You might think there’s not much to write about swimming – it’s just arm after arm and don’t forget to breathe, right?!
Well, you would be very, very wrong. Between swimming pools and lakes, beaches and oceans, a rich literature on swimming has something to please all types of swimmers.
In our guide to the best swimming books, we have recently released options exploring the science behind swimming in cold water and why it’s good for our health, as well as established textbooks on swimming technique.
There are guides to beaches and open water swimming spots, retellings of the history of swimming, and evocative descriptions of magical aquatic adventures. Finally, we even have a novel (if you need some swimming-based vacation reading!). Dive in and savor…
best swimming books
Swim Smooth by Paul Newsome and Adam Young
There aren’t many triathletes who haven’t heard of Swim Smooth – arguably the most famous swim technique coaching system in the world – and its founders, Paul Newsome and Adam Young.
Based in Australia, both have written regular articles for 220 over the past few years and there are Swim Smooth franchises offering coaching all over the world.
But if you can’t get to a coach (or can’t afford the expense), then the good news is that this handy manual lays out all the theories behind their coaching so that everyone everyone can access it.
The book begins by identifying the common “types” of swimming, which most swimmers find themselves in and which you will hopefully recognize yourself in! These range from ‘bambino’, which can be a nervous new swimmer, to ‘Arnie’, which is a more confident and powerful swimmer. It also includes categories for swimmers who overslip or hit too hard!
Once you’ve identified your stroke type, the rest of the book has great tips for improving your technique, with sample workouts and drills to focus on.
The book also has a focus on open water swimming (Paul Newsome is the winner of many iconic open water events) and will prove invaluable to any triathlete wondering how to aim, swim straight, or effectively turn around a buoy.
Chill: The Cold Water Swim Cure by Mark Harper MD PhD
Cold water swimming is what you might call a ‘moment’ right now… But why does it feel so good to us and, perhaps more importantly, what are the implications for health and fitness? ?
For triathletes this is a pertinent question, as many of us will return to the pool as soon as the temperatures drop and forget about open water until things warm up again. However, that would be a mistake, argues Dr. Mark Harper, author of Coldness.
In his work as a consultant anesthetist, Dr. Mark Harper is responsible for keeping patients warm during surgery. He is also an avid outdoor swimmer, and the combination of these two passions led to this remarkable study on the healing properties of cold water.
Here he provides evidence that cold water can positively influence our health physiologically and psychologically. In addition to theory, the book provides practical advice and inspiring case studies that any swimmer will find fascinating.
Swimming Wild and Free by Simon Griffiths
Outdoor swimming comes with many questions. What are you wearing? Where to swim safely? How can you improve your technique?
In this user-friendly and easy-to-digest book, the founder of outdoor swimmer magazine, Simon Griffiths, covers all of this and more.
Nicely balanced between photos and information, we like this manual because it provides a knowledgeable but not intimidating point of reference for new outdoor swimmers and open water athletes.
Winter Swimming by Dr Susanna Søberg
Originally published in Denmark in 2019, this fantastic and informative hardcover text by Dr Susanna Søberg has recently (2022) been translated into English for the UK market.
Although the Danish scientist Søberg may be lucky enough to swim in a country where swimming and sauna culture is widespread, this book is still extremely relevant to us in Britain.
This step-by-step guide walks the reader through the “cold shock response” and what happens to our bodies when we step into cold water. He explains how our hormones, circulation, heart and lungs respond and how activating brown fat can benefit multiple health issues.
Rather than being a dry read, however, winter swimming is packed with friendly tips and advice to inspire even the most reluctant cold water enthusiast!
Wild Swimming by Daniel Start
The author of many “wild” books now, the Wild swimming Daniel Start’s book first published in 2013 is still a faithful companion in our van glove compartment.
Perfect for swimmers who like to take a dip or swim on a road trip, it details 300 hidden dives in Britain’s rivers, lakes and waterfalls.
The book is divided into regions and for each swimming spot you get maps, as well as practical advice on accessing the water, where to park and what kind of swimming to expect.
Whether you want a secluded swim or the thrill of a rushing waterfall, this book is the place to find them.
The Lido Guide by Emma Pusill and Janet Wilkinson
Where Wild swimming Looking for wild outdoor spots, The Lido Guide is more concerned with finding you outdoor pools to enjoy.
There’s also a surprising number, with 130 from the UK and the Channel Islands. This book was a true labor of love for the authors, who traveled across the country to create this resource.
As well as telling you a little about the history of each lido, it also details useful information such as opening hours, refreshments, accessibility and whether the lido is heated or not.
Open Water by Mikael Rosen
Here has 220 Triathlonwe first met and interviewed Swedish swimming coach Mikael Rosén at the ÖtillÖ World Championships in the Swedish archipelago, where he competed and advised athletes on swimming technique.
The absolute walking encyclopedia of open water knowledge and head coach of the Swedish open water team, Rosén is well known on Instagram.
Now, all of that knowledge has been compiled into a stunning hardcover book that details the history and technique of swimming and is packed with history, science, and anecdotes.
The Outdoor Swimmers Handbook by Kate Rew
Kate Rew is the founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society. As you’d expect, she knows a thing or two about outdoor swimming.
This beautifully illustrated hardcover book takes the reader on an adventure through the lakes, rivers, seas and estuaries of the UK and, along the way, details the nature you might find as well as practical advice on accessing water, understand how it behaves and stay safe.
The Winter Swimming and Night Swimming chapters add tips for those who want to take their outdoor swimming a step further.
Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui
Given that we are land-dwelling, standing and walking creatures, it can sometimes seem odd that humans are so drawn to water. If that’s a question you’d like answered, then Bonnie Tsui’s riveting tale of what makes us want to swim is for you.
Covering everything from evolution to open water competition, this book draws on swimming stories and history from around the world to provide you with a wealth of interesting facts and insights into our aquatic obsession.
The Lido by Libby Page
This guide is made up entirely of factual books…down to our final pick. The Lido offers a “lighter” read, but filled with references to swimming and the history of our beaches, which will make it an enjoyable read for most outdoor swimmers.
Detailing the fictional story of a lido threatened with closure and the past and present swimmers who frequent it, it reads like a love letter to our history of outdoor swimming. One for the (real) swimming pool on vacation, or by the fireplace in winter!