written by
Kiel Olver

Adult Swimming Lessons: A Guide for Absolute Beginners

Learn 10 min read
A man and woman get ready to jump into a swimming pool together.
Ready, Set... (Image courtesy Freepik)

So you've finally decided that you're ready to learn how to swim but you're an absolute beginner and have no idea where to start. Googling "adult swimming lessons" links you to some complicated registration pages and grainy youtube videos but none of these provide the essential information you need to know about learning how to swim as an adult.

This guide will equip you with everything an adult beginner swimmer ought to know, including answers to the following questions:

  1. What is the best way to learn how to swim?
  2. How long will it take until I can swim?
  3. How much do adult swimming lessons cost?
  4. What equipment do I need for swimming?
  5. How do I know I have a good swim instructor?

What is the Best Way to Learn How to Swim?

There are many ways to learn how to swim and all of them will teach you the same underlying principles: breathing, floating, gliding, kicking, pulling, and treading water.

Group Swimming Lessons

A group of 8 students gather around their swimming instructor during adult swimming lessons.
A typical group swimming lesson for adults

Both public pools and independent swim schools typically offer some kind of group swimming lessons catered towards adults and teenagers. In these classes, a group of up to ten people will line up at one end of the pool or form a circle around the instructor and practice various drills. Some exercises will be performed together while others will be done individually as each student takes their turn with the teacher.

With one instructor teaching many students who may be at varying skill levels, each student may not get more than a few minutes of individual attention. That said, this option can still be great for people who enjoy learning alongside others. Since many public pools and swim schools employ instructors as part time shift workers, the person who shows up to teach your class on any particular day may change without notice.

Registering for Group Swimming Lessons

Group swimming lessons tend to be the cheapest option available but because of this, these classes often fill up very quickly when they are offered. If you intend to try adult swimming lessons of the group variety, you should really try to plan out your schedule several months in advance. These lessons are offered in rigid sets that require attendance for 8 to 12 weeks in a row.

People line up outside a community centre to register for adult swimming lessons.
If you plan ahead at least you can be at the front of this line.

Sign ups for these sets ordinarily occur once every few months, with limited spots opening for in-person, phone, or online registration at very specific dates and times. Waitlists for these classes are often in the hundreds and they reset every season. Once enrolled in these classes, there are typically no refunds or makeup sessions if you cannot attend a class.

Private Swimming Lessons

Private swimming lessons are also often available from public pools, swim schools, and can even be booked directly with swimming instructors themselves. A one on one lesson with a swimming instructor generally provides more individual attention and better results in less time than group lessons do.

A female swimming instructor helps support a new swimmer settle into a back float during her adult swimming lessons.
One on one private lessons provide more individual attention

There is also an argument to be made that private lessons, while seemingly more expensive, actually provide better bang for your buck than group lessons. We'll discuss that in more detail a few paragraphs down the page.

Where to Get Private Swimming Lessons

In public pools and swim schools registering for private lessons is basically the same as it is for group lessons. Registration occurs at a very specific time once per season. You'll need to sign up for lesson sets that are rigidly scheduled. And there are no refunds if you cannot attend a class. Also, since the instructors teaching these classes are shift workers, you won't be guaranteed to always have the same instructor throughout your lesson set.

One way to guarantee that you always work with the same instructor is to book with them directly. Since public pools do not allow instructors to teach their own clients, many instructors offer private swimming lessons on Propela marketplace that allows instructors to host private lessons in local hotel pools.

On Propel you can find local swim instructors and compare between their prices, expertise, and schedules. You can book adult swimming lessons online with no registration dates or waitlists and cancel or reschedule anytime up to 48 hours before your lesson starts. The hotel pools in the Propel network also offer free amenities such as towel service, wifi, and access to hot tubs and saunas.

While you may find people offering to teach private lessons in their condos on Craigslist and Kijiji, they are likely operating without permission from the property owner. Most of these people are not properly certified, licensed, or insured and so buyer beware. Also, unlike riding a bicycle, your friend who is a great swimmer is probably not qualified to teach you how to swim. We definitely recommend against getting lessons from a friend. Aside from being unsafe, it may take longer to un-learn bad technique than it will take to learn correctly in the first place.

How long will it take until I can swim?

The length of time required for learning how to swim will depend on a few things including:

  • How often you practice
  • The type of lessons you take
  • Your physical condition
  • Your level of comfort in the water

Additionally, your learning curve will depend a lot on your goals and how well you've set yourself up to achieve them.

Short Answer: As Little as a Month

The beginner who just wants to learn enough to stay alive in deep water can probably learn the basics in under a month. Someone who is keen to swim their first triathlon will require much more training on higher level techniques and will need to build up their physical endurance. If your goal is to learn quickly then booking some private lessons a couple days a week and practicing on your own as often as you can is really the best way to go.

Long Answer: Years — If You Aren't Consistent

The key to learning any long term skill is consistency. If you can commit to a routine that includes regular lessons, feedback from your instructor, and practicing on your own — then you will probably pick up the basics in no time.

A man sits disappointingly beside a swimming pool.
You won't to learn to swim if you are not getting into the pool consistently

If you sign up for lessons semi-regularly and skip or miss classes, then you are only drawing out the process. Worse still, being inconsistent with your time often compounds into other issues that will impede your progress. For instance, let's say you miss the class where your instructor teaches basic breathing, now any time your face is in the water you might come up inhaling water.

How much do adult swimming lessons cost?

With every public pool, swim school, and independent instructor offering different rates and packages, it can be hard to compare and get a definitive answer. Anecdotally, many people say they feel like they learn more in one private lesson than they do in several sets of group adult swimming lessons. This is probably due to the fact that the rate at which most people learn is directly proportional to the amount of individual attention they receive.

My private swimming lesson was excellent and provided me with more progress than multiple sets of group classes. —Manny D.

We compiled the prices from over 20 different swimming instruction providers across Canada and then compared them solely on the basis of their cost per minute of individual attention. A word of warning — the results may surprise you.

What do I need for swimming lessons?

1. Bathing Suit

Make sure you find something that you're comfortable in and doesn't restrict movement. For men, find shorts with two things: 1) an inner lining or mesh to keep your junk from falling out and 2) a drawstring to keep your shorts from coming down when you push off the wall to glide.

For women, we recommend a one piece suit so that wardrobe malfunctions are the least of your worries. If you want to get a bathing suit that lasts the longest, try and find one that is almost 100% polyester. Also, if you have long hair and would prefer to keep it dry or out of your face, swim caps are great for this.

2. Goggles (Highly Recommended)

While goggles are definitely not mandatory, they are highly recommended. This is because when you are first learning how to swim, it helps to be able to see where your physical surroundings are. If you just close your eyes you might as well be swimming in an endless abyss.

A man wearing swimming goggles reaches out to the water's surface from underwater.
Goggles let you to see where you are in the water at all times

If you do opt to get a pair, make sure you practice without them at some point so you aren't surprised at what it feels like when you jump in a lake without them!

3. Warm Gear

This one also isn't mandatory but if you want to stay a little warmer in the water, swim caps and wet suits help a great deal, especially since when you're first learning the basics you won't be moving around quite as much as you will be later. Wetsuits also provide extra buoyancy which is great when you're first getting started but just like goggles, you'll want to make sure you also practice without them.

4. A Goal

It always helps to have a goal in mind before starting out with adult swimming lessons. Whether it's to snorkel in Hawaii, compete in your first triathlon, or simply get to safety if you were to fall into deep water, having a goal helps you stay motivated and track your progress towards it. Let your instructor know what your goal is so they can create a plan and work with you to achieve it.

BONUS — Flip Flops

A pair of red, blue, and black Union Jack flip-flops sit by the pools edge.
Flip flops can be a lifesaver in their own way

There's nothing worse than athletes foot. Seriously — it makes your feet itch whenever you're warm or sweaty. A $5 pair of flip flops can save you from a world of itchy discomfort and several months of applying doctor prescribed anti-fungal creme. This is especially helpful if you're headed to a public pool that is known unkept changing rooms.

How do I know I have a good swim instructor?

Unfortunately with most swim lesson providers, you won't have the option to choose your instructor. That said, it's helpful to be able to recognize what good and bad instructors look like so that you can try lessons elsewhere if you and your instructor don't click.

First and foremost, if your instructor is standing high and dry on the pool edge while you're in the water, this is bad sign. If your instructor won't get their hair or face wet and isn't giving demonstrations of what they expect you to do, this is also bad!

A swimming instructor demonstrates proper arm position to her student during her adult swimming lessons.
A great swimming instructor will demonstrate exactly what to do

A good instructor will be in the water right next to you, happily showing you exactly what to do while providing support and feedback after every float and glide. If you're in a group lesson, they should be trying to keep everyone engaged while taking brief moments to work individually with each person.

While some instructors may have decades of experience teaching or they themselves previously swam at a competitive level, these qualities alone are rarely the hallmark of a great swimming instructor. It is much more important to find someone who you enjoy being around — someone who is engaged, patient, and genuinely excited to introduce you to a whole new aquatic world.

Did we miss anything?

If you're an adult who is on the fence about learning how to swim and you still have questions, drop us a comment below and we promise to provide you with some answers.


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