Overcoming Fear of Water and Swimming

A man afraid of entering the water at a lake

Lots of people experience fear of water (aquaphobia). This article discusses this fear and proposes a few basic exercises in the water to help you overcome this fear.

Fear of Water – Causes

Fear of water can have lots of different causes:

  • It often exists as an instinctive fear related to the fear of drowning.
  • It can be caused by the fear of the unknown, of what might be lurking below the water surface in deep, cloudy or muddy waters.
  • It may be related to a bad experience that occurred in childhood.
  • It may have been transmitted to a child by parents that were themselves afraid of water.
  • It may have been ingrained by swim instructors that used inadequate or stressful methods to teach swimming.

Putting Things Into Perspective

You don’t need to feel bad if you are subject to fear of water because everyone has a different level of water confidence and this level of water confidence can change depending on circumstances.

For example, I acquired basic swimming skills as a child, and those skills have evolved with practice over the last few years since I took up swimming again.

Nowadays I’m not afraid of swimming in a pool or in small to medium ponds.

However, if I do swim in a lake or the ocean, I still have a certain level of anxiety before starting, and especially so if it’s in an unfamiliar location.

The point I want to make is that even experienced swimmers can sometimes experience fear of water or at least have a certain level of anxiety.

Basic Exercises – Instructions

Let’s now try to address your fear of water by doing a few basic exercises in the water.

To give you the maximum level of comfort while doing these exercises, I suggest the following:

1) All the exercises can and should be done in shallow water. There is no need for the water to go higher than your chest, so you can always feel safe.

2) Doing the exercises in a swimming pool with clear water is best because you can see what is (or more precisely isn’t) in the water and so you will be more relaxed than if you did the exercises in opaque water.

3) For the same reason, it’s advisable to wear swimming goggles while doing the exercises.

This way water won’t get into your eyes, and you will be able to keep them open all the time, which will help you to relax.

4) A supportive person being at your side while doing the exercises can be of great help, and especially so if he/she is an experienced swimmer that is comfortable in the water.

5) If you can’t get the help of a supportive person, I recommend that you do the exercises in a swimming pool supervised by a lifeguard which knows what you are trying to accomplish and can keep an eye on you.

6) Ideally, you should do the exercises when the swimming pool isn’t crowded, to avoid getting stressed out by people that splash or trash water around you.

There is no need to rush through the exercises. The primary goal is always to stay comfortable.

Even if you only manage to do one exercise per session at the pool, it doesn’t matter as long as you are comfortable. Slow down if you start feeling stressed out.

Even if it takes several weeks or months for you to complete all the exercises and overcome your fear of water, so be it. Think baby steps.

Acclimating To Water

To get started, we will do a few exercises for you to get comfortable being in contact with water and then to enter the water:

1) At the shallow end of the pool, sit across the pool edge and let your legs dangle in the water, sweeping back and forth. Take your time to enjoy the sensation of the water flowing around your legs.

2) Scoop up water with your hands and apply it to your face, as if to wash it. This is to get used to having your face being in contact with water.

3) Scoop up water with your hands again, hold your breath and then splash the water into your face. As you are wearing swim goggles, your eyes are protected, and you can try to keep them open.

As you are holding your breath and sitting upright, you should notice that the water can’t get into your nose and mouth. Enjoy the refreshing sensation of the water on your face.

4) Slowly get into the water via the steps or ladder in the shallow area of the pool. Make sure that the water doesn’t get above your chest.

Walk around for some time, staying in the shallow area of the pool. Enjoy the sensation of the water flowing around your body.

Submerging Your Head

The next few exercises will let you progressively lower your head into the water until you are comfortable having your head under water. For this exercise, we will stay in shallow water.

1) Hold your breath. Slowly crouch down until your lips are just above the water surface. How does it feel? See if you can get comfortable with having the water so close to your lips. Then stand up.

2) Hold your breath. Slowly crouch down (with mouth closed) and see if you can get your mouth underwater, having the water surface being between your mouth and your nose. Notice that water can’t get into your mouth.

3) After a while, notice that your nose is still above the water surface. If the water is calm and there are no waves, try to breathe through your nose while still having your mouth under water.

Notice that you can breathe through your nose even though your mouth is under water. Then stand up. Repeat this often to get comfortable breathing with your nose being so close to the water surface.

4) Hold your breath. Slowly crouch down until your mouth touches the water surface, then goes under water.

Crouch some more until your nostrils touch the water surface. If possible, hold this position for a few seconds, then stand up to breathe.

What you need to know at this point is that it is entirely ok to have water touching your nostrils or even having some water getting into your nostrils, as long as you are holding your breath and your head is upright.

Because of the way the nose connects with the head, water can’t rise high enough in your nose to get into sinuses in that position. It’s only when the water gets into the sinuses that it becomes unpleasant.

In fact, once you’ll have become an experienced swimmer, you will have water flowing into and out of your nostrils each stroke cycle, without ever having water getting into your sinuses and with you barely noticing.

A schema of the head and nose that demonstrates that having some water up the nostrils while being under water and holding one's breath is not a problem.

Having some water up your nostrils is OK

Now let’s get back to our exercises:

1) Again hold your breath, then crouch down until your nose is under water, the water surface being between your nose and your eyes. Your ears should not be underwater, so slightly tilt your head forward.

Again, notice how some water gets into your nostrils, but at the same time notice that it doesn’t rise very high in your nose and that because of this it doesn’t hurt.

Try to hold this position a few seconds, then stand up to breathe.

2) Hold your breath. Slowly crouch down as before. Now tilt your head slightly backward.

Slowly move down until your nose, and your ears are below the water surface, but your eyes are still above the water surface.

Because you are holding your breath no water can get into your mouth and only a little bit of water gets into your nose. Notice how water gets into your ears, and sounds become muffled.

Again try to hold this position a few seconds before standing up.

3) Now what you need to know at this point is that some water will get into your ears.

But this is also ok because the water will be prevented from going further by the eardrum and will flow out of the ear as soon as you leave the water. So you can’t get hurt.

4) Hold your breath. Now slowly crouch down and let the water cover your mouth, nose, ears and move further down up to the point where your eyes move below the water surface.

As you are wearing swim goggles (hopefully good ones), water can’t get into your eyes. Try to hold this position a few seconds, then stand up again and breathe.

Once you are comfortable with your eyes below the water surface and can keep your eyes open, take the time to observe this strange world below the water surface that opens up to you.

5) Once you are comfortable doing the previous exercise, you can add up the ante a little bit and make a bobbing motion, where you rhythmically submerge and emerge your head.

This will get you used to have your head being regularly submerged, which will be useful later on when learning how to swim the popular swimming strokes.

Blowing Bubbles

Once you are comfortable having your head under water, the next step to overcome your fear of water is to learn that it is possible to exhale in the water without getting water into your nose and mouth.

The best exercise for this is to learn how to blow bubbles.

1) Breathe in while standing in the shallow area of the pool and hold your breath. Then crouch down so that your mouth is below the water surface, but your nose is still above the water surface. Slowly exhale through your mouth, blowing bubbles in the water.

You will realize that as long as you do exhale, water can’t get into your mouth. The same is true if you do hold your breath. Stand up again to breathe in.

2) Repeat the previous exercise but now crouch down so far that only your eyes are above the water surface while your nose and mouth are below the water surface. Keep your mouth shut and now slowly blow bubbles through your nose.

Again you will notice that water can’t get into your nose as long as you hold your breath or exhale. Stand up to breathe.

3) Repeat the previous exercise but now blow bubbles in the water through both your nose and mouth.

4) Finally, repeat the previous exercise but with your head completely under water.

The Human Body Floats Well

So far, we have practiced a few basic exercises to overcome the fear of water and to get used to being in the water.

Now we will see that it is, in fact, easy to float in the water without much effort.

If you get anxious around bodies of water, you may believe that in the water you would sink to the ground like a stone.

If this is the case, it may come as a surprise to you that water, in fact, supports the human body very well. In most cases, people can float effortlessly without using their limbs as long as their lungs are filled with air.

This is because your body, being made of 60% of water, is slightly less dense than water provided that your lungs are filled with air.

Additionally, you may (or may not) remember Archimedes’ Principle from school:

Any object, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object.

This means that water will tend to push you up to the surface because your body is less dense than water!

Mushroom Float

Mushroom float is a simple exercise you can do that demonstrates the human body’s natural tendency to float:

Video Thumbnail

Here’s how to do Mushroom Float:

1) Stand in the shallow area of the pool.

2) Take a deep breath and then hold your breath.

3) Curl up into a ball by drawing your legs against your chest, and brace your legs with your arms.

4) Your feet lose contact with the ground, and you can float freely for a few seconds.

5) When you need to breathe, unroll, put your feet on the ground, and stand up to get your head above the water.

While you do this exercise, you will see that your head submerges but that you nevertheless float close to the water surface.

As an additional experiment, you can try to exhale while being curled up. You will see that your body starts to sink as your lungs get empty.

This demonstrates that your lungs help your body to float for as long as they are filled with air.

At the start of the video above, I hold my breath, and you can see that the water pushes me up to the surface.

Then, while I slowly exhale, my body starts to sink as it becomes less buoyant.

Once you have done this exercise a few times and feel how easy it is to be supported by the water, it should become easier for you to relax in the water and this should help reduce your fear of water.

A small minority of people still sink when their lungs are filled with air. These often are very skinny people or people with a very low body fat percentage, for example, bodybuilders. They might need to scull a little bit with their hands or tread water with their feet to float.

The Horizontal Position

In the next step to overcome the fear of water, you will practice getting comfortable in a horizontal position.

The horizontal position is an important prerequisite to learn swimming because most swim strokes spend most of their time in this horizontal position. So do the following:

1) Go to the shallow area of the pool.

2) Crouch down until the water is at the level of your chest.

3) Extend your arms forward.

4) Take a deep breath and then hold your breath.

5) Slowly glide forward in the water, as if sliding forward on a bed made of water.

6) Try to keep your head in a neutral position, in line with your spine.

Because your body assumes a horizontal position, your face will be put underwater.

But because you are holding your breath, the water can’t go up in your nostrils, and you are perfectly safe (this principle was explained above).

7) Slide forward until your body is completely extended.

8) Now try to get comfortable in that position and to hold it for a few moments, until you need to breathe.

9) Your position can be completely horizontal, floating freely and close to the water surface.

Or maybe your position is tilted, with your upper body being supported by the water but your feet still touching the ground. Or somewhere in between.

This depends on your body composition. Either position is fine as long as you can relax and feel supported by the water for a few moments.

10) To stand up, tuck your knees up while moving your arms down. Your body will roll into an upright position. Then extend your legs, touch the ground and stand up.

As explained above, some people (called sinkers) will completely sink to the ground because of their low body fat percentage. If this is your case, your goal is to try to relax for a few seconds while lying flat on your stomach on the bottom of the pool (in the shallow area of the pool).

Gliding In a Horizontal Position

As the last exercise to overcome the fear of water, you will learn to glide in a horizontal position on your stomach and still feel supported by the water. So do the following:

1) In the shallow area of the pool, turn your back towards the pool wall.

2) Inhale, hold your breath, then draw your legs up towards your chest as you did in Mushroom Float.

3) Don’t brace your legs with your arms, however. Extend your arms forward instead, and extend your legs backward at the same time to quickly push against the vertical wall of the pool.

4) Extend your body and try to get as horizontal as possible. Keep your head in line with your trunk and try to glide as far as possible.

5) Eventually, the forward momentum will stop. Your legs may also drop at the end of the glide.

6) To stand up and the end of the glide, do as before: tuck your knees up, roll up, extend your legs and stand up.

7) Repeat this exercise a few times, until you feel well balanced and horizontal during the glide.

Notice that no water gets into your nose as long as you hold your breath even though you are floating in a horizontal position.

To up the ante a little bit, you can try to slowly exhale during the glide or to flutter kick to extend the glide.

Towing

As an alternative you can try out the following with a friend:

1) Get into the horizontal position with your arms extended forward but don’t push off the wall.

2) Let your friend grab one of your hands and gently tow you forward.

3) Notice that it doesn’t take much forward movement for you to float in a horizontal position, as long as you keep your body straight and stay relaxed at the same time.

4) Your friend can even release your hand once you have gained some forward momentum. You should still float and move forward a few moments until the momentum stops.

Conclusion

We have covered quite a bit of ground in this article. We discussed possible causes for fear of water, then practiced putting the head under water and exhaling in the water.

After that, we learned that most people float rather well, and demonstrated this with the mushroom float.

Finally, we practiced getting in a horizontal position and then gliding a bit in that position.

While you did these exercises, I hope you discovered that being in the water doesn’t have to be intimidating, but can be quite enjoyable once you can relax and feel comfortable.

Hopefully, with time and practice, you will be able to overcome your fear of water. Don’t rush it, take your time working on those exercises, even if it takes a few weeks or longer. It is worth it!

And once you are comfortable in the water, the next logical step is to start learning a few basic swimming techniques, and then to learn how to swim.

Going further

If you still struggle with your fear even after doing all the exercises described in this article, Conquer Your Fear of Water: An Innovative Self-Discovery Course in Swimming by Melon Dash might be a good resource for you.

The book aims to get you over your fear of water in 104 detailed steps. Each step is a mini-chapter in the book and can cover various things, such as relaxation strategies, writing about your beliefs or fears, floating exercises in the water, and so on.

The book goes deeply into the psychological and physical aspects of going into the water, getting used to it and being able to relax. Highly recommended.

There’s also a companion DVD available, called The Miracle Swimmer: Learn to Be in Control in Water, Shallow and Deep and Prevent Panic.

78 thoughts on “Overcoming Fear of Water and Swimming”

  1. Antoinette Mckinney

    I found this very interesting as I have just taken up swimming recently. A lot of good tips for me. Cheers!

    1. Do you have a few basic swimming techniques? If you have some, please send them to me. Regards.

  2. Great advice. I am going to learn to swim.

    I have joined an aquafit class, which is great for just getting in the water and getting used to how it feels.

    I will try these submersion exercises next week.

  3. This a great way to start. I followed the steps but I believe still there is fear that needs to go off.

    All the exercises that are mentioned here are performed near the pool side. So there is the safe feeling of the pool side.

    I guess one starting should be to start in the middle of the shallow lane. This way we are fully surrounded by water which might help.

    I am going to try it. Will post any developments here.

    1. Hello dear friend.

      I read your article and I feel we have similar swimming problems. I am terrified of leaving my kickboard and taking off from the wall.

      Did you overcome your fear? Are you swimming now?

  4. A very nice article indeed.

    I started taking a 15-day swimming course recently. I am hydrophobic and could not keep my head under the water while learning to swim.

    My coach and everybody else demotivated me that since I have a fear of water I can’t learn to swim in 15 days.

    This has disappointed me so much that I wanted to read articles on how to overcome my fear of water.

    This article has uplifted me. Now I feel I can do it too with the right spirit and mindset.

  5. I sink right down to the bottom, have to work really hard to float, on good days I can do back stroke. I am 180 cm 86 kilos, the machines say I have 30% body fat.

    I have started losing a few kilos thinking that it will help in swimming. Now I am scared after reading this article – shedding fat will make it more difficult to swim.

    1. Hi Veeru,

      It is indeed the case that you’ll float less well if you lose body fat.

      However, I’m a little bit surprised that you sink like a stone at 30% body fat. It’s often the very skinny or very athletic persons with low body fat that are sinkers.

      Do you sink when doing the mushroom float when your lungs are filled?

  6. Hydrophobia is the fear of drowning, fear to go to the water and a negative attitude to bathing. This can cause a lot of inconveniences because one has frequent contacts with water in life.

    Hydrophobia is common among those who can not swim. The sign of hydrophobia is the fear to be near water and to swim in it.

    People experiencing hydrophobia may even panic when drops of water fall on them accidentally.

    For more info about hydrophobia please visit this page.

    1. I also have Hydrophobia. I want to learn to swim but I’m just too scared. It’s because I nearly drowned once, because I was too small and couldn’t reach the floor :/

      1. Hi Hermione,

        Like you I nearly drowned as a child, only it happened to me twice. Since then I have had a real fear of water.

        I have been able to stand in a pool – only up to my waist, but that was the limit for me.

        I have never been able to put my face near water and even worse, was petrified to try and lie on my back – even in very very shallow water.

        Now I am 68 and recently saw a poster for adult swimming classes for total beginners. I decided to try.

        I explained that I was afraid of water and why. In the first lesson, I was able to lie on my tummy holding a swim aid and learned to float on my back.

        I was so excited I have been to the pool on my own twice now when no one else was around and spend lots of time floating on my back – in shallow water but at least I can do it.

        The difference for me was that the first thing we were taught was how to stand up both from front and back positions.

        For me, that was the best – knowing that at any time I could stand without kicking and spluttering.

        Find a good teacher – one with patience and understanding and have a go. If I can – anyone can.

        1. Hi,

          I am 55 and have the same problem.

          I am attending my very first 1:1 private lesson this Wednesday and I am terrified!

          I have been looking at various videos on the Internet and I’m more scared than ever.

          I don’t think I can ever lie on my back and float or my front for that matter.

          The fear of my feet leaving the floor and not being able to stand up again in the water puts the fear of God in me!

          I will go and put my whole self into it, I hope I can overcome this fear.

  7. rahul deshmukh

    I cannot turn horizontal in the water as I have water up to my waist and my feet touch the bottom of the pool.

    The problem I have is that of keeping the legs horizontal in the water. What is the correct body position?

    My weight is 86 kg and my height is 5 feet and 10 inches.

    1. Hi Rahul,

      It could be that your legs sink naturally. I have the same problem.

      However, in that case, you should be able to stay in a horizontal position using a light flutter kick. You can even use short swim fins in the beginning if this helps.

  8. Raji Subramanian

    Hi Christophe, your blog impresses me a lot…

    My body keeps sinking and I am not able to float… I tried hard to do the mushroom float but nothing works…

    I am still going under the water as I am not able to hold my breath for more than few seconds under the water.

    Any tips or suggestions that I can practice?

    I think I am overweight. 20 KG above my recommended BMI value. :(

    1. Hi Raji,

      It is not that important if you can’t float in mushroom float. It’s normal that you go down if you release your breath.

      Mushroom float is only there to demonstrate that most people can float quite well when they hold their breath.

      But being able to do this is no strict requirement to learn to swim. You can use swim fins, swim noodles, kickboards etc. in the beginning, which give you support and will help you to stay afloat.

  9. Raji Subramanian

    Hi Christopher,

    Thanks for your response.

    Now I can float while performing the flutter kick for 20 seconds while holding on to the swimming rod…

    But after I have exhaled underwater, I am not able to come up to inhale, if I still I come up and inhale I am getting drowned.

    So every time I do a deep breath and flutter kick and exhale underwater, with the water over the mouth.

    After that, I don’t know how to do the next inhale on having the float condition.

    Could you please advise?

    1. Hi Raji,

      Just a thought here, do you hold you breath for a long time, then exhale deeply? Maybe that could be the problem? If you exhale deeply, it makes sense that you are going under.

      If that’s the case, try to exhale more often and don’t release all the air from your lungs. This could help you stay afloat more easily…

      1. Hi Christophe,

        It’s really a nice blog and it helped me to float in a swimming pool in just a time span of 3 days. I was a novice 3 days ago and now I can float freely.

        My only issue is, I am not able to make it for long time. I float for first 20 seconds, release my breath slowly and as soon as I stand, I need to hold for say 30 seconds to get another float.

        Can you give me a suggestion here?

        My weight is 80kg, 5.2″ height.

  10. Hello, thanks for the article.

    What can I do to learn to tread water in the sea? I don’t have access to any pool close to me, but I live nearby the beach.

    I’ve been struggling since really young with fear of water because I don’t how to tread it.

    How can I learn at the sea since I won’t have any edges close to me?

    Thanks!

    1. Hmm, that’s a good question.

      Do you have a friend who is a good swimmer and do you have access to a boat or a surfboard? So you could get into shallow water and hold on to the boat or surfboard.

      I would also wear a full-body triathlon wetsuit along with an aquatic floatation belt.

      Such a full-body wetsuit provides lots of floatation and, coupled with a floatation belt, should keep you safe in all circumstances.

      Ideally, your friend would be a rescue swimmer so he would know how to react if you do panic.

  11. Hi Christophe,

    Very well written and explained. I am 40 and could never come out of my fear to be in the water…

    Now we are trying again, not to tune as an amateur swimmer but to at least enjoy pools and override my fear.

    We are starting with a swimming camp and this time I was thinking to start with a full mask snorkel…

    My viewpoint is most of the time (attempting floating while holding the pool bar) we just struggle to keep the head up and the whole posture to float is compromised, panic overrides as soon as the water reaches the face…

    With a mask I can breathe all the time and avoid all these problems; I mean the first attempt is to be comfortable in water…

    How do you see this? And should I add a floatation belt as well?

    1. Hi DJ,

      I would go for it. Anything that can make you have a good experience in the water is positive as I see it.

      I don’t have a problem with a flotation belt either. I mean, that’s how we got started in my swim class when I was as a child.

      Once you feel comfortable your goal should be to slowly wean yourself of those swimming or flotation devices, but take your time.

  12. Hulya Ozdemir

    Hi Christophe,

    I’ve been trying to learn swimming for a month but I haven’t got a good result yet. Because I have a big problem with floating.

    When my body starts to float I suddenly get panic and need to hold the wall. I can’t face with the thought of floating.

    By the way when I am afraid I won’t be able to raise my head and stand up when I can’t hold my breath anymore. This fear stops my floating.

    Please help me

    1. Hi Hulya,

      In your case I’d recommend the book listed at the bottom of the post (“Conquer Your Fear of Water”).

      I contains a lot of exercises (both physical and psychological exercises) to get over your fear of water, a lot more than I can cover in this blog post.

      Another option is to get one on one coaching.

      Hope this helps.

  13. I have recently started learning swimming. But when I do gliding and reach the middle of the pool I feel scared and lose my balance.

    What should I do? Please help me.

    The coach is only interested to teach students who are doing gliding perfectly and myself along with two other girls are like clueless how to get that confidence.

    1. Hi Borsa,

      It is unfortunate that you have a coach available but that he/she is only interested in teaching students that are already quite confident in the water.

      Maybe it would help to discuss this topic with him/her?

      Is this a sports coach interested in swim competitions and looking for new talents or a coach interested in teaching students how to swim?

      Another option would be to do the exercises I propose on this page on your own, in a public swimming pool, assisted by a friend who is a good swimmer.

      Hope this helps.

  14. Hi Christophe,

    I have joined swimming classes 2 weeks ago. The first 3 days I did the floating very well.

    For the first day, it was by holding a horizontal pipe. For the second and third day, it was by holding a pipe and for some time up to a distance of free float gliding in the horizontal position.

    And I could hold my breath for 12-15 seconds and the water level was up to my neck and then it was a holiday for 2 days.

    At the 4th day, water was up to my waist and I did gliding but had some fear and then I took a 6 days leave as my daughter was not feeling well.

    Now I have rejoined but I can’t float. I am not comfortable now and stand at the pool corner. The pool water is not clear.

    I am feeling very sad, and feeling down that I can’t do anything.

    What should I do? If I am not feeling good, should I discontinue swimming?

    1. Hi Vishakha,

      From your post, I gather two things:

      1) You did well until you had to stop taking the classes, once because your daughter was ill, and once because there was a holiday.

      So you did progress as long as you went in the water every day and upped the ante a bit every day. Then you missed a few days and you couldn’t get back to where you left before the break.

      My suggestion would be to start again from the beginning and rebuild confidence, one step at a time, until you are back where you were before, and then progress further.

      It would be nice if your swim instructor was flexible enough for this.

      2) You say that the pool water is not clear. Not being able to see in the water can be a source of anxiety. If the water in the pool was clear before, this could be the culprit.

      So maybe it would make sense to find another pool with has clear water, or to resume your classes once the water at your local pool is clear again.

      I do some open water swimming in a lake in my area in the summer months. At the beginning of each swim, I also have some anxiety.

      This is in part due to the fact that I can’t see more than one meter below the water surface. But this anxiety dissolves after a few minutes of swimming.

      I think having some anxiety is normal when we swim in unfamiliar conditions or places.

      The key, in my opinion, is to start slowly and be able to relax. This comes with experience, once your swim abilities and familiarity with the water have improved.

      Hope this helps.

      1. Hi Christophe,

        Thanks a lot… It helped me a lot. Today I rejoined classes in the evening batch, as before it was a morning batch and overcrowded.

        Today I did only what I can do and tried to build my confidence and tried to relax in the water.

        I have tried to do the mushroom float but I couldn’t. When I tried to do it my body came up, I wasn’t down in the water.

        1. Hi Vishakha,

          Well, if your body came up while doing the mushroom float, I think it is a good result, because this means that you were able to float in the water.

  15. Have you known of anyone who has positive results using hypnotherapy? My main issue is that I panic when I begin to float. Thanks.

  16. Hi Christophe,

    Very well explained and its very beneficial, I am a beginner and have been following this website. I have a request for you, if you could add more videos?

    Thank you.

  17. Deeply afraid

    Just reading about trying the exercises to put my face in the water caused me to panic and get stressed.

    Mind you, I have no problem getting in the water even having it up to my chin as long as I can stand. Or snorkeling in the ocean with my life jacket on…

    Granted it takes some deep breaths and the mask will keep water out of my nose and I can still breathe.

    I have even held my breath and put my face under the shower for a few seconds.

    But, still, the thought of putting my face in a pool or body of water without at least a snorkel mask and preferably snorkel causes me to hyperventilate and just about to cry.

    I would like to even just learn how to float on my back. Is there any hope for a person like me?

    I fear that even a swim class geared to a person afraid of the water will not work for me.

      1. Deeply Afraid

        When getting ready to snorkel, with a breathing tube, it still takes me a few moments to put my face in the water.

        Even knowing that I will be able to breathe, there is still a panic in me that I have to calm.

        I have not been able to just put my face in the water wearing a snorkel mask alone and definitely not with just swimming goggles on.

        1. You could try the following series of exercises:

          Exercise 1:

          1) Using a snorkel mask and a breathing tube, get to the point where you can breathe calmly with your head underwater.

          2) Once you can breathe calmly, still using the mask and breathing tube, try to hold your breath underwater for 2 seconds, then begin to breathe again.

          3) Repeat a few times.

          4) Repeat this exercise several times, and progressively increase the time you hold your breath, up to say 10 seconds.

          Exercise 2:

          1) Without the breathing tube, but still wearing the mask, take a breath, close your mouth, and try to slowly get your closed mouth under water, then immediately get your mouth above the water surface again.

          It may take a while until you can do this. Notice that as long as you keep your mouth closed, no water can get in.

          2) Repeat the same procedure, but try to keep your closed mouth underwater for longer time periods, still holding your breath. Try to progressively get up to 10 seconds.

          3) Now do the same but try to get your head completely under water, closing your mouth and holding your breath, still wearing the mask.

          Exercise 3:

          1) Get a pair of swimming goggles, a nose clip, and a swim snorkel, like Finis’ Swimmer’s Snorkel.

          2) Put on the gear, and notice how you can breathe through the snorkel, how your eyes are covered and how your nose is sealed off by the nose clip.

          Essentially, the swimming gear provides the same protection as the snorkel mask and breathing tube.

          3) Slowly move your head underwater and breathe through the snorkel. Notice that no water gets in as you are using a nose clip and snorkel, and you can breathe normally.

          Exercise 4:

          1) Still wearing the goggles, nose clip and swim snorkel, slowly move your head underwater.

          2) This time, however, hold your breath underwater, then move your head above water again.

          3) Repeat the exercise and progressively increase the time you hold your breath.

          Exercise 5:

          1) Keep wearing the goggles and the nose clip, but put off the swim snorkel.

          2) Close your mouth.

          3) Hold your breath and move your head underwater.

          4) Hold a few seconds, then move your head above water again.

          5) Repeat the exercise and progressively increase the time you hold your breath up to 10 seconds.

          Once you can do these exercises, proceed with the other exercises on this page, such as blowing bubbles, etc.

          Good luck!

      2. Hi,

        I’m about 6 stone overweight and have tried swimming.

        I’m not very good at swimming and I’m terrified to put my head under.

        So after 3 visits starting at 10 lengths, then 15, then 20, but now my back is in agony.

        Help.

        1. Hi Lorraine,

          If you are always arching your back or neck to keep the head above water, it could explain why you are experiencing back/neck pain.

          Before doing lots of laps, I’d really focus on getting comfortable in the water, doing the exercises I describe on this page and maybe also from the resources I recommend at the bottom of the article.

          Good luck.

  18. Deeply Afraid

    Ok, I will attempt to give that suggestion a try. Thanks.

    Is there a big difference between a “swimmers snorkel” and a regular snorkel setup?

    I have never heard of it before. I will have to do research on it.

  19. This page was a really good find.

    When I was at school, the swimming instructor was only interested in the pupils that could swim.

    Those that couldn’t were left on their own in the shallow end with floats, no instructions or encouragement to learn how to actually swim and deal with the different aspects of the water.

    Over the years I’ve taught myself to clumsily get from one side of the pool to the other and tread water but if my head goes under the water I always seem to swallow water and end up looking ridiculous while I’m coughing and reaching.

    These tips seem really good advice and I will definitely try them and I look forward to swimming underwater and then even move on to diving!

    Thank you, Martin.

  20. I am 50 and trying to swim, now I can do the torpedo but cannot stand up unless I slightly touch the will or rope or someone’s fingers.

    I have been practicing to stand for the last the five days but I am not able to do so.

  21. I used to go under as a child and then I developed a fear of going under and now I’m also somewhat claustrophobic. I wonder if the two may be connected.

    Anyway, my panic begins once the water goes into my ears. In addition, I’m one of those whose ears get full of water and it’s hours before they drain. This causes me to panic as well.

    Any suggestions for keeping water out of the ears? Do earplugs work at all? If so, which ones?

    1. Ken,

      In your case, I’d give earplugs a try.

      However, I can’t give you any specific recommendation, as I’ve never used them.

  22. I am having swimming lessons at the moment, (I am 67).

    I have always had a fear of water, I have gained a lot of confidence over the last few weeks but I am struggling with the psychological aspect.

    I can’t get my head around letting go and trusting the water, I feel totally out of control.

    Are there any distraction techniques or relaxation techniques that would help me?

    I try to float but when I feel the tilt to the horizontal position I panic.

    I would value any advice. Kind regards.

    1. Hi Pauline,

      I’d suggest you have a look at the “Conquer Your Fear of Water” book, referenced at the bottom of the article.

      It includes a lot of exercises and techniques, physical and psychological, to overcome one’s fear of water.

  23. I am 24 and currently learning how to swim.

    I have gained the confidence to do front crawl using a small float and kicking my legs. I can do this really well when i am relaxed.

    I now need to overcome the fear of taking away the float and using my arms with my legs. Any tips?

    1. Leah,

      Besides following our series of front crawl drills, you can also try to exchange your float with fins.

      First, use long blade fins, and see if you can get to the point where you can swim comfortably with them.

      Long blade fins provide a lot of propulsion and it is also a lot easier to stay afloat using them, even without a float.

      Then try using a pull buoy and short blade fins, up to the point where you can again swim more comfortably.

      Repeat, but now only using either a pull buoy or short blade fins. Again try to do this until you feel comfortable.

      Finally, try to swim without any floatation devices.

      Ideally, try this in shallow water, so you can stand up if you feel overwhelmed.

  24. I’m having an aquatics class right now and we are doing this but still the fear inside me isn’t gone. What should I do?

  25. Hi Chris,

    I’ve been learning and practicing how to swim for about a week. I’m having extreme trouble floating.

    When I put my body into the horizontal position with my hands forward and legs up, instead of my legs sinking, my whole body slowly sinks while it’s still in the horizontal position.

    It’s almost as if I’m diving deeper into the pool. I’m not sure what my problem exactly is.

    When I inhale and go into the horizontal position, I tend to exhale almost everything, maybe 90% out through my nose. I don’t use much force with my kicks, and my head is facing the line at the bottom of the pool.

    Maybe I’m just not kicking enough?

    1. Hi Brian,

      It could be that you are a so-called “sinker”. This can be the case for very lean people. I’ve heard that quite a few of the top male swimmers are natural sinkers.

      Do you also sink while doing the mushroom float?

      If this is the case, then you are correct that a bit more propulsion will solve the problem.

      You can kick harder, or better yet, use a pair of short swimming fins to be able to do the exercises without becoming exhausted.

  26. Hello,

    I am more or less in a similar situation. It’s probably a combination between the first and the last cause that you mentioned in your article.

    Recently I’ve started taking swimming classes. I was OK at the beginning, I could submerge my head into the water with breathing/exhaling, etc. from the very first class.

    Anyway, after a while, when the coach asked me to swim without any support, I’ve started to panic once I was in the middle of the pool, losing my balance and all.

    The other girl who comes with me already knew how to swim, she only came to improve her technique. She’s very confident in the water and somehow the coach is expecting me to do what she does, insisting that I already can.

    But I’m not so confident to swim without any support and I feel very scared once I’m all alone in the middle of the pool, I swim to that point and then I just feel like I’m losing all my strength and sinking, I can’t stand up nor breathe.

    I don’t know how and if I can overcome this fear – which I didn’t have before! The pool is 2 meters deep and it really scares me.

    1. Hi Sheila,

      I think you need to talk to your coach. The swim lessons are decreasing your confidence instead of increasing it.

      I think you need to build confidence and learn to swim without support in shallow water first, where you can get back on your feet at any time. One can swim very well in water that is 1 – 1.2 meter (3-4 feet) deep.

      No need to rush to the deep water if it scares you.

  27. Hello,

    My goal is the opposite way around here. I have trouble sinking vertically to the bottom of the pool while treading water.

    I can even vertically float in the water without filling my lungs with air with the crown of my head in contact with underneath the surface of the water.

    This makes it look impractical for me to sink while treading water, without doing or using anything to sink. I’m sort of underweight, by the way.

    1) Do you know why this is the way it is for me?

    2) Do you have any advice/article on how to sink while treading water, without using much effort?

    1. Hello Daniel,

      In fact, a friend of mine has the same problem, he just floats like a buoy, it’s kind of baffling. It is impossible to get him down without pulling him down manually :-)

      I’m afraid I don’t really have a solution for you, except using some kind of weights. May I ask why you need to sink? Is it for diving?

      Anyway, for swimming, floating like you do is a BIG advantage.

  28. Hi Christophe,

    I found your blog very useful. I am a beginner and have started learning swimming since last one week. I am 46 years old and have always been scared of water (fear of drowning).

    However, in the last week, I have learned to float horizontally and can flutter my legs too. I can float and move in the pool (shallow side) without any aid or help.

    But I lose my balance at the time of landing. I try to curl both my legs and push my hands down, but end up folding only one leg, while the other stays horizontal. As a result, I lose balance and start moving my hands in panic.

    Any suggestion on how to master the landing technique?

    1. Hi Shruti,

      A quick idea, could you practice those movements of curling both of your legs up and pushing your hands down every evening for a few days, while lying on your back in the bed for example?

      What we want to do here is to automate those movements, so that the chance is higher that you’ll curl both legs up instinctively in the water.

      1. Thanks Christophe for the response.

        I use goggles but not nose clip. I will practice the curling up movement every day. Hopefully, should be able to master it.

        Will come back to you with the progress in a few days. And for more tips definitely. :)

  29. Hello Christophe,

    Thank you for addressing this issue that many people face. I have been trying to learn to swim since February this year and am making incredibly slow progress.

    My issue is that I can’t let go and trust the water to support me; I feel like I need to be in control all the time, which means holding onto something whether that’s the wall or the float.

    I can at least now get into the water without a fuss, and feel increasingly more comfortable as the water gets deeper, but I’ll still only go half way (“No non-swimmers beyond this point”)

    I can occasionally glide if someone is ahead of me, but floating on my back terrifies me. Have you come across this before?

    I am fine with my face submerged and actually like being underwater, looking around!

    1. Hi Jenny,

      Actually, I think you are doing fine and are making good progress. Getting the confidence to get one’s head submerged often is a big thing.

      And you are enjoying it, being able to see the world that opens up below the water surface ;-).

      You really don’t need to go to the deep end right now, in my opinion.

      I’d focus on gaining experience in the shallow end, developing your skills, having fun, and later learning a swim stroke when the time is right, etc. This is not a race.

      Now I can actually understand that you are terrified of floating on your back. You actually don’t see what is going on in front of you or below you, AND you also need to have excellent balance to keep your body aligned and your face above water.

      As always, swim goggles and a nose clip will protect your eyes and your nose from the water, so I’d absolutely use that when you are learning to float on your back.

      Having someone walking ahead of you is also a good idea, so you will not have to be afraid of crashing into someone (please take note for later that other swimmers will notice that you are on your back and will automatically swim around you).

      Lastly, did you see the following article: Learn The Flutter Kick In Backstroke. It describes a few exercises you can do to learn balance while floating on your back, while holding onto the edge of the wall, so there is no risk of you crashing into someone else or something like that.

      I hope these few tips will be helpful.

      Good luck,

      Christophe

  30. This is such a great blog for swimming beginners like me.

    I almost drowned when I was little so that was traumatic for me and kept me out of the water for the rest of my life until 2 weeks ago when i decided to face my fear and giving swimming lessons a go.

  31. Hi Christophe,

    Thanks for the response. Could you please tell me what exactly this big advantage of floating like this is for swimming?

    1. Hi Daniel,

      If you float naturally, it’s one less thing to worry about when learning to swim.

      Furthermore, I think you’ll “stick” closer to the water surface and have a better horizontal position where the legs sink less, thus creating less drag.

  32. I had a fear of water. I also had a fear of darkness. I didn’t want to go into the water because I would be blinded by it.

    Goggles did help me tremendously, but if water got in, I instantly panicked.

    So yeah, if you didn’t wear goggles, put them on, just go into the shallow end, just say “f*** it” and put your head under.

    Soon, you’ll be able to get into water w/o goggles fearless

  33. Hi,

    I think your website is excellent!

    I’m a very poor swimmer so am going back to basics to improve as no swim lessons available.

    When I try to float on my back I sink – I’ve tried to push my head back further into the water but I still sink.

    I am lean. Is there anything else I can do?

    Many Thanks,

    Una

    1. Hi Una,

      Can you have someone look at your technique while you’re trying to float on your back (maybe someone who’s a good swimmer)?

      That person most likely will be able to spot why you are still sinking.

      Being very lean might be a factor, even though most often is more a technique problem.

      Maybe you could also have someone film you, and then you might be able to identify the problem by seeing yourself.

      Good luck

  34. Does body weight and height affect one’s ability to float?

    I am about 110 kg and 1.9 meters tall and have difficulties floating above the water.

    Do I need to try floating in water deeper than my height perhaps?

    1. It is more a matter of body composition, it can be more difficult for very lean people to float because of low body fat percentage. Can you do the mushroom float?

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