This is a great question, but you likely already know the answer: It depends. The short answer is that I've rarely seen adults take longer than two or three weeks-worth of swim lessons to become functional swimmers. And I've never met an adult who couldn't get there eventually.
There’s Really No Magical Number of Lessons:
However, there are various factors that will determine how long it might take an adult to feel comfortable and functional in the water. Some quick examples: I once taught a forty-something year old man with a crippling fear of water how to swim. He was motivated, he was determined, and by the end of two weeks, he was swimming laps. We had five lessons a week for a total of ten lessons, each one taking forty-five minutes of pool time. So doing the math, it took about seven and a half hours of instruction for that man to learn how to swim. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that’s somewhere between the minimum to average amount of time needed to for an adult to pick up basic swimming via private swim lessons.
In another example, I had a student who had to sign up for three sets of lessons totaling six weeks before everything clicked for him. That’s thirty lessons in all for a total of about twenty-two and a half hours. But all the same, he did it.
Finally, I had one student who would only come to a lesson or two a week. Interestingly enough, that student struggled the hardest for the longest. This brings me to my next point: there are a handful of factors I’ve noticed that can really speed up the learning process or really slow down a swimmer’s progress. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Factors That Speed Up or Slow Down an Adult’s Learning:
That last example is a good one to highlight the importance of consistency in adult swim lessons. Imagine two swimmers are each taking five lessons. Swimmer A spreads the lessons out over two or three weeks. Swimmer B takes them across five consecutive days in a single week. By the end of five lessons, both swimmer A and swimmer B will have spent the same amount of time in the pool. But I guarantee you Swimmer B will be the stronger swimmer. When you’re learning to swim, these skills and techniques build on each other. Having too much time between lessons erodes their effectiveness. Consistency, consistency, consistency. More than anything, that will determine how much time it takes for an adult to learn how to swim.
Hand in hand with consistency is practice, practice, practice. Adults who practice the concepts they’re being taught will progress faster than those who limit their learning to a lesson. “Practice” can mean lots of things: actually doing the motions, whether in the pool or on land. Close your eyes and visualize everything you did with your instructor in the last lesson. Mentally walk through each concept from the last time you swam. That all counts as practicing.
Attitude is Everything:
Another huge factor is attitude. The best example of this actually occurred in an adult group swim class I taught at a swim school. The class was for entry level adults who had some familiarity with the water (i.e. they could float a bit), but could not swim across the pool. There were three individuals in the class and they all started at about the same skill level. No one student was better than the other. One of the students came to class every day with smile and positive attitude. When she messed up or struggled, she laughed it off and kept practicing. Another of the students had a terrible attitude. He griped and complained through each lesson. He got mad and frustrated when things did not immediately click and would even refuse to try some of the suggested exercises. His attitude was a drain on himself and the class.
By the end of our two weeks together, guess who was the better the swimmer. My smiling student with the positive attitude had turned into an amazing swimmer. By the end of our time together, she was swimming laps and even doing the butterfly stroke. As for my bad attitude fellow, he could barely make it across the pool by the end. Call me crazy, but I see a correlation there.
Trust Your Instructor:
That last example leads into another factor that can affect the pace of your learning: Trust your swimming instructor. There might be moments when your instructor asks you to do something you see as silly. Maybe even pointless. Believe me, there’s a reason. Your instructor might ask you to do something that seems embarrassing. Don’t worry, there’s a purpose to it. Your instructor may ask you to do something hard you don’t feel ready for. Trust your instructors; they’re setting you up to succeed.
Take Ownership of Your Learning:
Finally, take ownership of your learning process. On the one hand, don’t stress about your pace. On the other, don’t blame anyone else if things don’t immediately click. They will. Furthermore, be willing to ask questions! Ask your instructor to demonstrate as many times as you need, but be ready to give it a go yourself when your instructor tells you to.
So How Long Will It Take?
So how long will it take an adult to learn how to swim? Again, it depends. But I can tell you that if you’re consistent, practicing, positive, trusting your swimming instructor, and owning your learning process, it will go much faster.