How to Swim in 2021: 3 Stages, 5 Proven Methods

Swimming is a skill that anyone can learn and yet, more than 50% of people don’t know how. If you are part of the majority that wishes to learn how to swim especially in 2021,  then you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you a general overview of swimming and how to learn it whether it be in a group or totally on your own. Your journey into swimming doesn’t have to be scary or confusing. Believe it or not, everyone has the potential to swim based on the right method.

How to Start Swimming in 2020 | 4 Methods

Expectations Vs Reality

Most of us want to jump into the water and swim effortlessly from one end of the pool to the other on a hot summer day. As wonderful as this sounds, the reality is quite the opposite. Most beginners find swimming to be intimidating, complicated and confusing. The deep end of a pool can be terrifying for the inexperienced. Swimming lessons tend to be boring and discouraging and a lot of students who train for months or even years quit out of frustration or lack of results.

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Swimming is a lifelong journey

Personally, I was one of these victims. As a child, I struggled to learn swimming for many years with little to no results. I was scared of the deep end, choked on gallons of pool water and enrolled in the same beginner level again and again for many years. It wasn’t until I became a teenager and set my sights towards becoming a lifeguard that things started to change. For months I began training myself at the pool everyday and started seeing results.

As I look back on my journey towards becoming a lifeguard I realized that swimming can be quite simple to learn. I was just given the wrong method. There is more than one way to learn swimming and my journey is proof of that. Knowing your needs plus your options is the best way to find the right approach for you. Before we discuss your options, let’s look at what you need to learn in order to swim.

The 3 Stages of Swimming

How To Swim
To swim you have to jump in the water with both feet

Every swimmer from complete beginner to advanced goes through three stages:

Stage 1: Comfort

Stage 2: Movement

Stage 3: Endurance

Stage 1: Comfort (Getting To Know The Water)

At stage 1, we are new to being in water and therefore have to learn how to be completely comfortable when submerged. In order to be comfortable underwater, we must master our breathing aka blowing bubbles. Breathing while swimming is very precise when compared to any dryland sport.

Swimming is first and foremost, fun

Every breath must be measured, balanced and controlled in both the inhale and exhale portions. Without this, we cannot travel great distances or swim with consistency. Steady breathing and being relaxed underwater can be learned within a matter of days or sometimes weeks depending on a student’s comfort level. If a child or adult has a fear of drowning they will always need more time practicing and encouragement before moving onto the next stage.

Stage 2: Movement (Different Strokes)

Stage 2 is where most people struggle. At this stage, we begin shifting our focus from comfort to refining our movement in the water primarily in the form of four strokes:

Front crawl aka Freestyle

Back crawl aka Backstroke



how to swim
A great swimmer must first master front crawl

As you can see, the percentage of swimmers who complete stage 2 become smaller and smaller as seen in any local pool. Most swimmers never master all four strokes or secondary movements and instead casually skip to stage 3.

Stage 3: Endurance (It’s A Marathon…)

Stage 3 is where we put everything we’ve learned in prior stages and test our performance in the form of continuous lap swimming. Here is where a swimmer can spend a lifetime training in order to increase his/her distance, speed or both.

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To be a great swimmer requires thousands and thousands of lap swimming

Learning each stroke is like trying to be fluent in four different languages all at the same time. For a swimmer, the journey towards mastering each stroke can take several months or even years. On top of this, we have secondary movements (as well as procedures) to learn as well:

Treading Water


Flip Turns

Emergency First Aid

At this stage, a swimmer can choose to compete, set personal goals or maintain a healthy lifestyle with regular practice. Where you take your swimming journey from here is totally up to you. Some choose to become competitive swimmers, others participate in triathlons and most choose to stay active and  swim just to stay in shape. Now that we know the 3 stages of swimming, it’s time to discuss which method to learning is right for you.

How to Swim: 5 Methods

So now that we know the stages that we have to tackle, it’s time to figure which method is right for us. In my career I have seen swimmers from all sorts of backgrounds who learned to conquer the waters using one (or a combination of) these five methods listed below:

Method 1: Traditional Lessons

Traditional swimming lessons at your local pool are the kind of classes so many of us love to hate. Sometimes that’s with good reason. I spent years of my childhood on this method, and had very little to show for it. Many of my students had similar experiences.

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Traditional Lessons: good for making friends and having fun


  • Learn in a classroom environment
  • Develop friendships with classmates
  • Cheap


  • Very little to no results
  • Outdated curriculum and teaching methods
  • General not specific coaching involved
  • Lots of students fail and repeat levels multiple times
  • Too many students with little individual attention given
  • Instructors are usually young and inexperienced
  • Years of lessons can be expensive longterm
  • No guarantee of becoming a better swimmer


If you’re a team player and enjoy learning in a group environment for many years, traditional swimming lessons is probably your best bet.

Method 2: Swim Clubs

If you’re an adult then you can skip this method, but if you’re a parent with young kids then read on. Swim clubs (or cults as I like to call them) are similar to traditional lessons for kids except more intense. Instead of fun, the focus is competition and every session you’re being pushed to the limit as a swimmer. Yes you will learn how to swim and yes you will become a stronger swimmer but at a cost.

swim clubs
Swim Clubs: very intense swimming

As a lifeguard I would watch kids in swim clubs swim endless laps and see the joy sucked out of their souls. Every young competitive swimmer I met was always unpleasant to be around probably due to the fact that they have to train at 5am. Personally I would never send my child to swim clubs because they will end up hating themselves and the sport.


  • Much better results than traditional lessons
  • Develop close friendships amongst peers and coaches
  • Attend local competitions and meetups


  • Very intense workouts
  • Competition first, fun last
  • Start at an early age, adults not accepted
  • Gruelling workout schedules (5am sessions)
  • High performance, coaches push the students hard
  • More expensive than traditional lessons
  • Competitive swimming is your life, no time for anything else


If you’re focused on competing and sacrificing everything else in your life then swim clubs are the way to go.

Method 3: Private Coaching

For serious swimmers, private coaching is the way

For those who can’t stand traditional lessons and want instant results then hiring a private swim coach is a good alternative. For years I’ve coached thousands of private students of various backgrounds and swimming levels. Based on my experience, the difference between traditional versus private lessons is night and day.


  • One on one attention
  • Individual feedback and homework assignments given
  • Custom workouts and drills offered
  • Instant results


  • Expensive
  • More focus and energy required by the student
  • Lots of self study required between sessions
  • You have to find a coach that you enjoy working with and gets you results
  • You will need a private pool or reserve a lane for training


If you prefer working one on one with an expert then private coaching in person or online is the way to go.

Method 4: Self-Guided Learning

Teaching yourself how to swim requires discipline but is rewarding

This method is pretty new, but you can teach yourself how to swim like I did through self-discovery. The only difference is that back then there was no internet, no YouTube or swimming tutorials online for me to study compared to now. Teaching yourself to swim through trial and error with online resources is budget-friendly and offers flexibility for any schedule.


  • Free
  • Learn at your pace


  • Usually no clearly outlined learning structure or lesson plan
  • Too much online content to sift through
  • No accountability to an instructor or coach
  • Most online information is unverified
  • No feedback given
  • A lot of trial and error involved which requires patience


If you are go getter and patient enough to experiment and sift through a lot of unverified information then self-guided learning may be the right fit for you.

Method 5: Online Learning

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Online Learning: learn anything from cooking to coding to swimming

The final method we’ll cover here can often be mistaken for the third method. Online learning through a program shares some similarities to self-guided learning. The resources are all online, and the learning structure is generally more flexible. But there are some differences that make online learning a better option for many folks.


  • One teacher or teaching method for the whole program
  • Clearly outlined goals and steps to learning
  • A specific course sequence designed to achieve results
  • Cheaper than longterm traditional lessons or private coaching
  • Accessible from anywhere in the world with an internet connection
  • Faster results
  • Online support for students who have questions or need feedback or extra motivation


  • No physical classroom setting
  • Requires a laptop and internet connection


Who might benefit the most from online learning?:

  • Casual learners who want a flexible lesson schedule
  • Busy adults who can’t commit to weekly traditional lessons
  • People who have no interest in becoming professional swimmers
  • Students who prefer to learn on the go via mobile devices
  • Former swim students that wish to continue where they left off
  • Beginners who are intimidated or frustrated with traditional lessons
  • Anyone who would enjoy learning how to swim without a lot of hassle

Which Method is Right for You?

There’s more than one way to learn how to swim. That said, only you can really decide which method is best for you. For me, it was self-guided learning because traditional lessons didn’t work and online learning wasn’t available to me back then. But if I had to start over I would choose the path of least resistance which in this case is through a proven online swimming course.

My question to you is: which method appeals the most to you as an individual? Which learning format makes the most sense for your needs? Let us know in our private facebook group. No matter what you decide to do, I wish you all the best on your swimming journey. Thanks for reading!

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do traditional lessons and swim clubs cost?

Kids swimming with pool noodles in an indoor public pool

Depending on your location, local pool lessons cost around $50-$100 per semester. Swim clubs have several fees which can total up to $300-$500 per semester

How do I find a private swimming coach in my area?

Male swim coach sitting on a starting block of an outdoor pool

Contact your local pool or swim club and ask for referrals. You can also Google “swim coach + your location” or try your local Craigslist.

How do I know if I have a good teacher?

Woman resting in a indoor pool lane wearing a white latex swim cap

The only way to know is through results. If you’re not making any progress, getting homework assignments or genuine ‘a-ha’ moments while learning then it’s time to find a new swim teacher or method.

Any good swimming YouTube channels you recommend?

Woman stretching her black speedo silicone swim cap before swimming

I personally like SwimLifeGuru because she has good technique and tutorials.

Will I learn to swim if I take adult swimming lessons at my local pool?

Classmates taking adult swimming lessons in the shallow area of a pool

Yes but it will take many years and you get what you pay for. If you want good results then I recommend hiring a private swim coach or taking an online course.

How much do private swimming lessons cost?

michael phelps posing at the olympics showing off his swimmer body lean and fit

Depending on the years of experience of the instructor or swim coach, private 1:1 lessons can vary from $25-$100 per hour.

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