How to Swim a Mile – Where do I Start?

Swimming a Mile

When starting out or trying to improve your swimming I would advise that you have something to focus on, something that will get you into that pool or open water and where you can monitor your progress on a regular basis. Having a distance in mind that is a challenge to achieve from your current swimming ability is a great way to do this. A good example can be in gaining the required skills and and knowing how to swim a mile.

Therefore, in this article I am going to concentrate on front crawl or freestyle which is an excellent stroke to use in distance swimming, but there is no harm in using other strokes to achieve your goals, or mixing it up a bit to build your distance and endurance as you work on your freestyle.

As this in an introductory article I will explain in more detail some areas that you can work on to achieve your goals and will then build this out in further posts containing specific details of swim training methods to improve your stroke and endurance that you may find beneficial.

Where do I Start?

When starting to swim a specific distance it is important to have some good basics in place so that you can achieve your aims. For me I would break it down into having quality equipment, good time management to fit regular training sessions into your schedule, good body position in the water, a smooth stroke that can generate both momentum and power and finally a reliable and repeatable breathing pattern.

I will now outline these below in a bit more detail and also in my associated post Open Water Swim Equipment – What Do You Need?:


Adidas Swimming Trunks

The first thing is to feel like a swimmer. You will struggle to swim any sort of distance in a pair of baggy swim shorts or a beach bikini, so your first  purchase should be a quality piece of swimwear. I would recommend for men a pair of 16 inch “jammers” or a pair of aqua shorts, and for women a one piece swim suit.

These should be fairly snug but not to tight as to restrict movement. Personally I would steer clear of any budgie smugglers unless you can really pull it off, and then definitely in a darker colour. White, red of bright blue is just drawing attention to yourself and if you are unsure of what you should be wearing, just ask a partner or a good friend to be honest with you, and then you will know.

Goggles and Floats

You will definitely need to own a good pair of goggles that fit your face with no leaks, have a good field of vision and will not fog up. My personal favorites are Zoggs Predator Flex, but there are lots of other good makes of goggles out there but they must be fit for purpose, so please do not go for a cheap pair if you can avoid it.Swimming goggles and earplugs

A quality purchase here will bring you great dividends when you are swimming and training as you are going to be putting your face in the water to enable a good body position and breathing technique, so good goggles are the one piece of equipment that you will need to rely on.

Other swim equipment is optional, but if you can I would advise a pair of swim paddles, a float and a pull buoy for your training drills.

How much Should I train?

Keeping a training diaryThe answer here is as much time as you can allow within your schedule, but ideally you should try to make at least two sessions a week. Time management here is the key and also to “Training Smart” and I have some general time management techniques that I use for swimming training and other sports in this associated post Effective Time Management Techniques.

The best way I have found is to look at your schedule over the next two weeks and to set aside the times when you can train, only allowing this to be overridden if necessary.

I also find that if you can train first thing in the morning this works better. You are fresh and there is less chance of other calls on your time coming into play but also ensure you have everything you need packed and ready the previous evening, the surefire way to kill off any good intentions is searching for that pair of swim goggles in your sock drawer in the dark.

Training Smart

Time management stopwatchTraining smart is managing your available training time to its maximum value, be it only 15 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour plus. So before you start have a realistic plan of what you want to achieve in the available time including a warm up and cool down, and then follow it…..

As we are looking at swimming a distance I would make at least one training session a long swim, whilst the others you could break down into some drills to work on technique and endurance, i.e. as an example this week I am planning two one hour sessions as follows.

Session 1

Warm up: 200 meters swim/50 single arm drill; 200 with pull buoy/50 kick no board

Main Set:

  • 300 meters with pull buoy(easy/med/fast by 100) w/:30 seconds rest between each 100.
  • 2 x 50m w/:30 rest (Race pace)
  • 300m with paddles and pull buoy (easy/med/fast by 100) w/:30 seconds rest.
  • 2 x 50m w/:30 rest (Race pace)
  • 300m swim
  • 2 x 50m w/:30 rest (Race pace)
  • 300m swim easy/recovery

Cool down: 50 kick/150 swim

Session 2:

Warm up: 300 meters swim

Main Set

  • Long swim 2 x 1000 meters (trying to keep a constant temp and speed).

Cool Down: 200 meters swim

Obviously the distances you do depend on how long you have in the pool and your swim speed, but it is essential that you go in with a structured plan that you can adapt as you improve, and don’t just put in wasted effort that does not see any long term improvement.

Body Position and Posture

A good swimming posture you should have you feeling feel that you are standing tall in the water.

I will go into this in more detail in a later post but some initial pointers to look for is a straight back/spine (no slouching), your chest pushing down into the water so that your legs are straight behind you and importantly not sinking into the water causing drag. Also, you should be comfortable putting your face into the water so that you can develop a good breathing pattern to not cause discomfort.

With all the above, I always find a good place to start is just on your front, with your arms out in front with a float and maybe a pull buoy between your legs. This should already give you the feel of a good body position. Then do some swimming remembering that position, then using the floats again to reinforce the position, swim again, etc, etc.Swimmer with streamlined body position

A good 30-minute set doing this will work much better than just getting in the water and swimming, especially if you are having difficulty swimming any distance comfortably.

Developing a Smooth Stroke and Breathing

Once you are comfortable with your body position in the water you can start to develop your stroke and breathing. All three, over time, will then start to work naturally together to enable you to swim comfortably over greater distances with, and here is the best bit, no discernible increase in effort and hopefully even less than you are using at the moment.

Again, some instruction here I will go into on a later post but some key pointers to look for are as follows and can also be found in this excellent article. Breathing technique in the freestyle stroke

  • try to exhale out into the water
  • do not lift, but just turn you head underneath your arm as it comes over.
  • avoid over rotating your head, you should not be looking upwards but to the side.
  • develop good body rotation in order to assist your breathing
  • if possible develop a bi-lateral breathing pattern i.e. breath every 3 strokes if possible.

So… What’s Next?

There may seem a lot of content to go through above but I will break this down in further posts. But the main thing is to take things in order and to break them down into manageable chunks and not to rush anything, starting with getting the correct swim wear and goggles. This might take some time, but once your ability and technique start to improve you will be amazed how quickly you will start to increase your distance and endurance in order to achieve your aims.

Happy Swimming!!!

Open Water Swimmer





  1. I really enjoyed your article it is full of fantastic information that can help people through each part of the process.

    I am not a strong swimmer so it will be a while before I am at open water level but I have still found useful tips here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *