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How to Get Started continued...

Getting the rhythm of the strokes and the breath can be overwhelming at first. Coaches break it down and take you there slowly, practicing one part at a time.

If you're a beginner, start slowly. Try to swim for 10 minutes. Build up to a 30-minute workout, three to five times a week. Include a warm-up and a cool-down, and, in the middle, challenge yourself by working on endurance, stroke efficiency, or speed.

"I really encourage [new swimmers] not to get frustrated," says Stratton. "Swimming takes a long time. We're land-based; the water feels so foreign to us."

There's more than one way to tackle swimming. Before you feel comfortable putting your face in the water, you can practice drills with a kickboard, or even walk the length of the pool.

In fact, Nelson recommends that beginners start with vertical strength-training exercises in the pool. That means things like walking or jogging a length of the pool in waist-deep water, or doing some strengthening by sinking in up to the neck.

"Instead of swimming with improper technique," says Nelson, "we want to get them vertical to strengthen their core before they put their face in the water."

A comfortable swimsuit and a pair of goggles are all you need to start, say experts. You can even wait on the goggles if you're not ready to put your face in the water yet.

The Right Choice

When Lane started swimming regularly two years ago, she didn't feel good doing any other exercise. But after losing 20 pounds, and improving her strength and cardiovascular fitness, she was able to do fitness walking ­ and, eventually, to run. She competed in her first triathlon this year.

For Lane, swimming was the right choice.

"It's a good way to begin to get back into fitness without having such trauma in the body. And it's also very relaxing," she says.

"Once you get your earplugs in and your swim cap on and you begin to swim, it's just you and the water. There's no cell phone, everything else just kind of fades."

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