I just started learning to swim a few months back. From barely being able to float for a few seconds, I am now able to swim along an entire length (25m). However there are two caveats: 1) I almost always use a hand paddle - my bare hands never catch as much water efficiently. 2) even with a paddle, I am breathless after 25m. Making another 25m seems an uphill task for the next few minutes.

Moreover, I am unable to continue any further. My body is restless and my heart beats faster during my next 25m; consequently somewhere midway to three-fourths along the pool, I lose my balance and from thereon, start walking to the near end.

While I would love to believe I shall improve and this too shall pass, this has been going on for more than a few months. I have incorporated a lot of Internet advice: go slow, relax, more water displaced per stroke, look 45 degrees ahead in water, focus on hips for kicking, rotate well. While they all have helped me improve to some extent, the core issue of breathlessness persists. Is this to do with my lung capacity and stamina?

Is there anything I can do to get better?

PS: I have zero difficulty with backstroke; with breaststroke I am comfortable for up to 50m. My knees start aching after that, but there are no breath issues.


2 Answers 2


Simply practising a swim style again and again does not necessarily makes you swim better. Moreover, you might be reinforcing the bad aspects in your technique.

What you need to include in your workouts is swimming drills. They are special modified exercises aiming to make you focus on one single aspect of the technique at a time. Here is a random example of swimming drills but you can easily find more examples after a Google search.

Now, something very important. You say:

with breaststroke I am comfortable for up to 50m. My knees start aching after that

This is a well known problem associated with the breaststroke when done improperly. It happens because your breaststroke technique needs improvement and it is very important at this point that you do your best to correct it, otherwise you may be damaging your knees. The problem is called Breaststroke Knee or Swimmer's knee and may eventually lead to a condition called Chondromalacia patellae. In a few words, during the whiplash leg motion of the breastroke you are probably pushing only from the hip and leaving the knees nearly relaxed. That way the knee ligaments alone must absorb the lateral forces. There is also plenty of information around, here is a random link explaining the problem.

You have to focus on your technique. It is important to protect the knee during the whiplash motion by firing your leg muscles. It may also help to strengthen your hamstrings and the muscles surrounding your knee in general. The bodyweight single leg deadlift is a good place to start.


look 45 degrees ahead in water

Well, then you're not breathing. Ok, all jokes aside...

Yeah, this is a simple case of wrong technique. It is virtually impossible for us to teach you proper crawl technique online without at least seeing a video.

The best option is to find a swimming coach, maybe sign up for a class, and get first-hand instruction.

The crawl is in any case a more advanced stroke than breaststroke. I stongly advise that you learn to do the breaststroke for at least 500m straight before moving on to crawling. It's easier to find breathing room (every stroke, no neck twisting), and it's easier to float this way.

If your knees ache after 50m breaststroke, you might be kicking too hard. Try kicking at different power levels and see how it feels. In any case, your arms are doing most of the work.

  • I haven't started lessons yet, but I agree with the suggestion. I struggled with the OP's problem for months and never got better. Ice skating, kayaking, deadlifting -- all much easier to improve and adapt to on your own than swimming.
    – Noumenon
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 18:47

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