To get started swimming all you need are a good pair of goggles, a swim cap and a swimsuit (preferably 2-3 sets of each if you plan on swimming regularly).
Goggles are first on our list of swimming essentials. They act as the windshield to our car. Technically we could swim without them (like driving without a windshield) but it would be pretty difficult to sustain overtime. There are three types of goggles I recommend in your arsenal: clear, mirrored and amber.
For complete beginners, I recommend practicing first with a pair of clear goggles. Clear goggles allow you to see an undistorted view of the water in both day and night situations. The only downside to wearing these is that everyone can see your eyes much like wearing glasses. As you become better at swimming the next two pairs of goggles should be one for day and one for night. Most swimmers wear mirrored goggles because they act like sunglasses while swimming outdoors during bright sunny days. If you are more of an evening or indoor swimmer then I recommend getting a pair of amber goggles to help you see better.
A decent pair of goggles should cost you a minimum of $20. Goggles by Speedo are very popular but my recommendation would be to get your own custom pair that fit the shape of your face. A custom pair is a bit more expensive but has less chance of being uncomfortable or leaking and will last you a lifetime. The custom brand I wear are Magic5 goggles (special discount included). And if you need prescription goggles click here.
Swim caps are next on our list. Whether you have lots of hair or no hair at all it is best practice to wear a cap during every session because it has several advantages. One, it allows our head to flow smoothly through the water without interruption. Much like an aerodynamic nose of an airplane, this sensation can be felt when going at high speeds in the water for example, butterfly or diving.
The second advantage to wearing a cap is that it protects your hair and scalp from prolonged exposure to chlorinated water. If you suffer from dry, itchy scalp or have hair that you wish to protect from chemical exposure (hair colouring, perming, etc.) a swim cap is a must have item for both men and women.
Third, a cap can keep your goggles in place. Wearing goggles without a swim cap increases your chances of goggle straps slowly digging into your scalp or pulling your hair which can get annoying overtime. Fourth, a cap can help you get noticed. When swimming in dark environments for example oceans or pools with bad lighting, it is best to wear a brightly coloured cap that contrasts with the water so that others can identify you easily in case of emergency. The best colors to choose from include white, yellow, green, purple and so on. Lastly, some caps are designed to protect your ears from water. If you hate getting water clogged up in your ears then this is a good alternative.
For beginners, I recommend getting 2-3 swim caps so that you can use on alternate days. The best materials in my opinion are latex and silicone. Latex is thinner, lighter and better for people with short hair preferably men while silicone is thicker, heavier and more flexible, durable for people with long hair preferably women.
A proper swimsuit is the last of our swimming essentials. Choosing the wrong swimwear can affect our overall experience in the water so here is what I recommend: for men, get jammers, for women, get a one piece swimsuit. Jammers for men are the perfect balance of design and function. They’re not baggy like swim trunks or board shorts and they’re not too revealing like speedos. They act more like MMA compression shorts which is why they are my go to swimwear.
For women, I recommend a one piece swimsuit. This is the standard for female competitive swimmers and anything less is meant for leisure swimming. Avoid string bikinis and other revealing two piece swimwear that are prone to breaking or falling apart as you swim continuously.
For proper maintenance, make sure to hand wash your swimwear after every session. Never put them in the washer or dryer at home as this will ruin the material. Instead rinse them with cold water and gently squeeze (never wring them dry as this will damage and stretch the fabric) the excess water by hand and dry them by hanging them onto a clothing rack or in the shower. This is guaranteed to make your swimwear last you a lifetime. As for which brands to choose from my choice for swimwear is either Speedo or TYR.
Finally if you are self conscious about your body in public places it’s ok to wear a dark t-shirt over top your swimwear. A t-shirt provides an extra layer of warmth (swim instructors do this all the time) and provides more resistance in the water for those who want a challenge.
Another alternative would be to invest in a wetsuit. Wetsuits are worn mainly by open water swimmers and surfers but it’s totally fine wearing them in indoor pools. They provide a lot of warmth and added buoyancy however, they are very expensive so my recommendation is to invest in one if your longterm goal is to pursue open water or outdoor swimming.
As you regularly practice your strokes you will need several tools that will help you along the way. Below are some recommended tools that most swimmers use.
If you are a serious swimmer then you need your own proper kickboard. Every local pool carries them for the public to use but they are usually thin, cheap and made of poor quality. A good kickboard is heavy, easy to grip and keeps your body constantly on the surface of the water. Kickboards are great for practicing all kinds of isolation drills such as front kicking or freestyle arms. Invest in a good kickboard and take it with you wherever you travel.
Hand paddles are great for developing the upper body. They help you grab or “catch” the water with greater volume and allow you to really speed up your freestyle or breaststroke. They’re also great for beginners who are practicing sculling which is essential for treading water. Make sure you get paddles that are a good fit for your hands as they do come in small, medium and large sizes.
Fins or flippers will make you kicks go a lot faster and correct your form when front kicking, however, at the cost of doing all the work for you. Unless you’re a scuba diver I don’t recommend beginner swimmers to train with fins as it usually takes them longer to learn front kicking properly plus they are a major burden to carry in your bag. Learn front kicking the correct way by training your own feet with a kickboard and with ankle floats if needed.
A pull buoy aka marshmallow is a float that is worn between the thighs in order for swimmers to focus on their arms without kicking. The problem with pull buoys is that they come in only one size which might not be suitable for every swimmer. For example, if the pull buoy is too small/thin, a swimmer may have a hard time holding it between his/her thighs. Another disadvantage to using pull buoys is that they restrict kicking, a problem which can be alleviated by using ankle floats instead.
If you a complete beginner or scared of swimming in deep water then a floatation belt is a must have item. Floatation belts wrap around your waist and allow you to practice in deep water by constantly keeping your body along the water’s surface. Originally meant for aquajogging, I recommend every beginner student practice in deep water by wearing one of these. Avoid wearing lifejackets as an alternative as they are too bulky and restrict your movement in the water.
For isolating the upper body, most instructors would recommend wearing a pull buoy between the thighs but I find ankle floats to be a better solution. Pull buoys assist in keeping your legs afloat as you train your upper body but they are sometimes difficult to hold in place and restrict leg movement. Ankle floats on the other hand wrap around your ankles and allow you to freely move your legs while keeping your legs afloat. This freedom also allows you to practice front kicking instead of resorting to using flippers which do all the work for you.
A swimmer snorkel allows you to perform continuous laps without coming up for air. While this is great for developing your arms most swimmers end up choking on a ton of water while adapting their breathing to these devices especially in the early stages. Unless you enjoy getting your air through a small plastic pipe you can skip this item and focus on using your own mouth.
This is the most overlooked item in a swimmer’s toolkit. How can you improve your swimming without seeing it for yourself? Aside from hiring a swim coach, the best way to review your swimming is to record yourself using a waterproof action camera. Two action cameras that I recommend and personally use are the Sony X3000 and GoPro Hero 8 Black (GoPro Hero 7 Black is also good and cheaper, the latest version Hero 9 sucks). Both of these cameras are safe to use in the water, shoot 4k and what I use to film my YouTube videos. If you’re on a budget, check out the Osmo Action.
The most important thing while working out is to stay hydrated and bottled water is answer. So many swimmers forget to bring bottled water to their sessions and end up drinking awful tap water at a fountain nearby or none at all. After each set take a break and grab a drink of bottled water whenever you can. Remember first to rinse out the pool water remaining in your mouth first before consumption and avoid bringing glass containers which may break on deck. An even better solution is to invest in a Water Filter Bottle.
Waterproof MP3 Player
Whether you’re running on a treadmill or swimming laps, doing repetitive exercise can get boring overtime. That’s why I always bring a waterproof MP3 player to every swim session. Forget unreliable bluetooth players or risk soaking your smartphone at the pool, instead download your favorite songs or podcasts onto this Mp3 player’s portable USB drive and you’re good to go. Simple.
Swimming Tracker or Smartwatch
Swimming trackers or smartwatches are for advanced lap swimmers. In my honest opinion, unless you’re training for a triathlon or are really into analytics you do not need to wear a smartwatch in order to swim. The problem with smartwatches is that most swimmers spend more time looking at their watch than actually focusing on their workout. Plus most swimming apps are unnecessary and come with a recurring monthly fee. If you really need to track your swimming then get a good a good old fashioned stopwatch or a lap counter instead.
Swimming regularly can cause a lot of dry skin, damaged hair and overexposure to chlorine which is why it is best to stick to products built for swimmers and staying safe around the pool.
As a swimmer you’ll be constantly moving from the changeroom to the showers to the pool deck to the hot tub, sauna, steam room and more. Protect you feet from cross contamination and avoid slipping on wet floors or stepping on dangerous debris with a pair of trusty flip flops. What’s great about flip flops is that they can be worn anywhere you swim whether it be the beach or your local pool so invest in a good pair.
Goggles keep fogging up? Use baby shampoo. Works every time. Compared to regular shampoo, baby shampoo is tear free which doesn’t hurt your eyes and is safe for swimming. Take a small dab of baby shampoo and gently coat the inside and outside lens of your goggles with your fingers. Place your goggles into your swim cap afterwards for protection. When you arrive at the pool, rinse off the baby shampoo at the showers with cold water and you now have crystal clear goggles.
Swimming Shampoo and Conditioner
Regular exposure to chlorine or salt water can be hazardous to your health, which is why you need products that are guaranteed to protect and hydrate your skin and hair. Regular shampoo, conditioner and bodywash products just aren’t strong enough to remove chlorine or sea water completely which is why I recommend the brand Triswim. Triswim specializes in shampoo and conditioner plus body wash and moisturizer products made for swimmers. Used by lifeguards, swim instructors and competitive swimmers, Triswim is considered the best.
Regularly going in and out of the water will require having a smart towel. Regular towels are too heavy, bulky and take too much time to dry which is why I recommend getting a microfibre towel instead. Microfibre towels are small, super absorbent and are able to dry off your entire body which is why they are used frequently by competitive swimmers. Another advantage is that they are portable and lightweight making it easy to roll up and pack away after a session. Pick up a microfibre towel and save yourself the hassle of using regular towels.
With all of this swim gear we need a proper bag. A regular backpack or bag won’t do as it will be constantly exposed to water both inside and out. We need a bag that is light, waterproof and breathable so that our swim gear can dry easily which is why I recommend picking up a swim bag. Swim bags are washable, come with a lot of mesh pockets and are made for swimmers that regularly carry a lot of wet gear. They also come in a variety of fun colors to choose from so take your pick.
Items to Avoid
Now that we’ve listed the best now it’s time for the worst. Here are three items that I recommend to avoid purchasing either for you or your loved ones.
Nose and Ear Plugs
Unless you are primarily a synchronized or underwater swimmer, avoid depending on nose plugs especially if you’re a beginner. Snorting water up the nose by accident can be painful but nose plugs aren’t the longterm solution. As you develop your strokes you will need to use your nose for exhaling and nose plugs will block your airway. As for water getting into the ears, avoid using ear plugs as they easily fall out. Wear an over the ear swim cap or use the plugs contained in your waterproof MP3 player instead.
Full Face Snorkel Mask
Full face snorkel masks may look cool and fun to use while on vacation but are very dangerous and not suitable for swimming. Please watch this video for reference. There have been several reported cases of deaths, and many near death experiences as CO2 can quickly build up within these devices causing a swimmer to suffocate. Many pools have banned the use of them as a result. If you want to practice snorkelling or swimming with these at your local pool then get a swimmers snorkel.
Mermaid Tail Monofin
Anyone wearing a mermaid tail or monofin in the water is asking for trouble. These tails may look great underwater and cute for kids but are actually drowning hazards in disguise. Please watch this video detailing the dangers of monofins. These tails wrap tightly around a child’s lower body restricting any ability to kick other than performing dolphin kicks. As a result there have been multiple near drowning cases reported with most pools having banned the use of these tails altogether. If you want to swim like a mermaid in a safe manner, practice your dolphin kicks using fins or your own two feet instead
Frequently Asked Questions
What brands are popular for swimming?
Popular brands include Speedo, TYR, Arena and Finis. Nike and Adidas also make swim gear but are not as good.
What colors are recommended for swimming attire?
For indoor swimming any color is fine (most people choose dark attire) but for open water swimming bright colors (green, yellow, orange) are recommended for visibility in case of emergency.
How do I stop goggles from leaking?
Without proper suction all goggles tend to leak especially when diving head first into the water. Tightening your goggles straps, pushing your goggles towards your eye sockets and gently slipping into the water feet first will help.
How do I wash my jammers or swimsuit?
Rinse them thoroughly with cold water and gently squeeze dry. Never twist dry your swimsuit as it will stretch the fabric permanently. Hang them out to dry on a rack. Never put them into the dryer as it will cause permanent damage.
What else should I bring to the pool?
An extra change of clothes, ziploc bags or plastic bags to store your wet gear, facial and body moisturizer and a padlock or coins for lockers.