Kristen wrote in to ask, “I was wondering if you had some ‘get started’ swimming tips for me. I can’t seem to get hooked on running but through your blog (and some others), all I want to do is SWIM!! Besides casual swimming in my parents’ pool, the last time I went swimming was… ohhh… probably elementary school swim lessons. I’m basically starting from the beginning.  Help!”

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Ah, swimming.  I really feel that swimming is an underrated exercise.  Let me count some of the ways:


  • Swimming is an exercise that boosts endurance, increases flexibility, and improves cardiovascular strength.
  • Because you’re moving your body through water, which is heavy, it’s also a great way to build muscle tone and strength.
  • It’s an excellent form of cross-training from high-impact activities like running.  Participation in swimming will help reduce your overall risk of injuries and prevent mental burnout.
  • It’s a complete body workout that works a ton of major muscle groups, especially if you do a variety of strokes.
  • If you’re injured, your doctor may say that it’s safe to swim while ruling out other activities.  One of the primary reasons that I originally got into swimming was my incredible knee pain triggered by running.
  • Pools are nice and cool – a perfect spring or summer workout!


Really, the only drawback is that swimming doesn’t really help much with bone density (as it’s not a weight-bearing exercise).  Oh, and you smell like chlorine.  Smile 


So – how do you get started with swimming?  I’ll admit – much like cycling, swimming feels very intimidating at first.  It’s just not as easy to dive into swimming as it is to get started with running.  So here are a few of my simple tips.


  • First things first, you’ll need some basic gear.  This is a topic that I discussed in my So You Want to Do a Triathlon: Swimming post.  Really, all you need is a cap and goggles, which you can buy at Target.  A one-piece swimsuit is nice (check athletic stores for sales), but you can get buy with an sturdy two-piece or even an old sports bra and shorts.  Side note: I’ve had a lot of people ask me about maternity one-piece fitness suits; I simply bought a regular suit two sizes larger than normal (suits should be really tight as they stretch over time).

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  • You’ll also need a place to swim.  Many gyms have pools, and some cities have aquatic centers or public pools with lanes.


  • Learn proper form.  Again, three easy options for learning proper form are covered in the So You Want to Do a Triathlon: Swimming post.  If you’re trying to learn the freestyle stroke (the most common and easiest one), I would recommend assuming that your first two or three swim workouts are going to be spent focusing entirely on form – not truly exercising.  Once form ‘clicks’ for you, you can work on building endurance.


  • Remember to share.  One thing that really intimidated me when learning to swim was what to do when the pool was busy.  I distinctly remember heading back to the locker room when I realized all the lanes were full.  However, there is a solution – you either lane share (if there is one other person in the lane) or you circle swim (more than two others).  For lane sharing, instead of swimming in the middle, one person swims up and down the right side, and the other person sticks to the left.  For circle swimming, you swim up the right side of the lane and down the left (making a circle).  If someone is faster than you, they will just pass you – no big deal.  To make it less awkward when the pool is full, observe the lanes for a minute to determine who is close to your speed, sit at the edge and wait for them to finish a lap, and when they look up, smile and say, “Do you mind if we share?”


  • How long?  Ask a lifeguard or the desk attendant how long your pool is.  Most pools are either 25 yards, 25 meters, or 50 meters in length.   A ‘swimming mile’ is 1500 meters or 1650 yards (yes, it’s not exactly a mile).  To put it in perspective, a sprint triathlon swim is generally 500 – 750 meters and an Olympic triathlon swim is 1500 meters.  An Ironman swim, the ultimate triathlon, is 3800 meters.  Of course, it’s all relative, but for me, 1000 meters is a decent half-hour or so swim workout.  These days (at 8.5 months pregnant), I’m happy to swim 0.5 a mile.


  • Consider a plan.  Look – I get it.  Some people really love training plans (like me!).  It’s very easy to find running plans for newbies but hard to locate similar plans for swimming.  Check out the 0 to 700 plan and the 0 to A Mile plan.  If a plan isn’t for you, just work on gradually increasing time or distance in the pool.


Here are some other swim-related posts!



Any other swimmers out there?  What advice do you have to share?



  • Diana@run4life May 6, 2012, 9:19 pm

    This is so perfect! I’m just about to start training for my first triatholon and literally have not swam since camp when I was 10. I signed up for a swim lesson at my gym so hopefully that helps. Can’t wait to mix-up my running routiene with some new sports. I’m also loving re-reading your tri posts. So helpful!

  • Victoria (District Chocoholic) May 6, 2012, 9:23 pm

    Smelling like chlorine is awesome, not a drawback.

    I think a swimsuit is a necessity, possibly more so than cap and goggles. Unless you swim at much more exciting pools than I do. Man I live a boring life.

    • CaitlinHTP May 6, 2012, 9:27 pm

      Haha 🙂

      Well I do think it eventually becomes a necessity, yes. But they are kind of expensive and it might keep someone from getting in the pool! Know what I mean?

      • Victoria (District Chocoholic) May 6, 2012, 9:31 pm

        Wait…but…I think you NEED a swimsuit to get into most public pools or lakes/beaches. Not a $100 competition suit. But a $20 suit from Target will do.

        Plus, I think I’d jiggle something fierce on every pushoff if I swam nude.

        (Few public pools will let you swim in street clothes, such as shorts and a sports bra, so that’s not really a viable option)

        • CaitlinHTP May 6, 2012, 9:33 pm

          Really? Hmm. I guess my pool just doesn’t give a crap. LOL 😉

          • Victoria (District Chocoholic) May 6, 2012, 9:36 pm

            In theory it’s a drowning hazard. Or something.

            For finding a pool, some of your readers might want to check out – I use it for traveling, but it can help you find a nearby pool in your community, too.

  • Lyn @ Life Lyn Style May 6, 2012, 9:38 pm

    I recently read that if you shower before you enter the pool, your pores fill with clean water and you soak up less chlorine. So, after when you shower, you have much less pool smell by the time you leave. I tried it and it really worked.

    • Caitlin May 6, 2012, 9:45 pm

      Whaaaaaat! Going to try this 🙂

  • Lindsey May 6, 2012, 10:13 pm

    Victoria is right! I love smelling like chlorine after swimming.

    Using pool tools to help you with your freestyle stroke can help you put them all together and balance your power between the two- practice kicking with a kickboard, and work on your arm stroke using a “pull-buoy” that you put in between your legs to float your lower half. Most pools with lap lanes usually supply those two.

  • Kristen May 6, 2012, 11:53 pm

    Thanks for all the tips! Looking forward to getting started 🙂

  • Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin May 7, 2012, 8:04 am

    I just started swimming as a workout this year, but I’ve only done it a handful of times. It’s hard to get motivated to get in the pool when it’s freezing outside! But bringing a warm sweatshirt and promising myself a Starbucks tea afterwards always helped to motivate me!

  • Katie @ Peace Love & Oats May 7, 2012, 9:01 am

    I used to do swim team when I was little, I really miss just getting in the pool! I need to do that this summer, especially since my gym has a lap pool!

  • Courtney Leigh May 7, 2012, 9:53 am

    I’m also an advocate of lessons when you start! Last January I took lessons at our Y, for just 50 dollars. I learned proper form for several strokes and was able to gain a lot in just feeling comfortable in the water.

    Swimming is in many ways my favorite sport for Triathlons. I always see improvement in it, even if I’m not following strict drills or speed work, unlike with running or biking.

  • Anna D May 7, 2012, 10:17 am

    I swim competitively (twice a day, in the water more if I have to give a swim lesson) and my favorite tip to stop smelling like chlorine is using baking soda in the shower afterward. It really helps! Then the only other thing I have to explain to professors is my constantly wet hair!

  • Natalie May 7, 2012, 10:31 am

    I feel exactly like this! Ever since I started reading your blog, all I want to do is swim for exercise! Here’s my problem-I live in a small community and we don’t have a lap pool (heck, we don’t even have a good gym! Yes, I want to move.) My in-laws have a typical in-ground pool at their house. Would this work in a pinch?

    • CaitlinHTP May 7, 2012, 1:42 pm

      Yeah! You could maybe swim the perimeter of the pool instead of cutting across it to make it longer.

    • Carolina May 7, 2012, 4:33 pm

      You could also try using one of these:

      It’s not ideal, but if a small backyard pool is all you’ve got, this is better than nothing.

  • Laura is Undeterrable May 7, 2012, 11:02 am

    I’m doing my first tri this summer and I am so terrified of the swim. I know I can “fake” the run and I’m good enough on the bike that I’ll make it through even if it is really slow, but the swim! I’m trying to get into the pool as much as I can because I just need to get more comfortable in the water but dang! it is hard.

  • Amber K May 7, 2012, 2:00 pm

    I wish more pools cleaned with something other than chlorine (I’m allergic). I haven’t been able to swim in years since this one time when I was able to use a salt water pool.

  • K @ Finding a skinnier me May 7, 2012, 2:26 pm

    I just fell back in love with swimming when I realized my ankles were not okay with running yet because of excess weight. So this post really helped, now I just need me a cap so I don’t end up with green hair and a better bathing suit!

  • Lisa May 7, 2012, 6:32 pm

    I’m a swimmer. It’s my favorite sport. It was also how I lost my 110 pounds. My advice is to start small and not expect to we good at it right away.

    Oh and follow lap swimming etiquette. People that do weird shit in the pool make me crazy!

  • Heidi May 7, 2012, 8:04 pm

    I want to get started with swimming because my hips/knees seem to be disagreeing with running lately so I need a change and I have a really dumb question! Do you wet your hair befor putting your swim cap on? I don’t want to look all confused the first time I give swimming a try!

    • Carolina May 7, 2012, 9:10 pm

      Actually, I just wet the inside of the cap. I dunk the cap in the pool and then put it on my dry hair. I’ve found it’s the best way for me.

      And don’t worry about looking confused. Even those of us who have been swimming for years can fumble around for a few minutes with a cap.

      Also, I’d recommend silicone caps for practice; they tear hair a lot less than latex ones, and they last longer too.

  • Mildly Entertained May 7, 2012, 10:39 pm

    I can’t swim well at all now. IS it possible to teach myself or am I better off getting lessons? I want to be able to not be terrified and able to swim in the ocean and open lakes one day…but right now I’m not comfortable in deep water with a float! And I hate holding my breath and putting my head under water – I panic. Any tips? Is it possible to learn?

    • CaitlinHTP May 8, 2012, 6:29 am

      YES! But I think someone like you definitely needs to take lessons / get a coach.

      • Mildly Entertained May 8, 2012, 9:58 pm

        Bahaha – you’re afraid I’ll end up drowning myself right?…And you’re probably right! I think I would terrify myself into it!

  • Katy D May 8, 2012, 12:54 pm

    My husband and I both learned to swim (beyond doggie paddle and a poor attempt at breast stroke) from Terry Laughlin’s DVD 02 in H20: A Self-Help Course on Breathing in Swimming. We got it from the library. It takes you from breathing in a bowl of water on the counter, to freestyle with good form. He did it before me so I had him coaching me along, but he was able to teach himself just from watching the DVD. I’m so glad I did because I’ve sprained my ankle twice now from running and am back in the pool exclusively until I’m 100%.

  • Soniathe Mexigarian May 8, 2012, 2:01 pm

    Ah, this post comes at a great time. I haven’t been in the pool in months, let alone worked out. The gym I always went to had a pool and I would swim there, but since I moced across the valley, traffic would be a pain to get thru to swim. Luckily, there is a swim center I have been meaning to check out near me. This post reminded me to do so. Thanks 🙂

    And yes, a swim suit is definetly important, just are cap and goggles. My haor drives me nuts if it’s loose or even in a pony tail with no cap. Heavy and it feels like I have a ferret attached to my head.

  • Anna May 9, 2012, 9:29 am

    Just saw this post…I was debating swimming I definitely think I will! 🙂

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