Summer swimming lessons are something of an American tradition, so if you're one of the many who spent your childhood in the neighborhood pool, chances are you can muster at least a few laps as an adult. When you want to do more than that though, you might have to get a bit more strategic about swimming. So long as you already know how to swim, becoming a "good" swimmer is not overly difficult -- it just takes practice.
Get the right gear. At minimum, you're going to need a decent pair of swim googles that don't leak every time you get your head wet. If you want to get a little more serious, invest in an athletic swimsuit that will reduce drag in the water and help you swim a little faster. According to "Popular Science," one high-tech swimsuit helped swimmers break three world records the first time it was used in a swim meet. While you might not decide to invest in the most high-tech and expensive gear, a simple one-piece suit still might help you get into the mood more than your skimpy bikini.
Get help with your form. Each stroke has its nuance, but for the common "freestyle" stroke, good form includes kicking from the hips and rotating your body instead of turn your head to take a breath. You don't want crane your neck -- that causes you to get off balance and requires more work to stabilize your body. When you reach an arm forward to "catch" the water over your head, point your elbow to the sky. That's a lot to think about, but fortunately most public pools have a coach or master swimmer available to help you with your form.
Practice proper breathing technique. For strokes that involve putting your head in the water, you should be inhaling or exhaling nearly all of the time and not holding your breath. That can cause carbon dioxide buildup and make you feel like you're out of breath, says the Triathlete website. For the freestyle stroke, exhale continuously and rotate your entire trunk every few strokes, just enough to get your mouth out of the water. Swim coaches routinely recommend "bilateral breathing," which means turning your trunk first to one side to get a breath and then to the other side -- though you'll find your breathing comfort zone the more you swim. If you're just not getting it, consider using a swim snorkel that will help you focus on the strokes and not on taking breaths, suggests U.S. Masters Swimming.
Get plenty of practice. Once you've figured out the basics of proper form, you have to keep working on it until it becomes natural. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week. In most cases, you can consider swimming a vigorous-intensity exercise, meaning you'll only have to swim for 25 minutes three days a week to meet those guidelines. Swimming three days a week for an extended period of time will give you plenty of practice, help you get in great shape and become a lot better swimmer.
Start timing yourself. If you really want to see the results of your efforts, time your speed for a single length of the pool, a full lap -- which includes a trip to the deep end and back -- or a whole mile, which equates to 33 lengths in a 50-yard pool. Set a stopwatch at the end of your lane, or simply use the clock you'll typically find at one end of the pool. Write down your times in a notebook and then use that to compare your times over time. If your measure of a "good" swimmer is one who is faster than the average person, you'll be able to tell when you get there by your swim times.
- As with any fitness program, it's important to talk to your doctor before beginning -- especially if you have any issues such as heart disease or diabetes.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.