Get Swimming Q&A

Melanie Nocher is here to help you swim a mile. Email your queries to

Melanie Nocher, Tue, Mar 24
LIVE: Get Swimming Q&A

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  • 16:39
    Welcome to the live blog for Week 5 of the Get Swimming challenge. I am Melanie Nocher, a former Olympic swimmer, and I will be helping you to get motivated for the Swim for a Mile Challenge with Swim Ireland.

    By this stage, you should be really feeling the benefits of your new routine in the pool. If you have any questions on the programme or your technique that you would like answered this evening, you can submit them through the Contact Us button at the top of the blog, or by sending an email to
  • 16:45

    The Get Swimming programme for Week 4 focused on body and head positions for front and back crawl, as well as catch up arm pull. We also took a look at turning for front crawl, and increasing your distance to 1,000m. You can watch the Week 4 video here.

  • 16:54

    Our Get Swimming diarists are feeling positive: after a tough start to the programme, Conor Pope believes he’s finally made a breakthrough. Dominique McMullan thinks she’s developing an addiction to swimming, something she never felt about the gym. "In the water you’re alone with your thoughts and the sounds of bubbles, the rest of the world ever so slightly removed," she writes.

  • 16:58

    This week’s programme focuses on breast stroke, sculling practice and bilateral breathing, as well as building up your distance to 1,100m. Watch the Week 5 video here. How are you getting on with these techniques?

  • 17:03
    Marie: I have MS and my mobility is affected. I can swim the 64 lengths using flippers and some back crawl with mainly front crawl, but would take longer than an hour. I can do 54-56 lengths in the hour. Can I still take part?

    Also, I was watching the video on front arm pull. Do I keep my hand straight when I enter the water, or do I bend it slightly in order to catch the water? I couldn’t figure that out from the video. I’m really enjoying the tips and videos. Thanks. Marie

  • 17:05

    Hi Marie. You can of course take part in the Swim for a Mile challenge. You will be able to continue swimming for longer than the hour if you need it. It is all about getting involved and trying to complete the mile. Unfortunately, however, for safety reasons you won't be able to use flippers during the challenge.

    When your arm enters the water, it should be slightly bent at the elbow  reaching forward. Then your hand pulls back in a natural "S" shape under the water, which is the catch you spoke about. Hope this helps.

  • 17:15

    Top tip: If you want a cheap yet effective drink for training, I used to add a bit of squash and a pinch of salt to my bottle of water.

  • 17:20
    M: Hi Melanie. My left shoulder is getting progressively sorer after each swim practice. Are there any good warm up exercises you could suggest to prevent this happening?  

    Also, swimming can be very boring sometimes, I find. Do you have any tips on grinding it out for a mile?

  • 17:21
    Melanie: A lot of people only breathe to one side, which may be what you are doing? This continuous strain on the shoulder can cause it to niggle and be uncomfortable when swimming. I would recommend using some ice after your sessions to reduce the inflammation, and in future, before you get into the pool, make sure you are doing some gentle shoulder rotations and arm swings. Also, bring in bilateral breathing if you aren't doing so already, as this will help immensely.

    I can relate to your second comment about finding swimming a bit boring. I used to have songs stuck in my head during sessions, or if I had an exam coming up, I used to study while training. You can get waterproof MP3 players if you like listening to music; you do just need to make sure you are still thinking about your technique and not having a wee boogie while you swim!

  • 17:22
    Pat: The chlorine sometimes affects my sinuses, have you any recommendations on how to deal with this? Are there any sprays or precautions I could take? Thanks for all the good advice.
  • 17:28

    Melanie: I spoke to a few people in Cork recently who had the same problems with their sinuses. Luckily I have never suffered with this, as it sounds very painful and annoying. They mentioned you can get sinus rinses which really helped them. Some used ear plugs to prevent water entering their ears in the pool.

    Nose plugs might help if you feel a lot of water is going up your nose while swimming, but I wouldn't recommend them overall as they can restrict your breathing. Some people find it very panicky having the air supply to their noses cut off too.

    I would recommend a trip to the doctor if the problem continues or worsens.

  • 17:30
    Bobby What is the best way to keep count of the number of lengths I've done?
  • 17:31
    Melanie: Hi Bobby. Different people will have different ways in which they prefer to count. Some will count singular lengths and repeat the number they are on throughout the length, but I found that method quite difficult. I used to cut the distance I was doing into four, so if I was doing a 200m I used to count per 50m; that way I didn't get as confused, which allowed me to focus on my stroke.  
  • 17:38

    Ray: I have signed up for the swim for a mile challenge and although I completed the Lee Swim last year, plus a couple of Olympic triathlons, I am still looking to improve my time. I'm only swimming less than three years and have made vast improvements, but I know my own weaknesses.

    My first couple of lengths seem to go really smooth and then my form seems to get very ragged. I struggle with bilateral breathing and find I’m gasping for air after a few lengths, but persist with it as my coach encourages us to do so. My question is this: How do I improve my bilateral breathing, or is it really that important? Should I try to breathe to one side instead? Thanks.

  • 17:41
    Melanie: Hi Ray. Firstly, congratulations on all your achievements so far. To have done all that when you have only been swimming three years is incredible, and you should be very proud of yourself. Wanting to improve is always good but make sure you recognise how far you come and what you have achieved already.

    It is very important to practise bilateral breathing, because it reduces the risk of a bouncy stroke and reduces the risk of injury from over loading one shoulder all the time. In competition, it is fine to use your preferred breathing, but in training I would recommend bilateral breathing. Make sure you are stretching as well before your sessions, as I find a lot of adults struggle with breathing due to tightness around the shoulder and neck. Hope this helps.

  • 17:46
    Joyce Hi Melanie, I am a pretty rubbish swimmer and can do only a sedate granny-paddle breast stroke. I am now up to 20 15-metre lengths, but my neck is starting to hurt because I can't (won't) put my face in the water. How can I get over this, and myself?
  • 17:47

    Melanie: Hi Joyce. At least you are getting in the pool and trying! It would be a big strain on your neck to always be swimming with your head up. Have you had a look at any of the Get Swimming videos? I would recommend looking at the one on breathing tips from Week 1. You need to start slowly but practise, practise, practise.

    You will get over the fear of the putting your face in the water but you need to do it in a setting where you are comfortable and feel in control. In shallow water where you can put your feet or knees on the floor of the pool is best.

  • 17:56
    Sarah How do you test if goggles will fit correctly and not leak before you buy them? I have bought two pairs of goggles and both of them leak no matter how tightly I tie the straps. I think I might have oddly shaped eye sockets! Thanks.
  • 17:57

    Melanie: Hi Sarah. Leaky goggles can be a thing of the past, trust me! Goggles that are adjusted at the eye are the worst offenders for leakage, I find. Look out for a pair which have one continuous strap at the sides, then take off the clasp at the back and place them on your head like normal and tie the strap in a knot where it is comfortable yet tight. This way they won’t move, and you won’t have to keep fiddling with them.

  • 18:18
    Helen Hi, could you give any advice on learning how to do turns. I'm a fairly competent swimmer but haven't been able to master turning at the end of a lap which disrupts the flow. Any advice appreciated.
  • 18:21
    Melanie: Hi Helen. Tumble turns are a tricky one. Make sure you practise your tumble first in the middle of the pool before trying at the wall. Remember to tuck your chin in to your chest so you can get round and over quickly. Keep the knees at 90 degrees when your feet are planted on the wall and push off with both feet and back out into streamline. It will take a while, but keep practising. You will master it eventually.
  • 18:23
    Melanie: Thanks for all your questions tonight everyone. I hope you are all enjoying the challenge. We are now on Week 5 of the 12-week programme, so be proud of what you are achieving. Remember to enjoy your new routines and if you have any more questions you would like answered please get in touch by emailing The next live blog will be Tuesday April 7th.