Why Is Swimming so Hard? Find Out Why So Many Struggle

Why Is Swimming so Hard

Swimming is often considered one of the most challenging sports to master, leaving many to wonder what makes it so difficult. From the unique environment to the physical demands, swimming poses a variety of challenges that set it apart from other sports.

One of the key factors that makes swimming tough is that it requires a high degree of technique and coordination. Unlike many land-based activities, swimming is not a natural movement for humans, making it harder for our bodies to adapt and excel in this environment. Furthermore, the density of water adds an additional layer of difficulty, as it provides much more resistance than air, requiring swimmers to work harder in order to move through it.

In this article, we will dive into the various reasons that contribute to swimming being a particularly demanding sport. By understanding these challenges, we can better appreciate the hard work and dedication required to succeed in the world of swimming.

Physical Challenges of Swimming

The Need for Strength and Endurance

Swimming is a full-body workout, requiring strength and endurance from every muscle in the body.

The water’s density is much higher than air (by about 800 times), providing resistance and making it more difficult to move through than other workout environments.

Even the simple act of walking feels much more difficult underwater. That is why in addition to technique, strength and stamina is required to overcome the water’s resistance. Building strength and stamina can be challenging at first if you’re used to dry land activities.

I remember starting out, just swimming 4 laps took the wind out of me and my muscles ached for multiple days afterwards. Now swimming 4 laps is barely a warm up. Just know that it gets better quickly once you overcome this initial hurdle.

The Need for Coordination and Balance

Proprioception, or the sense of body position in space, is an essential skill for successful swimming. However, a horizontal swimming position and the surrounding water can challenge this sense of proprioception. As a result, swimmers need to develop heightened coordination and balance skills, especially as they perform complex strokes and techniques.

Enduring the Water Temperature

The water temperature in a pool can greatly affect a swimmer’s comfort and performance. When the water is too cold, muscles can tense up, reducing flexibility and increasing the risk of injury.

Conversely, swimming in overly warm water can lead to overheating and fatigue. Maintaining an optimal water temperature is vital for successful swimming, and sometimes swimmers are not in control of that.

At least with regards to cold water, you can consider wearing a thin swimming wetsuit to keep warm. You can’t really do much about a warm pool, however.

You’re Always Hungry and Tired

Swimming is an energy-intensive activity, and as such, swimmers often experience increased hunger and fatigue.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, vigorously swimming laps can burn 420 calories in 30 minutes for an 185 pound individual. For a 125 pound person, swimming vigorously burns 300 calories per 30 minutes. This is comparable to the calories burned running at a pace of 6 mph (10 min/mile) for 30 minutes.

Furthermore, swimming can be mentally exhausting, as swimmers need to constantly focus on breath control, strokes, and coordination.

The most decorated Olympian in the world, swimmer Michael Phelps, famously ate 10,000 calories a day while training for the Beijing Olympics. He did this while maintaining visible 6-pack abs, so that should give you an idea of how many calories you can burn by swimming and how tiring it is.

Dealing with Dry Skin and Damaged Hair

Long-term exposure to chlorinated pool water can have detrimental effects on a swimmer’s skin and hair. Specifically, chlorine in the water can cause skin to become dry and irritated, while hair can become brittle and prone to breakage.

Taking proper care of the skin and hair is essential for swimmers who spend extensive time in the pool. Swimmers must know how to remove the chlorine from their hair and also follow a skin and hair moisturizing routine to keep their hair and skin from drying out and cracking.

Difficulties with Technique

Swimming is a complex sport that requires mastering various techniques to perform well. In this section, we will explore different aspects of swimming techniques that contribute to its difficulty: breathing techniques, stroke mechanics, efficiency, and streamlining.

Learning Proper Breathing Techniques

Proper breathing is crucial in swimming, as it directly impacts your stamina and performance. Unlike in most other sports, swimmers have limited opportunities to breathe, making breath control essential.

Mastering the art of taking quick, efficient breaths at the right moments can be challenging, especially for beginners. Moreover, coordinating your breathing with your strokes adds another layer of complexity to this skill.

Perfecting Stroke Mechanics

Swimming involves various stroke styles, each with its own mechanics and efficiencies. Freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly all require a unique set of movements that target different muscle groups.

Learning and perfecting these movements demand dedication, practice, and proper coaching. Moreover, each stroke has its own rhythm and timing, which can be difficult to grasp initially.

Increasing Efficiency and Streamlining

Swimming efficiency refers to the ability to move through the water with minimal resistance. With water being denser than air, swimmers face significant resistance while swimming, making it crucial to be as hydrodynamic as possible.

Streamlining involves maintaining a tight body position to reduce drag and conserve energy. Improving efficiency and streamlining requires constant practice, as well as an understanding of how your body interacts with the water to optimize your movements.

For this reason, the swimmer’s body composition is crucial. They cannot allow themselves to gain too much fat or muscle, as this can increase the drag they experience and also restrict their movements underwater.

Another reason swimming is difficult is due to the resistance caused by the hinging body parts, which results in fatigue.

Overcoming Mental Hurdles

Fear of Water

One of the significant mental challenges that many would-be swimmers face is the fear of water, also known as aquaphobia. Overcoming this fear is a crucial step to make swimming more accessible and enjoyable.

It’s essential to approach the fear of water in small, manageable steps. A useful starting point is getting comfortable with the pool environment by sitting on the edge and dangling your feet in the water.

Gradually increase your exposure to water, practice deep breathing, and remember to always have a trusted companion (who knows how to swim) by your side to ensure safety and provide support.

Staying Motivated

Maintaining motivation is another significant mental challenge in swimming. The constant training, technique improvement, and minimal rest can make it hard to stay focused and committed. To sustain motivation, it’s essential to focus on:

  • Setting clear and achievable goals
  • Breaking down goals into smaller, manageable tasks
  • Keeping a training log to track progress and success
  • Surrounding yourself with supportive and like-minded teammates

For example, don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t dropping time as often or as drastically as you used to. At some point, weeks or even months of training is necessary just to shave a second off your best times. This can be demotivating to a lot of swimmers who feel like they have plateaued.

Remembering the benefits of swimming, and staying focused on your objectives can help keep you motivated and committed to overcoming the mental hurdles of swimming.

Parting Words

I want to end this article on a positive note. While some people struggle to learn how to swim, I believe that everyone can learn how to swim if they put in enough effort and receive proper guidance from a swim coach.

With the right coach, you can learn how to swim much faster than trying to figure it out on your own. While you may not be able to learn how to swim properly in one day, you can make great progress in a week.

Also, don’t let age stop you. There is no maximum age to learn how to swim, so if you’re 40 and over and think the time has passed, think again.

As long as you have the proper attitude and are committed, then there’s no reason why you couldn’t be a model student to a good coach who will teach you how to swim. Each of the problems outlined in this article can be overcome.