I'm 24 and can't swim- Is there a 20-somethings swim class in NYC?
September 4, 2008 7:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm 24 years old and I don't really know how to swim. I can "not drown", but swimming is a no go. I need to fix this.

I'd like to learn to swim, both because I'm on an exercise kick and I love the pool. I've spent enormous amounts of time goofing off in the pool, but never in the deep end.

The obvious answer seems to be, "Take a swim class, dummy". But there's a weird dichotomy in swimming classes: They're either for the elderly or for kids.

So here's the rub: I'm in NYC, is there such a thing as a 20-somethings swim class?
posted by GilloD to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Wow I have never heard of a 20 something swimming class. I would bite the bullet and go to the elderly class. I'm sure you would be able to pick up the basics there. Or you could go to your local gym with a pool and ask if they have a class for 20 year olds. I'm sure there are plenty of people your age with the same problem as you.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:52 AM on September 4, 2008

When I was younger I used to get private swim lessons. These were because I was a completive swimmer working on my stroke and were in addition to my regular swim lessons, but I suspect you could try a similar thing. Maybe approach one of the instructors of the kids' swimming classes and ask for a private lesson? Most swim instructors / lifeguards could use the extra money and you'd be an easier lesson than a 3 year old.
posted by sharkfu at 7:53 AM on September 4, 2008

Response by poster: Sharfu- I'm not so sure about that! Good idea, though.

Mastercheddar- I may do that. I like old people! And it would make a hilarious story.
posted by GilloD at 7:57 AM on September 4, 2008

Best answer: Tangential thought: I took a deep water running course not too long ago. I thought it'd be packed with marathon runners looking for something with less impact on the knees. Instead it was packed with arthritic older ladies. Uh. However, the ladies turned out to be the kindest, gentlest souls whose age made the instructor a little more respectful and patient (compared to other exercise courses I've taken). So I'd actually recommend chillin' with the AARP crowd if nothing else is available because the instructor responded to their age by slowing down the class a bit and speaking a little louder (useful in a pool/underwater environment). Those things might really work in your favor if you're feeling self-conscious and awkward in the pool.

Good luck!
posted by December at 7:58 AM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Our YMCA has individual smimming lessons for adults, $75 for 5 lessons.
posted by octothorpe at 8:03 AM on September 4, 2008

Best answer: I would go with either joining the elderly class (like you said, hilarious story), getting private lessons, or (which would be more what I would do) find a friend who is a strong swimmer and ask them to teach you. Just start small (ie. doggy paddle) and work up to the breast stroke (or whatever). The point isn't perfect formation, rather the broad strokes (so to speak) of how to swim. Once you pick that up then taa daaaa! I think you'll be surprised at how little movement and force it takes to propel you in the water. :) Good luck!
posted by gwenlister at 8:05 AM on September 4, 2008

Lessons? Just go to a pool, start in the shallow end, and make your way to the deep end.

I never took lessons in my entire life, and I believe I am a very good swimmer. Maybe not the most efficient, but I can definitely get from A to B in any depth of water. I can also float, back stroke, etc, so I am very confident in any body of water.

Just by seeing other people, whether on TV, at a beach, in a pool, or whatever.. you will learn everything you need to know. UNLESS you want to get competitive with swimming. Then, by all means, start taking classes. At that point, it will be more a sport thing than a "I never learned" thing.
posted by Ryaske at 8:06 AM on September 4, 2008

Response by poster: Ryaske- I tend to be an auto-didact, but in some things I definitely benefit from instruction. If I had my own pool, I'd be more than happy to flounder about until I got it. But as I'll probably have to find a shared facility, it makes sense to know what I'm doing before I hop in the pool and get in someone's way
posted by GilloD at 8:09 AM on September 4, 2008

I don't live in NYC but there are plenty of 20-somethings swim classes around Chicago.
I'd suggest checking out local high schools with pools. Usually the high school will teach its own classes or you can get classes through your community.

Is there a New York equivalent to a Chicago-land area Park District?
Some of the Park Districts in my area offer very age specific swim classes. I've seen an 18-30 range.

Gyms and fitness centers (with pools) also have swim classes. Maybe find a gym who has mainly 20-something year old members and take lessons there.

There's already a huge surge in swimming interest due to Michael Phelps so I'd imagine finding an accessible class would be much easier.
posted by simplethings at 8:18 AM on September 4, 2008

A possible alternative to class/private lessons would be what Tim Ferriss of Four Hour Work Week fame describes here on his blog.
posted by wolfkult at 8:18 AM on September 4, 2008

We got private lessons for our son at a sport club with a pool. We were not required to be members to take private lessons. You probably have similar options in NYC, although they'll probably cost more.
posted by COD at 8:20 AM on September 4, 2008

I took a lesson with a lifeguard (just one) to refresh my memory on how to do the crawl correctly, then just started going to lap swim times and doing one length of the pool at a time, until I could work up to constant swimming. But if you never learned to swim at all, several of the local cities in my area have 'adult ed' classes which include all levels of swimming lessons. You're not the only one who wants to learn! Check with the local pools, they should know who is offering classes.
posted by lemonade at 8:21 AM on September 4, 2008

I took an adult swim lesson at the YMCA, ages ranges from older teens to middle aged folks. The class was designed for ability levels anywhere from none to wanting to learn other types of swimming strokes.
posted by yohko at 8:24 AM on September 4, 2008

The Y. If you let us know where in the city you are, I could probably recommend one for you. Then, if you decide you love it, you can move in to a Masters team, which would continue teaching on a less intensive level (the Y teams are a little more beginner-oriented than the independent clubs).

Anyways, good on you for wanting to learn. Swimming is so much about efficiency that being inefficient is basically only being a mediocre swimmer no matter how confident you are. Whenever you see people who say "I get so winded after X laps, how do other people do it?" the answer is "They learned to be efficient."
posted by dame at 8:25 AM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some Universities offer swim lessons that even outsiders can take and they would be much cheaper than a private gym.
posted by WizKid at 8:25 AM on September 4, 2008

The 14th Street Y (www.14streety.com) has adult lessons for beginners and advanced beginners (see the Membership and Adult Fitness page on their website). I don't know if that's convenient to you and I can't speak for the instruction because I've never taken lessons there. I'd guess the nyc parks department or the YMCAs might have something similar.
posted by Caz721 at 8:29 AM on September 4, 2008

The crawl stroke, which is proper swimming, is easy with practice, and you don't need lessons for that.

Here's a good video showing you the perfect form.

The key thing is to BREATHE OUT under water. The stroke becomes a matter of synchronizing your breaths with your strokes. Kicking is somewhat optional but nice if you want to make some speed.
posted by troy at 8:30 AM on September 4, 2008

I'm going to counter Ryaske's suggestion because there is just nothing better than really learning how to do a stroke properly. I know how to swim but with a few days instruction suddenly I was *gliding* through the water -- it was amazing. So much more fun and requires less effort when you can do it right.

Do a search for U.S. Masters Swimming and contact a team nearest you. Explain that you're interested in doing a lot more swimming but that you need some instruction. They should be able to point you in the right direction. Masters groups typically cover all ages. You'll find 20 year olds to 90 year olds. (Though, these 90 year olds are really good swimmers.)

Good luck -- I'm trying to get into swimming again. It's such a great workout.
posted by amanda at 8:37 AM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I grew up in the water (competitive water skiing family), and when I got into triathlon a couple of years ago I thought I'd have no problem. Holy shit, that was a rude awakening. It turns out those 20+ years of water skiing really just taught me "not drowning", and not "swimming from point A to B with a balance of speed and efficiency", which is what it's really all about.

I never took a swimming lesson as an adult (but I really, really should have), but I can tell you what worked for me: time in the water. Not proficient yet? More time in the water. Can't swim 2,000 meters at a time yet? More time in the water. It's a brute-force way of teaching yourself to swim. If you take lessons it'll be even easier, because you won't be ingraining bad habits like I'm sure I did.

I swam for about a month, twice a week, and was never able to go more than 150-200 meters at a time, and would total about 500 meters per workout. Then I went to swimming four times a week, and after about a month of that something just clicked and I could easily go 2,000-3,000 meters at a time. Swimming isn't like cycling or running. You need not only good form but also the muscular endurance in muscles that aren't used to being used that way. It takes a little while to build all of that up, but once it comes together, it's beautiful.

Lessons if you can afford it, but nothing substitutes for more time in the water.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:17 AM on September 4, 2008

When I went from not-drowning to swimming, I did two things. The first, mentioned a number of time upthread, was to take adult swim classes at the local YMCA. I got some help but the instructors mostly focused on those who knew nothing of swimming. It did however force me to go to the pool weekly and that helped some.

What helped more was going to a Total Immersion workshop. It was an afternoon event sponsored by a triathlon club. It helped me understand the mechanics of flotation and propulsion in a way that all the swimming in the world wouldn't have done. It's helpful to read the Total Immersion book and rumor has it that the DVD helps even more.
posted by advicepig at 9:30 AM on September 4, 2008

Most colleges offer "auxiliary classes" (which go by different names) that are offered to the open public. You should be able to go to them for swimming. One of the classes that are a basic swim class will probably adapt to your lack of training if nothing else.


ps: 3 things you need to learn:
Breast Stroke
Efficiently treading water

Freestyle stroke is for getting to place A to place B quickly: "OH CRAP, FELL OFF THE BOAT, GET OUT OF THE FREEZING WATER QUICK". If you swim a lot, you can use this to go moderate distances (which you must practice), but it's most useful for short ranges.

Breast Stroke is for swimming long distances if you're not a conditioned swimmer. It is slower than your freestyle, but much much less taxing.

Treading water can save your life. You should be able to do this for at least a half hour.
posted by gte910h at 9:49 AM on September 4, 2008

I taught myself to swim when I was about your age. I was on a three-month work contract, staying at a Days Inn with an attached health club and lap pool. I started out with a kickboard, practicing what I was doing with my legs. Then I started putting my face in the water, turning up to breathe every few kicks. Finally, I put the kickboard aside and started using my arms, legs and breathing all at once. Voila! I was swimming.
posted by workerant at 10:58 AM on September 4, 2008

While knowing how to swim for survival is great, looking at your post, it looks like that is not what you are after. So I would earnestly suggest ignoring all the "you don't need lessons/anyone can swim crawl" comments in favor of a path aiming at learning all 4 competitive strokes (and trust me, competitive breast is not relaxing and will make you yearn for the ease of freestyle).

You say you are on a exercise kick and you love the pool. Learning competitive strokes and then swimming on a low-key team (even if you don't compete) is just such a fantastic way to learn to interact with the water better. Lessons will help you fix some gross errors, but after that, working a stroke over and over, teasing out a second's improvement here, another one there teaches you so much about your body in water that you begin to wonder at how little you knew once and how much more you love the pool. People sometimes wonder how elite swimmers can spend so much time staring at the black line: because that isn't really what they are doing; instead they are engaged in studying these tiny interactions and that is awesome.

So anyway, if you find that you still love the water, and that swimming enhances that love, the way lots of other swimmers do, then you get to a point where you are exercising and it is fun and you can eat whatever you want and then go do something you love. So taking a class that gets you ready for a team can start an adventure that is--to me--worth having. So much better than just knowing how to not drown if you love the water.

And if you do do that and decide you want to get more into competitive swimming, I know a bunch of the teams and coaches in the city and would be happy to make some suggestions.
posted by dame at 11:12 AM on September 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Adult swimming lessons are organised by many swimming pools. Telephone your local pool and enquire.
posted by welephant at 1:54 PM on September 4, 2008

I'd amend gte910h's list a bit. The three big goals are spot-on, but I think there are better ways to meet them.

Crawl stroke I would keep (only I would call it 'crawl stroke', which is the name of the stroke, and not 'freestyle', which is the name of the events in which it is allowed). It's the preferred stroke for sprints, but it's also the preferred stroke for distance races, and with good reason: It translates effort into progress better than any other stroke. Totally essential to know this one.

Breast stroke I would ditch in favor of side stroke. Side stroke allows you to keep your face clear of the water as long as you may need to, it's handy for lifesaving, and it's also got a long glide phase so you can use it for a rest stroke. Indeed, if you ask me it beats breast stroke cold for resting: No wearisome spine-flexing, better streamlining (breaststroke chest braking, I'm looking at you), and a more ergonomic (and therefore stronger) leg motion.

Every learner seems to get the idea that breast stroke is restful (I did too), because it's easy to conceptualize and coordinate, because its glide phase is so obvious, and because it is more restful than crawl when you're swimming them both awkwardly. But none of that means it really spares you any effort when you're getting around with it.

Treading water I would postpone, perhaps indefinitely. It's handy for looking around, but you can probably already do enough of it for that, given that you do have short-term not-drowning skills. For medium- and long-term continuing-not-to-drown situations, I'd practice back floating and the fetal-position survival float, respectively, to reduce your energy expenditure and your heat loss.

Good luck! Swimming rocks.
posted by eritain at 9:58 PM on September 5, 2008

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