Is it possible to learn how to swim front crawl? If you can swim breast stroke a long way but get out of breath very quickly after a few strokes or a length of front crawl you might be thinking that learning to swim front crawl seems like an impossible task.
If you’ve spent your life doing other sports and feel OK on land but as soon as you get in water it feels like all you do is sink then learning to swim front crawl might seem like an impossible task.
Or perhaps you get in water and you really try to practice some skills but all that happens is your make a lot of splash and go no where fast. And despite weeks or months of practice you’re not any better.
The good news is I’m here to tell you that learning how to swim front crawl is totally possible! A bit of knowledge and understanding about how water and swimming works combined with the right method of practising, means that anyone can learn.
Humans are not very efficient in water because we don’t have the genetic coding for it like a fish. This is why it can sometimes seem impossible to learn how to swim front crawl because our human bodies are not used to it. We also have lots of human instincts as land beings that don’t help us in the water.
Water is denser than air
Water is 1000 times denser than air which means that any in-efficient movements in water slow us down 1000 times more than they would on land. This means that we have to be much more focussed on how we move in the water.
While this sounds frustrating what it means is that swimming is mostly technique. This means it has more in common with learning a musical instrument than other sports or exercise. I think this is exciting as it means that if you take the time to practice then you’ll be able to learn to swim.
Skills vs physical attributes
Rather than feeling limited by things like age, fitness, strength and mobility focussing on the skill gives me hope that it’s possible to learn despite any limitations I might have. It means that physical attributes such as strength, fitness, size, height and age don’t matter so much. What matters more is how much patience and focus you have, how much you practice and how effective your practice is.
Total Immersion swimming taught me how to have a growth mindset. Terry Laughlin, the founder of Total Immersion, very much believed that talent is grown not born. This means that everyone can learn to swim. Some people might learn quicker than others but it just takes regular practice. He spent a lot of time learning about the theory of skill acquisition, how to be successful and how to practice. He talked to a lot of leading thinkers in this area of research which informed how he trained coaches and taught swimmers. For a list of people that influenced Terry click here
We live on land
Humans live on land and we spend our entire lives on land where we can breathe freely. We go to the pool a few times a week and have to re-train our human brains how to be in water every time we get in water. This means that the more regularly you can go to the pool the better. The good news is that over time it gets easier and the things you have to re-learn get easier and there becomes fewer of them.
How often you practice and how focussed you are during your practice makes a huge difference to how quickly you will learn. If you’re thinking about dinner, emails and your friends in the next lane, or only practice once in between lessons then your progress will be slower.
Often when you’re learning a new skill you can only hold the movement for short periods of time before deteriorating. Imagine learning to juggle – you can do a few seconds of it in the beginning before dropping a ball. Or learning a musical instrument – you practice a few notes or bars before putting it together into a whole piece. Swimming is the same. You manage a few strokes with good technique but the 8th and 9th stroke aren’t as good. And by the time you get through two lengths you’re back swimming with your old inefficient technique.
The distance trap
One of the main mistakes people make with learning to swim is that they spend a lot of time swimming distance with deteriorating movement rather than breaking that distance down into small chunks with good technique.
The other mistake that most people make with swimming is to get more focussed on the distance and speed and then they forget to practice the drills. Whatever level you’re at it’s essential to keep practising drills with an eye on the details and maintaining efficient technique.
You can’t see yourself swim
The other challenge of swimming is that you can’t see yourself swim. This means it can be difficult to know how your body is moving in water. This is where it helps to get someone else to help you. This could be a coach but just learning with a friend can be just as helpful because you can observe each other and give feedback to each other on simple things. Or if your pool allows get some video of you swimming so that you can see what you’re doing.
Try to enjoy the learning process and noticing what you can discover after each swim. Make it an intention to enjoy every practice, thrive on the process and excitement of discovering something new. If you only focus on your goal or outcome such as swimming a mile front crawl, or getting a specific time it can lead to frustration. It also distracts you with distances, times and outcomes rather than keeping you focussed on the process of your practice and how it feels.
Swimming is a complex movement skill. It’s more complicated because its in water which is an alien environment for our human brain.
It takes time
It also takes time and energy to get to a swimming pool and negotiate pool time tables and opening hours. It’s not a simple as rolling out your yoga mat or putting your shoes on for a walk or a run. This means you do need to allocate some time and planning to learn front crawl.
How quickly will you learn?
How quickly you learn to swim front crawl depends on lots of things such as your starting point, how much you practice and what your goals are. I often say it’s a bit like learning to drive. Some people take 10 driving lessons and pass first time. Other people take 2 years of lessons and pass 5th time.
How many lessons?
I usually find that people who can swim breaststroke and are confident in the water usually need around 6-12 lessons to work through all the parts of the stroke and progress to swimming a length of front crawl.
I have never met someone who I couldn’t teach to swim and I firmly believe that anyone can learn front crawl. With practice, focus and patience anyone can learn to swim a few lengths or 5 miles of front crawl.