Most triathletes I meet have already spent quite a long time running or cycling before they come to see me about their swimming. This is because it’s easy enough to start running on your own, and also easy enough to start riding a bike on your own. The movements for running and cycling have been part of our body since we started to walk all those years ago.

Yes, for some there can be a struggle, but the vast majority of people are able to teach themselves to do these things.

For swimming, this isn’t always possible.

It’s estimated that around 5% of the population can do an unmoving float on their back. I am lucky, I am one of them. But I have also been swimming in a squad since I was 8 years old, and every time; like an injured animal, I start off on this fitness journey, I go to the water. But others aren’t lucky enough to have this background.

I have been teaching swimming to children, teens and adults since 2002 and there is one thing I have noticed that is consistent: the fear, the hesitation… it doesn’t change in the age brackets. Every person who comes to me and wants to learn to swim has some kind of fear associated with the water; and let me tell you it is completely justified.

There are steps that you can take to conquer your fear of the water, small, practical things that simply remind you: if something goes wrong, float. This is particularly important in open water, where you are a long way from the shore.

“You are wearing a wetsuit in the open water. I don’t care if you normally sink like a stone, you can NOT sink in a wetsuit. You just need to know how: and this is individual to you as your name and tax file number.”

Example: I had a 70kg very lean young man work with me for two years. Every time he got into the pool he told me he sinks.  So every time he got in the pool I told him to sit on the bottom while holding his breathe.

Why? Because every time he did this he floated back to the surface. The day he came to the pool and DIDN’T say that he sinks like a stone, was the day he “got it”. I call it the Tipping Point. That day he finally was able to do the complete set without stopping to tell me how much he sucked. How much he wanted to give up.

The fear had finally (after 18 long months) been overtaken by his belief and ability.

And a very patient swim coach.

That man is now an Ironman.


  • Try to sit on the bottom of the pool while holding your breathe. (Hint: I am yet to meet a person who doesn’t float to the top. Why? There’s a big floatie on the inside of your body!!)
  • Learn to tread water before you swim
  • Learn your “flat position”
  • Employ relaxation techniques as part of your swim sessions (whether that’s meditation, music, yoga… whatever it is that leaves you with a low heart rate and feeling good).
  • Know that if it is particularly strong or you have had a stressful day already, give it a miss. Your mind is not in this.
  • Swim with a friend. They may see things that you don’t see, or ask someone to film you swimming.
  • Finally, make contact with a swim coach, a tri coach who specialises in swimming and organise some one on one lessons.
  • Everyone has a graceful dolphin inside of them.

    You just need the right strategy to bring it out!