Learning to Swim

If, like me, you have struggled for years to learn how to swim as an adult then this may help you!

I nearly drowned a few years ago and that is when I resolved to learn how to swim. Despite that experience, I am not been afraid of being in or under the water; at least, in a pool. I like to see what is in the water with me… But I still struggled to learn how to swim for years and recently succeeded. Here is how I did it.

Past Attempts

I tried learning to swim twice after that incident (I had also taken lessons as a kid). I took hours of instruction each time and I would always quit shortly after the lessons were over. I would enjoy the swimming lessons and I would receive positive feedback from the instructors, but I could never get it to stick. I would go to the pool on my own for a couple weeks after the lessons were over with. I would slap the water with my limbs as I tried to recall one of the several strokes I was taught. I would try to valiantly fight the water and gasp for air as long as possible before I had to stop and take a full breath. Eventually, I would admit defeat and just go up and down the pool with a kickboard because it was the only way I could swim and breath. I was told that a stronger kick would help me. After a couple weeks of this, I would give up and resolve to learn later.

I didn’t understand why I was having such a hard time. Many people know how to swim. Why couldn’t I learn after taking lessons multiple times? Was it a discipline problem? Did I just have a weak spirit? I just didn’t understand why swimming had to be so difficult.

I decided to try again a few weeks ago.

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed one day when I saw, “Total Immersion: How I Learned to Swim Effortlessly in 10 Days and You Can Too” by Tim Ferris. Needless to say, I was intrigued. I only read about half way through the blog post before I decide I was going to do the same thing. I dutifully finished reading and immediately ordered the DVD and bought the book on my Kindle. I was incredibly skeptical, but I tried it…

And it worked!

Why It Worked This Time

My goal was to match Tim’s accomplishment: learn how to swim in 10 days. On the surface (pun), this doesn’t seem very different from my goals in the past which were along the lines of: take a swimming class, and go swim. But here is what changed:

  • I changed my approach
    Taking swimming lessons multiple times wasn’t working for me. So I decided to try something different and bought the Total Immersion book and Freestyle: Made Easy DVD. My concern with these kinds of “solutions” is that I am being suckered into some scam, but I decided to take a chance and I was pleasantly surprised! The DVD feels like a throwback to the 90s, but the explanations and drills make a lot of sense! It should be obvious by now that I don’t know much about swimming, so your yardage may vary, but this method worked for me.
  • I got simpler instruction
    I am grateful for the instructors that tried to teach me to swim, but they made it too damn complicated. I’m sure kids with boundless energy can learn and switch between half a dozen different strokes in a week, but I don’t think this is a good strategy for most adults who are trying to learn. Simplicity is king. The Total Immersion method is all about how to do a freestyle stroke well. An adult that is learning how to swim wants to know just one stroke that will allow them to consistently swim laps in a pool. I’m sure all of the other strokes are helpful, and I plan to expand my stroke vocabulary in the future, but this makes a difficult learning curve that much steeper. One problem: swimming laps. One solution: freestyle stroke.
  • I ditched my swim trunks
    I didn’t realize that men have multiple options when it comes to swimwear. I only ever knew of swim trunks and the speedos worn by weird, old guys at the beach. Check out, “A Man’s Guide to Swimwear.” I bought some jammers because I wanted to wear something snug that would allow me to glide through the water rather than increase drag. Why make learning to swim more difficult by increasing my drag in the water? My advice is to ditch your old swim trunks, or board shorts, and go to a shop that specializes in swimwear. They’ll help you find something comfortable.
  • I changed my mindset
    Learning how to swim sounds good on paper, but it did not set me up for success in the past. The mindset that I can cram information in a week and achieve mastery has almost never worked for me. I think that is the illusion many of us have: go take swimming lessons for a week and then you’ll KNOW how to swim. The assumption is that swimming is a basic skill set which can be quickly learned and the competitive swimmers are just using that same basic skill set at a punishing physical level. I have learned (by repeating this same mistake too many times) that mastery is a process and not a destination. I changed my mindset from trying to, “learn swimming,” to learning enough that I could establish a habit of swimming for years to come.
  • I set priorities
    With that change in mindset, I set two priorities for myself: complete the book and DVD, and develop enough skill in the drills that I can swim the length of the pool without having to stop and tread water. If I had decided to, “learn (master) swimming” then I would be chasing this goal for weeks and I would probably give up just like before. By setting my priorities, I was able to focus my goal on something attainable in a short period of time. My goal was no longer to master swimming, it was to learn just enough to start a habit of swimming.

Again, reaching my goal does not imply mastery. I still fight the water and struggle with balance. But now I know how I am supposed to balance my body in the water, I understand the dynamics that enable me to move smoothly in the water, I know what makes for good stroke technique, and I know how to breath without sucking in water.

It’s not pretty, but I can stay in my lane, breath fairly easily when I need to, and stroke the entire length of the pool without needing to take a break in the middle!

Some Suggestions When Following the Total Immersion Method

If you decide to do the same thing and learn using the Total Immersion method, then here are my suggestions:

  • Focus on the DVD, not the book
    Reading descriptions of drills is incredibly confusing. You need to see them being done on the DVD. The book has some great insight into the dynamics of your body in the water, but I can’t replicate a physical movement by reading a description. The last half of the book is more around racing, cross-training, etc. But read the last several pages because he talks about having a mastery mindset with swimming and it is good stuff!
  • The first drill is the most important
    Everything moving forward is contingent upon your ability to float and remain balanced. I spent a couple hours just laying on my back and kicking to try and find that feeling of equilibrium. I also advise you to do this drill with your arms outstretched and your hands cupped together. This allows you to focus on the drill without worrying how close your head is getting to the pool wall.
  • I found the rest of the drills much more difficult
    I’ll be honest. I sped through most of the drills. I quickly moved on to the skating drill because I could see the line at the bottom of the pool which made it much easier to navigate and stay in my lane.
  • Breath out of your nose
    Keep a light, steady exhale through your nose. As you are twisting back and forth to breath, it will keep the water from entering your nostrils and allow you to breath in without the need to exhale first.
  • Don’t be afraid to reset
    If you find yourself fighting the water, or having trouble breathing, then just return to the first drill by rolling onto your back and kicking. Catch your breath and return to the drill you are working on. I found it much easier when I tried to keep a consistent pace rather than stopping to tread water.


Many of us have goals which have defied us for years. Do the following and you may be surprised at how attainable your goal really is:

  • Change your approach
  • Simplify to one problem and one solution
  • Spend the money to set yourself up for success
  • Change your mindset from arriving at a short-term destination to establishing a long-term habit
  • Set your priorities to get a quick win and establish your habit ASAP

I plan to master swimming for many years to come, but I am no longer afraid of drowning. And that is what this was all about. FYI, I am still terrified of sharks so you probably won’t see me treading water or swimming far from the beach. 😉

If you know somebody that is struggling to learn to swim, then please share!

Want Help?

I love helping people move forward and accomplish their goals! If you’re struggling to reach some of your goals, then leave a comment below or send me an email!

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