Why Some People Can’t Swim (The Facts)


a rubber duck upside down in the water

If you are an adult non-swimmer, there is nothing more frustrating than being asked, “well, why can’t you swim?” as if this is some basic skill that you just forgot to learn.

As someone who learnt to swim later in life, I can understand the frustration and lack of empathy shown by swim instructors and well-meaning friends. For many of us, simply kicking our legs and swimming is not an easy task.

There are a variety of reasons some people cannot swim. For some, it may be a fear of the water. Others may not know how to swim or may not have learned how to swim properly. In some cases, individuals may have a physical disability that prevents them from swimming. Lastly, some people may simply not enjoy swimming and find it uncomfortable or challenging.

Whatever your reason, you are not alone.

If you are someone who simply can’t swim, below are some reasons that might hold you back and some suggestions for how to overcome them.

1. Fear Of Water

For some people, the fear of water can be a major barrier to learning how to swim.

This fear may be caused by a traumatic experience in the water, such as a near-drowning experience. Or, it may simply be a fear of the unknown—the fear of not being able to breathe and the fear of being submerged under water.

For me, my water fear came from a fear of deep water. I could swim happily on the surface, but once I wore my goggles and could see the depth, panic would kick in.

If you are someone who fears water, there are a few things that you can do to help overcome your fear.

First, find a qualified swimming instructor who can teach you how to swim in a safe and comfortable environment. One to one swimming instruction will be needed if you have a fear of water.

You need to explain to your swimming instructor the level of your fear.

It can help in advance to think about your water fear and try to identify exactly what it is that’s causing your fear. Is it the depth? Is it the fear of the unknown? Is it splashing in your face?

By trying to articulate exactly what you are fearful of, this will help you target your fear and help you face it.

If fear of water is your problem, it could be more productive to focus on water confidence than actual swimming technique.

You may need to spend a lot of time just relaxing in the shallow end of the pool, with no pressure to swim or move. When dealing with phobias, this is called exposure therapy.

Simply enjoy being in the water and even play around and splash to become less intimidated by the water.

Ensure you are always supervised and in a safe environment.

2. Past Traumatic Events

For some people, a traumatic event in the past can create a fear of swimming.

This fear may be caused by a near-drowning experience, or by any other experience that left them feeling unsafe in the water.

If you are someone who fears swimming because of a traumatic event in your past, it is important to seek professional help to address this fear.

A qualified therapist can help you understand the root cause of your fear and provide you with strategies to overcome it.

With past traumatic events, there is a lot of psychological work to do and to get in the water you will need expert support and help.

3. Lack Of Buoyancy

The human body is less dense than water, so it will naturally float. [source]

However, some people are less buoyant than others and find it harder to stay afloat in the water.

This may be because of their body composition, such as a lower percentage of body fat, or because they have a high muscle mass. Sometimes, this can be because of a physical disability that affects a person’s ability to move around in the water.

If you are someone who is less buoyant, there are a few things that you can do to stay safe in the water.

First, try to swim in areas that are shallow. In the shallow water, you can try to relax, lie on your back and try to float.

It is essential to focus on your breathing and relax.

4. Poor SwimTechnique Or Poor Teachers

Some people cannot swim because they have not learned how to swim properly, or more specifically, they had swimming lessons that did not meet their needs.

I attended swimming lessons as a child, but I did not learn how to swim.

Granted, my fear of water held me back significantly, but in hindsight, all I can remember is being handed a kickboard and being told to kick.

While my fellow classmates were kicking and drifting to the far end of the pool, I could hardly move and my frantic kicking just made me tired and panicked.

As an adult, I have learnt that kicking only contributes to a fraction of propulsion, and you can swim quickly and effortlessly with very few kicks.

If you are someone who has tried traditional swimming lessons and it just did not work for you, check out the Total Immersion Swimming Method.

This is a method of learning to swim or to improve your swimming that has been revolutionary to my swimming. It explains how to move in the water, have balance and swim effortlessly.

Here is a demonstration video of a swimmer using the techniques taught as part of the total immersion swim method.

You can learn about the total immersion swim method through the official book or DVD.

5. Revealing Swim Wear

Some people do not swim because they dislike wearing swimwear.

This may be because of a fear of showing their body, or because they feel self-conscious about their body shape or size.

Sometimes, people may not have a good selection of swimwear that fits them well and makes them feel comfortable.

There are alternatives to revealing swimwear on the market.

Modest swimwear is very popular and Speedo has a complete range of modest swimwear, even a full two piece suit that covers most of the body for women.

For men, many choose to wear baggy shorts or jammers in the UK or USA, if they are looking for a performance piece of swimwear that is less revealing than the traditional speedos.

6. Never Learning How To Float

Learning to float can be a challenge for some people, but it is a skill that is essential for swimming.

If you are someone who finds it difficult to stay afloat in the water, there are a few things that you can do to improve your floating skills.

First, try swimming in areas that are shallow and have a soft bottom. Always stay in safe and supervised water.

Second, wear a life jacket or other flotation device to help keep you afloat.

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And finally, focus on your breathing and relax when in the water. The secret to floating is to lie back and relax.

With practice, you will eventually be able to float comfortably in the water.

As some people never learn this skill, they cannot progress to swimming out of their depth or relaxing in the water.

As well as being a fundamental lifesaving skill, learning to float is a fundamental part of learning to swim as you get to be very comfortable in the water.

7. Dislike Being Wet

Some people dislike being wet and find it uncomfortable or challenging to swim in the water.

This may be because of a fear of the water, or because they do not enjoy being in contact with water.

If you dislike the experience of swimming, from getting your hair wet to having water go up your nose, then learning to swim will be very far down your priority list.

Final Thoughts

Although swimming is a great form of exercise, it’s not for everyone.

There are a variety of reasons some people cannot swim and it’s important to be understanding and respectful of that.

Swimming can be a great way for some people to get in shape and stay healthy, but it’s not the right choice for everyone.

Although you may think you cannot swim, or perhaps you have no desire to do so, it can be worthwhile at least learning to float.

At the end of the day, learning to float is a fundamental life saving skill, so if you ever find yourself in a tricky water situation, you can float, cope and get to safety.

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Louise Byrne

Hi, I am Louise and I am obsessed with swimming. I spend my free time in the water or getting ready for my next water adventure.

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