How hard is it to learn to swim?

Learn to swim? I took 6 years of swimming lessons but I can only swim under water. I’m now 1 week away from my 25th birthday and I’m thinking of celebrating my first quarter century by joining a gym which has a pool because my doctor called the owner of the gym I go to and told her I’m not allowed to exercise anymore without written permission. (wow, that was quite a run-on) But she did tell me that I can swim. She didn’t seem concerned when I told her that not only do I not know how but that this is New England and all the pools are closed for the winter.

So, is swimming actually good exercise? Is swimming underwater as good as other methods? Is it hard to learn? Does the Y offer swimming classes for adults only? Are water aerobics safe with a herniated disk? Will people laugh at me when they see me in a bathing suit? How expensive are prescription goggles? With my bad back, knees, and hips preventing me from doing regular types of exercise - is it actually possible for me to lose the 75-80 pounds I need to lose by swimming regularly? What is considered regularly? Are there any other adults out there who didn’t learn to swim until after they became adults?

Changed title to make it more descriptive.

Congo, we need some more information.

  1. Do you have any other physical conditions we should know about, or a fear of the water? You say you (well, you imply that you) have a herniated disk, but you’re got your bad backs and then you’ve got your bad backs. If not, I am puzzled as to how you could take swimming lessons for SIX YEARS and not learn how to swim. Truth be told, you can learn how to do the forward crawl in about thirty minutes. It’s just not that hard, unless you are less mobile than I may be assuming.

  2. Why would your doctor CALL your gym? Why would your doctor say you can’t exercise but say you can swim - which is exercise, and fairly rigorous exercise, too? Geez, if my doctor did that I’d kick his ass.

  3. Swimming is great exercise. You can certainly lose weight if you do it enough and aren’t eating all the calories back.

  4. Presciption goggles can be plenty pricey.

  5. Dude, if they don’t laugh at me in a bathing suit, they won’t laugh at you.

Well, I have a herniated disk. Had an MRI just 3 weeks ago. It’s caused sciatica in both legs, which is aggravating my bad knees. I’m in quite a bit of pain - have a hard time sitting and walking and all that good stuff. Other than that, I’m overweight but I don’t have any major problems. The back problem is a recent thing and didn’t have anything to do with my inability to swim. That was just stubbornness on my part.

My doctor doesn’t want me exercising until at least after I have a cortisone shot and possibly longer. She called the gym to let them know so they would stop charging me the membership fees - not because she doesn’t trust me or anything. I have a 3 year contract and I don’t feel like fighting it so this was the easiest way to not waste the money. She doesn’t want me making the problem worse. I have a history of not taking it easy when I’ve injured myself - more stubbornness. I suppose I could have worded that better at first. She did talk to me before she called them. She would have sent a note but her handwriting is awful so I asked her to call instead :smiley:

MY GP, the spine doctor (sorry, I don’t know what his actual title is), and the physical therapist I had seen for my knees all agree that swimming is the best exercise for me because of the lack of impact. I think they all figure that my lack of ability will prevent me from getting too rigorous until I learn. They’re probably right.

As for my inability to learn: in my defense, I did start lessons at a very young age (around 2) and it did take me about 4 years to overcome my fear of the water. They (my first teachers) were slightly sadistic and used to hold my face underwater to force me to exhale into the water and at the same time, learn to hold my breath under water. No wonder I was afraid, I was only about 3 when they did that. My mom changed my classes when they sent her a letter instructing her to make me hold my head under water in the sink because fear was holding me back. It’s not like she was trying to make me an Olympic swimmer or anything. There was a pond in our back yard and she wanted us to know how to swim in case we ever fell in.

Surprisingly, once I managed to exhale and hold my breath - not at the same time :wink: , I became like a fish underwater and never wanted to try any other methods of swimming. I don’t remember anyone ever teaching a forward crawl. Is it called something else? My mother finally took me out of lessons because I wasn’t learning anything. By the time I tried learning again, I was in my early 20’s. I had such low self esteem that I would go to classes and it’s hard for an uncoordinated person to learn alone. I almost mastered the doggy paddle but not quite.

I’ve overcome the low self esteem - mostly, so I’m not afraid of public lessons. I am a bit nervous about the whole bathing suit thing though.

For the record, I can’t whistle either. I seem to be deficient in basic skills.

Do you really need prescription goggles? What’s there to see? (No offense; I wear glasses myself, but not in water. Shapes, degrees of light, general distances…that’s all I need.)

The front crawl is also called the freestyle or the Australian crawl.

If you can swim underwater - I assume you’re doing a sort-of-breast-stroke - you can swim on the surface with only a small amount of practice. Front crawl can be demonstrated to you in a matter of minutes; basically, you get used to floating on your back (which all humans can do, unless you eat lead pellets for breakfast.) Once you can do that, you kick your legs steadily and “Crawl” forward, bringing the arm up and out of the water, putting it in the water in front of you, and then pulling it back through the water underneath you in a sweeping motion. Try that across the pool a few times with your head in the water. Or just watch Ian Thorpe do it.

Here’s a Web resource on basic swimming skills, with an animation of a proper front crawl;

Don’t worry about the bathing suit. Trust me, nobody cares if you don’t look like Brad Pitt. Good luck!

I learned to swim as an adult by taking classes at the YMCA, starting from the very beginning: standing in the shallow end, putting my face in the water and blowing bubbles. The YMCA has excellent, standardized instruction for all levels and very helpful, supportive instructors.

With more experience, you might try this:

They teach swimming laps with improved efficiency of movement and breath control.

I don’t know what to tell you about your medical problems. But swimming can be as vigorous or as relaxing as you want it to be.

If your goal is low-impact exercise, why not wear a close fitting neoprene vest while you learn; Or at least until you acquire enough strength/agility to swim without being nervous? Seems like getting frightened in the middle of the pool might cause you to strain/struggle, and make things worse.

Just a thought.

It’s not difficult to learn to swim, but it can be hard to learn to swim good and have it do any thing for weight loss. You will have to learn to swim on top of the water though as you will not be able to do much under water.

I would also say to stay away from the breast stroke with a bad knee. I have one right now and this morning doing the breast really hurt, so much so that I switched to butterfly. I’d also not push too hard off the walls and even if you see others doing flip turns I’d avoid it because of your back. You’re not going to gain anything by doing flip turns for what you want.

As for breathing, you do not pick up you head to breath, you actually rotate your body. Of course you will have to turn your head a bit, but the rotation is what allows you to get your face out of the water enough to breath. You will want to breath out underwater so that you don’t try and do both too quickly.

You might want to check out a pull bouy. Basically it’s to keep your legs from sinking when you do pull sets, but for you it will help keep your body level in the water. The more your legs sink the harder it is to swim properly.

The goggles can be a bit pricy, but I think you can find them for around $20. I tried a pair and didn’t like them, but they were also dark and I like clear, and a bit too strong for me. My eyes are something like -1 and -1.25, I believe they only make them starting around -/+2. I think I still have my -2 around if you want and I can send them to you as I don’t like them. If I need to see in the pool I just wear contacts. The goggles will keep most of the water out, and even when I played water polo I didn’t have a problem with the water.

Weight loss can be a problem, not because swimming isn’t good for it, as many people say, but because people are not swimming hard enough. You will want to keep your heart rate up and keep moving. Whenever I go and swim in a public pool everyone is so slow and just playing around. It would be like saying I’m going to run to lose weight but really just walk for a bit. Also people tend to get hungry after swimming, either don’t eat, or eat some fruit, not a full meal.

I’d also suggest joining a US Masters swim team Don’t worry, it’s not a team like you think and they take a full range of swimmers. They will help you with your stroke and make sure you actually have a good workout. You will not have to swim at meets, though they are fun, it’s just a bunch of adults that like to swim.

I’m a bit more concerned with looking like Camryn Manheim. :smiley:

Thanks eyewittness I was hoping there’d be someone else here who learned as an adult. Everyone I know keeps telling me how easy it is to learn to swim. But, they’ve been swimming since they were kids and it’s a lot different to learn things as an adult. You’re more set in your ways.

My biggest concern with my back right now is that it hurts me to move certain ways. I don’t know how much back movement is involved in swimming. I thought about it last night and I decided that I doubt so many medical people would have told me to swim if it was likely to make the problem worse. So, I just need to stop worrying about the pain. I’ve discovered recently that I’m a wimp and I have no tolerance for constant pain.

On preview:
Edward The Head Thanks! That was great info. You pretty much answered all my questions. As for the goggles, Thanks for the offer but I don’t think they’d help me much. Last time I checked, I was around -6 and -6.5. I’m having a hard time finding contacts which are comfortable and I really hate not being able to see clearly.

I did stretch out in a hot tub the other day just to float. The heat and the weightlessness felt really nice.

You do move your back, but you can also get away with really rotating your whole body. If what I’ve seen in some videos is true, though never actually seen someone in a race do it, you can turn your whole body as one so there shouldn’t be much turning of the back. Again you may want to look to see if either they have bouys you can borrow or buy one at a shop, which might not have them now in the winter. They will keep you flater and might help your back. They go between your thighs since they don’t come with instructions. You generally don’t kick with them either, though I see people who do.

If you give me a chance I can look and see if the local store has some in that range. The had just the eye pieces about six months ago at $3 each, much cheaper in the end. Though you’d have to buy a cheap pair or goggles as they don’t have a nose piece or strap. There is one guy on my team that loves his, they may not be the greatest thing, but they do seem to work.

Here’s what a pull bouy looks like

Here’s a place for goggles but they seem to be really high priced. You might want to try a dive shop if you have one around you. The worst problem is finding a pair of goggles is the fit, I can only wear a couple.

I was surprised to find this out but we actually have more than one dive shop around here. I bet they could help me. I’ll check them out after school on Saturday.
I’m going to get a membership to the Y tomorrow, when I get paid. Hopefully, I’ll be in the pool by tomorrow night. Even if I’m not good enough to lose weight, just being able to do some kind of activity is better than lying down all night.

As with everything, it varies by person. It was discussed on some threads last year or the year before, we should search for them and see if we picked up some info. The OP evidently has overcome fear of water per se long ago, so it should be a matter of finding a training regimen that uses the proper technique that suits the individual.
I do recall from those threads that we should be careful in that some people to whom it came naturally or who experienced a very well-suited-to-them method of learning will sometimes have a hard time understanding someone else’s difficulties. And that often has the counterproductive effect: if the world is telling me that learning something’s ridiculously easy, and I find myself having an extraordinarily hard time at it, I’ll conclude there must be something very wrong with me and I’d better spare everyone the pain (this applies to just about any acquired skill).

Based on my secondhand knowledge, you can learn to swim. As far as adult beginner swimmers go, you’re one of the easy ones.

My mom taught swimming most of her adult life and taught adult beginner swimming for at least a decade. The adult classes were probably the most rewarding classes for her. Many of her students were afraid of the water when they started. Most were afraid to put their face in the water and blow bubbles. One had nearly drowned in an accident which killed several of his friends and was afraid to take baths (yes, wiseguys, he showered instead.) It took him a while, but he learned to swim. I think that every one of her students that wanted to learn strokes did so. You, I think, will have a good time learning.

This is between you and your doctor, but one of the best things about swimming is that it supports you and imposes some fluidity on your actions. Most strokes don’t work your lower back much, and the water supports you as well. I’m not sure which strokes would be best for you, so why not just learn several and then decide. Personally, I don’t have the lungs or the upper body strength to really like the crawl. I’d rather do the breaststroke or sidestroke instead. The elementary backstroke and back crawl are pretty easy on the legs and might work for you, just don’t hit your head at the end of the pool.

Oh, and since you mentioned swimsuits (and if it helps–no guarantee there), I’ve found that lap swimming pools tend to be pretty egalitarian. Everybody is friendly, so long as you share your lane when it’s busy. There are also better ways to impress people around a pool than with a waistline (yep, dull anecdote dead ahead!) Mom has always been somewhat overweight. She never looked terribly… ‘hydrodynamic’, but she knew her swimming strokes and could do an excellent springboard dive. She came home one night and bragged about how she was teaching some teenage boys how to dive. They snickered and talked under their breath while she was explaining how it is done, but they all shut up when she stepped off the board, did a perfect jackknife and ripped into the water in dive that would have made Esther Williams proud. The kids paid attention after that.

Oh yes. To everything (except the medical stuff - that I’ve got no answers for).

I went to the Y and signed up for their adult swimming classes, oh, about two - three years ago. Now, I’m a little bit different case: I mostly knew all of my strokes, I was just a little anxious about the water. Not afraid of it, but not trusting enough to do what I needed to do to be a good swimmer.

My instructor (who was probably ten years younger than me and still in high school) was wonderful. Since I was one of the advanced ones - there were people in my class that did not know how to swim at all - she only gave me pointers when I needed them, spending more time with the people that really did need the help. There were about 6? of us, so not many, but enough that she did have to divide up her time over the hour.

It was great. Just her advice to “slow down” worked wonders. I was anxious enough that I rushed everything, and thus got too tired to even swim a length. She told me, “relax, slow down, take your time. You’re not going to drown here.” And that’s all I needed.

Definitely do it, but do check with your doctor to be sure what sorts of swimming you can do without injury. And ask the Y lifeguards and teachers - they can hook you up with all sorts of equipment that can help. They might even have one of those lap belts that you can hook to the side and jog in place with (even if you can’t do the traditional strokes because of your doctor’s advice, you might be able to do this sort of thing).

And don’t worry about your appearance. Wait’ll you get in that pool and see everyone else. My faves are the grandparents that come in and swim my socks off. Yeah, I might look better than they do, but they’ll outswim me anyday.

Good luck, and good on ya.

I think part of my problem IS that I try to go to fast. Since I swim pretty fast underwater, I assume that I should swim the same on the water. Then, I get all confused with arm and leg movements and breathing. What usually happens is that I screw up and try to inhale while my face is either in or too close to the water.

I also get very frustrated when someone tells me how easy something is but doesn’t really explain why it’s so easy.

Learning to pace yourself can be difficult when you’ve just started swimming. When I would swim, I would end up counting to myself to keep my stroke in order.


By all means, while you’r at the Y, inquire about water aerobics, too. (I would also mention them with your doctor.) The advantage water aerobics has over the other kind, is you get a lot of added resistance to your motion; you also should be able to avoid having to strain your back, as the water would support your weight, but talk to you Doctor.

I am not so sure about swimming and weight loss.

For one, real weight loss thru excercise means keeping your heart rate above normal for an extended period of time. Most people trying to swim can’t keep it up long enough without getting pretty exhausted.

Secondly, a large part of losing weight involves burning calories. Since you are in the pool, your body temperature actually decreases, making it more difficult for you to burn calories.

However, swimming is great excercise, and the more fat you replace with muscle, the more calories you will burn at your “resting” heart rate.

Swimming and weight loss…I had a high school teacher who lost 100 pounds in a year, diet and exercise. She swam. She also jogged, but this is Minnesota and she swam that winter. Swimming is what she started with, and it helped build the endurance she needed to start jogging when the weather warmed. Swimming burns more calories than sitting still. Granted it isn’t heart pounding aerobics or jogging.

On adults learning to swim - I’ve been taking my kids to swim lessons and occationally there are adult learners (in the big pool away from the kids). It doesn’t appear easy, but they all seemed dedicated and they were all learning. Several of them were (I assume) Somali immigrants and I kept thinking how brave they were. (I can’t remember learning to swim myself - been doing it (badly) for years, and its taken my kids years and they aren’t doing the front crawl yet.)

I knew people would come in saying swimming is no good for weight loss. I know that it is since I lost around 40 pounds a few years ago by only swimming, I can’t stand doing anything else. What people do, and I see this all the time when I swim, is they will swim for around twenty to thirty minutes at a real slow pace getting lucky to do 5-600 yards. That’s nothing. That’s like me saying I ran for thirty minutes and covering a mile.

Swimming is not like most other exercises, you need at least a passable form or you’ll be slow and not get anything done.

That’s because most people flail about, making themselves tired, don’t get any distance, get upset they haven’t gotten anywhere so they quit before it does them any good.

This doesn’t make any sense, wouldn’t you need to burn more calories to keep up your core temperature? I actually know next to nothing about how the core temperature works though. I can tell you that when I get out of the pool I’m very warm and usually go outside, in the 30-40° temps without a jacket.

Again I’m thinking that the reason so many people say they don’t lose weight is because they don’t do enough and don’t keep up with it. I know when I first started I dropped from around 215 down to around 205 and stayed there for the longest time. I was getting stronger and still losing the fat, but gaining a lot of muscles. For the most part runners do not need larger muscles so they lose more weight, but don’t gain any serious muscle.

If any one wants to have a real workout, let me know what kind of time you get, not as a sprint, for a 50 yard/meter. I can come up with something that will last around 30 minutes. It’s not going to be easy, but after a few weeks you’ll be getting faster and fitter.