,” Banting says. Going regularly and seeing some familiar faces is just the beginning of building your swimming community.” 

She also recommends considering finding a swim partner. “Even if you want to actually swim on your own, you can enjoy the act of being social by travelling to the pool together or enjoying a coffee and chat in the cafe afterwards. Having swimming – and that incredible feeling you get afterwards – to look forward to as part of your regular routine brings a real sense of joy.”

It’s never too late

Take the plunge

Here at Exceptional, we firmly believe that it’s never too late to try something new. In her role as a swim coach, Banting can testify to people’s determination to succeed, as this story shows:  

I recently gave lessons to an 88-year-old man who hadn’t been swimming for decades,” she says. “He had set himself a personal challenge to swim one length of the pool all by himself, without putting his feet down. He wasn’t sure if he’d succeed but wanted to give it a go at least, to see how much he could achieve.  

We worked together over a few weeks to overcome his mental blocks, and understand his health conditions and any physical restrictions. We then tweaked stroke techniques to help support him to move appropriately through the water to achieve his goal.”  

She adds: It was amazing to cheer him on and see his progress, and his sense of ‘try’ attitude and determination to evolve was inspirational. It really was such an achievement. It was the best feeling to congratulate him when he successfully completed his length and to see how proud and happy he was.” 

Becky Fuller

Written by Becky Fuller she/her


Becky Fuller is a fully qualified Personal Trainer, specialising in strength and conditioning for over 50s. Becky’s focus is helping people to become stronger both in body and mind, and to move well without pain. Becky also has many years’ experience working as a freelance journalist, writing for a wide variety of publications such as Screen Rant, Geek Feed, and Daily Actor. She also regularly reviews theatre productions for UKTW.

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