Susannah Taylor: ‘I’m a born-again swimmer’

For years I disliked swimming. I’m not talking about splashing around doing breaststroke in the Med (who doesn’t like that?) – I mean doing lengths or swimming for fitness. It would bring back memories of school swimming tests in icy waters wearing soggy pyjamas. I wasn’t a bad swimmer (I was in the team) but the feeling of being out of breath in water is terrifying and enough to put you off for life.

Susannah taking the plunge in Cornwall

However, in my late 30s that all changed. I decided to do a triathlon (there are worse midlife clichés). I wasn’t afraid of cycling, my running would be slow and steady, but swimming 750 metres in a murky lake? That scared me. A triathlete’s stroke of choice is front crawl, and I could only manage about two lengths without exhausting myself.

I found a local teacher who was brilliant. She watched me swim a few lengths and told me where I was going wrong. Firstly, I was kicking too hard. Most people who struggle with front crawl kick as if their life depends on it. She explained that kicking should be just ten per cent of your output in front crawl. It’s your arms, not your legs that propel you forwards, which was definitely an ‘Aha!’ moment. It’s also key, she explained, not to ‘fight’ the water – splashing wastes energy so should be kept to a minimum.

Another key element she corrected was my breathing. In front crawl it’s essential that you breathe in by turning your head to the side and then out through the water, not in and out at the side, which is one way to choke on a lot of chlorinated water. She also taught me to breathe in every three strokes. This makes you alternate the side you breathe in on (unless you are Michael Phelps, who breathes every two).

The other game-changer was to keep my body in a straight line; if you look up, your bottom and hips sink. Olympic long-distance swimmer Keri-Anne Payne gave me a great piece of advice: to imagine a pole running down my middle from my crown and to rotate my body around it as I use my arms.

The results were instant – I went from being able to do two lengths to 30. I did the triathlon (OK, with a bit of breaststroke too), but the best part is I feel I can now swim reasonably well. In fact, it’s one of the best things in wellness I’ve ever done. When we go on holiday I now don’t sit on a jetty – I dive off it. I think nothing of swimming round that buoy out at sea. My kids have even taught me to tumble-turn like a pro.

In the latest statistics from Swim England, one in three adults in the UK can’t swim, and 14 million people can’t do one length of a 25m pool. So it’s never too late to learn to swim or have a refresh. Many people, like me, learn at school and never have another lesson. Yet as we get older it’s one of the most enjoyable and beneficial sports we can do because there is very little impact on our joints.

Swimming for me is a fully immersive experience mentally, too. You can’t think of anything else as you concentrate on your breathing, body and strokes. Sometimes the rhythm of my arms comes together with my breath, light hits the water and it becomes pure meditative joy. To find a pool near you, go to

Sporty meets stylish

Once there were costumes for posing in and there were wetsuits. Today there are a host of swimwear brands for sporty types. My favourite is Perfect Moment’s Active One Piece (£160,, which keeps everything in place but looks a bit Bond Girl, too.

…and these goggles rock

My favourites are Aqua Sphere Vista (£28.49,, which have a wraparound
design so they don’t dig in around your eyes or leave ugly marks for hours afterwards. The 180-degree vision also means you can really see your underwater world.