woman gliding

Due  to a technical problem,RIBSTON HALL pool is currently closed.  We are running RH classes at STRS pool instead.

24 Sept - We still have spaces at all levels.  We have taken on a lot of new students this term, and will need a few weeks to get everyone settled in before accepting new ones.  Apologies for not responding to new enquiries immediately.  Thank you for your patience - we will contact you as soon as we can.



Our Approach

Hi - I’m Nick, the founder of Swimming by Design. On this page you’ll find some background information on how and why I created our special approach to teaching swimming, as well as an explanation of the key principles we apply to everything we do.


Learning to swim is unlike learning any other physical activity for two important reasons

1. You can’t breathe with your face in the water, so you have to either keep your head up all the time, or raise it every few seconds.

2. Water gives you little or no sensory feedback when you do things wrong. If you make a mistake when skiing or riding a bike, you fall over. In tennis the ball goes out or into the net. But when swimming, it’s hard to feel the difference between an efficient streamlined position, and an inefficient one creating drag. And to make matters worse, it is raising your head to breathe that is most likely to disrupt your position and cause drag.

These two factors mean that when we swim instinctively we don’t swim effectively. Humans are the only species that have worked out non-instinctive scientific ways to swim. The problem is how to bypass our instinctive reactions so we can learn to swim optimally.


Don’t Practice Your Mistakes

When I was younger I did martial arts for many years. I once had a great teacher who told me “don’t practice your mistakes”. He was referring to muscle memory; the more you repeat an action, the more ingrained and natural it feels – even if it is wrong! That’s why we should practice slowly and carefully when learning any new skill. We want to instil the right habits from the start. In the case of swimming this means designing exercises that reinforce efficient swimming rather than instinctive swimming.

Small Steps

For these exercises to work, they must build up in achievable small steps. If we try to do too much too soon, instinctive reactions kick in.

Comfortable Natural Breathing

Right from the start we focus on comfortable natural breathing. Humans are instinctively cautious of water. This can lead to subconscious tension, which in turn subtly affects our breathing. Learning to breathe naturally allows the student to develop a comfortable relaxed relationship with the water.

Discover Your Natural Buoyancy

Instinctively we feel like we will sink in water, even if we know intellectually that humans float. Inefficient swimmers waste a lot of energy unnecessarily trying to stay afloat rather than allowing the water to support them. To counteract this tendency, we must truly experience our own buoyancy. Then we can use all our energy to move forwards. [By the way, there are lots of non-swimmers who are wrongly convinced they are "sinkers". In fact, you can be a sinker and still swim brilliantly]

Work With The Water

Once we have discovered our natural buoyancy, we can start to get a real feel for the water. Then we can work with it rather than fighting against it.

Less Is More

This is one of our key principles. Because of the instinctive fear of sinking, some students find it difficult to simply be still in the water. This is a question of confidence and relaxation. Learning to do nothing is the starting point for making sure all movement has a genuine purpose.

Practice What You Preach

It’s easy to swim badly, but swimming well requires a systematic approach. We know our system works because we follow it ourselves. Our teachers never ask students to do anything they can’t demonstrate personally. You wouldn’t take driving lessons from someone who couldn’t drive, would you? Well, we think you can’t teach a swimming skill if you haven’t mastered it yourself.

Teach In The Water

You can’t practice what you preach if you’re not in the water. So that’s where we teach. That means we can demonstrate the right and wrong way to do things; and can give each student individual attention.

Specialist Teachers

We ask a lot of our teachers, in terms of both skill and commitment. But we don’t expect them all to be perfect at every stroke. Each teacher only teaches the strokes they swim well themselves.

Constant Improvement

We are always looking for new ways to do our job better.  It makes our life much more interesting and fulfilling - rather than thinking we already know all the answers.  If students struggle with a particular skill, we ask ourselves how we can make it easier.  Can we invent an intermediate step?  Is there some equipment that would help?  Could we explain something a different way?

An example - we find most young beginners can learn a good flutter kick really quickly by wearing flippers.  The flippers give them masses of sensory feedback that tells them immediately when they are getting it right or wrong.  And the students love the experience of being allowed to "play" with these "toys" - much more fun than 'normal' swimming lessons.

Based on our success with regular flippers, we invested in about 20 pairs of Speedo Breaststroke Fins.  You can't buy these in the UK or anywhere in Europe - so we imported them from the USA.  Because they too give so much feedback, we find they seriously accelerate teaching breaststroke kick.

  • Very low 4:1 student ratio
  • Modern scientific approach – designed for fast fun learning
  • Teachers in the water, not shouting from the side
  • We practice what we preach – our teachers are great swimmers
  • Friendly professional knowledgeable staff
  • Qualified, insured & CRB checked

Our philosophy encourages students to -

  • Discover their own natural buoyancy
  • Learn comfortable natural breathing
  • Work with the water rather than fight against it
  • Become strong relaxed efficient swimmers