Don’t be afraid, find a target and just relax - top tips for amateur swimmers

Story highlights

Mark Foster likens swimming to meditation

His first tip is to go back to lessons at your local club

Foster divulges starter drills to help get you up to speed

Editor’s Note: Mark Foster is one of the most successful British swimmers of all time and a six-time world champion. Now retired, he’s writing for CNN during the 2017 World Aquatics Championships in Budapest.

CNN  — 

There’s often a fear factor for people returning to swimming.

It’s a bit like going to the gym for the first time; you think everyone is going to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But in my experience of the pool, there’s a genuine respect for people willing to give it a go.

And for that reason, the best piece of advice I could give someone about improving their technique is to join a club program.

Most of us had lessons in the past – as kids growing up – but it’s worth having lessons if you’re starting back.

It’s a bit like golf; you might be practicing bad habits and not getting better in the pool.

Have a lesson to iron those things out. You don’t need to have them every day but the pointers will help.

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Sure, there’s a self-conscious element to being by the pool in nothing but your bathing suit.

But, in reality, people are looking at you a lot less than you think. In fact, they are most likely worrying about themselves.

It’s also true that swimming isn’t like running, where you can just lace up your trainers and you’re out the door. It takes a little more planning.

That’s why going to a club or teaming up with a friend is better as it forces you to go so you don’t let someone else down.

Once you’re in the pool, it’s important to make sure swimming doesn’t become a burden. First and foremost, it has to be something that you enjoy.

‘It’s like yoga on water’

For me, swimming is almost like meditation. The sights, sounds and the overall feel is very therapeutic.

It allows you to completely switch off, or it gives you time and space to work something out in your head.

I lose myself, a bit like yoga, and that’s whether I’m doing a big workout or just slowly doing lap after lap of the pool.

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It’s an obvious thing to say but the more you do, the better you get. You’ll hear the elite swimmers talk about “feel” and that’s such a big part of being in the water.

The more often you can get in the water, the better you’ll get.

There’s also a misnomer in swimming that the bigger you are, the faster you’ll swim. That’s nonsense.

Look at the elite swimmers. Sure they’re in good shape but they’re not big and bulky. That bulk isn’t necessarily going to help you push through the water any faster.

But it is a good idea to mix swimming with other training. I still do that, whether it’s time in the gym, yoga or cross training. It’s good to have variation within exercise.

Foster still swims in retirement, using it as a form of meditation for himself.

‘Floating on water’s the key’

People often ask about how often you should swim per week. Time is precious and making space for it can be difficult, but – even if you’re just doing half an hour – that’s better than nothing.

Ordinarily, I would do 45 minutes to an hour in the pool but there’s no hard and fast rule.

The pros will have eight to 10 sessions per week, but aim to go two or three times a week.

Get yourself into a routine. Once you have, it becomes a lot easier.

And then there’s the question of what to do once you’re in the water. There are so many different drills you can try. Firstly, just the basics of just pushing and gliding through the water.

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Learning to float will give you a full understanding of your body in the water.

Then you can work up to single arm drills, or holding a float and just working your legs. Try paddles on your hands to help you hold more water, or try swimming with a pull buoy between your legs.

It’s good to have a target. That might start with just 50 meters of the pool, or it might be a one kilometer open-water swim. It’s good to have something in the distance.

There’s even masters swim meets, which might sound intimidating but they’re not. You get the occasional former pro turn up but you’ll benefit from the competition.

But the most important thing is to just enjoy it as much as you can. The health and well being benefits are massive, and you can have fun at the same time.