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Masters Swimming 101

How to start swim practice as an adult

Jim Harper | December 3, 2012

This article is part of the Masters Swimming 101 series

Swimming is great exercise, but practicing with a group can seem mysterious to the uninitiated. Can I just show up? Are other swimmers going to laugh at me? If your questions are even more basic than that, you may first want to review our Let's Get Started page.

The great news about joining a club as an adult is that you get to set the agenda. You show up when you want to—and even how you want to—making whatever fashion statement you choose on that day. That type of freedom is liberating. On the flip side, you are fully responsible for your progress or lack thereof. You make no gains by sitting on deck in a trendy Speedo (or at home on the couch, in a potato sack). 

Showing up is half the battle, so decide today—right now—to show up at a practice. You lose nothing by trying, and as many Masters swimmers will tell you, you just may be making one of the best decisions of your life.

Where can I find a pool?

First, you need to know where to find good water. Visit our online Places to Swim directory to locate pools in your area. Before visiting, contact the pool and/or club to confirm that the information online is current. 

If you live in an isolated area, you may need to train by yourself the majority of the time. USMS provides online workouts for members who cannot or choose not to join a club or workout group. Even so, consider making a special trip to visit a USMS program close to you, or use planned travel to visit clubs in other areas. Members of USMS often find a home-away-from-home when they visit a club in another city.

How much will it cost?

Swimming tends to be much less expensive than equipment-intensive sports such as cycling, but the cost of maintaining pool facilities is unavoidable. The good news is that a club or workout group oftentimes can provide access to a high quality facility at a reasonable price.

The fee to join USMS—less than a pair of new jeans—varies slightly by region, because it includes a small charge that allows coordination by a local authority. Individual clubs set their own fees, and these can range from free practices to an annual charge in the hundreds of dollars. Ask your club about fees for first-time visitors.

To keep costs down, check with your employer about reimbursements available for joining a fitness program. Some clubs assess an annual membership fee and some do not. Many coaches and clubs are sympathetic to someone in financial distress, and they may provide scholarships or other means of making a program affordable. For most people, where there is a will, there is a way to pay for training with a club.

Masters Swimming 101 Article Series

How to start swim practice as an adult
Swimming is great exercise, but practicing with a group can seem mysterious to...
What equipment do I need?
Not much! The beauty of swimming is that the water provides all the resistance...
What are the basics of pool etiquette?
Safety always comes first, and swimming's first rule is never to swim alone....
What is a typical workout?
Like a good play, a good workout develops in three main acts: the warm-up, the...
Yards and meters
Coaches will give instructions mainly in terms of distance (or yardage) and...
How do I use the pace clock?
A related question would be: Why are swimmers so obsessed with time? You'll...
More lingo you're likely to hear at practice
Here are a few more terms you'll likely hear at swim practice. Some of them...
How do I learn the four strokes? Why do I want to?
Some swimmers and many triathletes only want to swim freestyle, the fastest...
USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Jim Harper

Jim Harper is an All-American Masters swimmer and coach in Miami who writes about health and nature. He is a frequent contributor to SWIMMER magazine, a columnist for the Biscayne Times, and a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. 

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