Fitness First Swimming Workshop with Richard Stannard

I attended a Fitness First swimming workshop with Richard Stannard, and took home some very important lessons.

When people ask me if I swim, they usually find it surprising to find out that my response is – “I float.” It’s surprising because of two reasons. Firstly, I come from the Philippines, an archipelago. I was born, quite literally, an island girl. Secondly, because I’m 29 and a full grown adult, who by the way do not also know how to ride a bike. Are you judging me? Don’t worry, I’m judging me too.  

Why did I never learn to swim properly? I’m not sure. I think it may be because one time during swim class in highschool, I cramped mid-exam and felt like I almost drowned. Or maybe, it’s just because water can actually be a scary thing. Its ferocity and vastness is incredibly intimidating. I’ve always loved the water, just not a fan of dying in it.  


Mermaid dreams

A photo posted by Abbi Gabasa – Stolagiewicz (@abbistoli) on

Facing Fears

It was talking to my mother-in-law that really got me motivated to learn how to swim. She told me that when she was a younger mum, she took up swimming for fitness and to face her fear of depth. She learned proper form and always tried to beat her personal best. A few months into swimming class, she was able to retrieve objects from the deep end of the pool and dive off the platform. It was mostly a personal hobby, until one day, she had to use it to save her child’s life.

On a beach holiday, Andrew’s sister (at the time younger than 10, if I remember the story correctly) accidentally drifted away while on an inflatable boat very far from the shallow end. A windsurfer called her attention to it and without thinking twice, immediately jumped into the ocean and swam to pull her distressed daughter back to shore. I thought about what I would have done if that happened to me and my future child, and shuddered. That’s when I told myself I’m going to have to learn to swim properly, sometime!

I learned to swim from a 7 time world champion.
I learned to swim from a 7 time world champion. That’s incredible.

Right Place, Right Time

I always find that life has really great timing. Months after hearing this story, just as the weather in London has become hot and sweltering, I was invited to a Fitness First swimming workshop with Richard Stannard,  seven – time world champion and ten time swim winner at the London Triathlon. Professional training off the bat. Isn’t that lucky, or what? 

Coming into Fitness First Hammersmith, I was immediately impressed by the range of their offerings. There was on overall infectious buzz as there was so much going on. There’s a huge selection of new cardio and bodybuilding equipment, a spin studio, a dance studio, a sauna, and finally, a pool. The pool was was shallow enough to make beginners feel comfortable, but long enough to give a skilled swimmer a good workout. If you are new to London like me and looking for a gym, this is one you’d want to look into! 

Fitness First Hammersmith Indoor Pool
Fitness First Hammersmith Indoor Pool

Fixing Form

During the workshop, we were taught everything from recommended swim gear to how to wear a swim cap, which was surprisingly very enlightening! More importantly, our form was really put focus on. To do that, our current swimming skills were evaluated so they can give us advice to help us perform better. On the first swim, I couldn’t even reach the other wall. I accidentally inhaled water, stood up, and tried not to show my nerves. I kept going but felt pretty rubbish. How could I not even finish swimming a few metres! 


Just from looking at the way I swam, they were immediately able to offer some advise that made such a huge difference when applied! Here’s a brief list of some that really helped me.

  1. Always work on one thing at a time. If you are struggling with your kick, focus on that before going into your stroke or breathing. Trying to work on all simultaneously, when you are still learning, is the easiest formula to overthinking and panicking under water.
  2. Your body must be parallel to the water’s surface. The lower your feet are under the water, the more it will act as an anchor and drag you down.
  3. Kick with your hips, not with your knees or ankles. The movement should be small and efficient kicks coming from your glutes and hips, and it should control a strong and straight leg. Do not bend your knees and ankles. 
  4. Learn to feel the pressure of the water and how it reacts to your body’s movement. Activate your lats by twisting your shoulders and create a “catch” (a feeling of catching a large amount of water, just as a paddle does) that will pull you forward when you do your stroke.
  5. Breathing is secondary to good technique. Once you feel confident in your technique, you’ll get better rhythm and be more confident in moving your head to the sides. 


Focus on Technique

“Finally, you must think about your technique all the time you are swimming, particularly when tired at the end of the set. Studies show that focusing on your technique throughout a swim set will get you faster repeat times.” – Richard Stannard, Four Tips to a Faster Swim

After the workshop, we were given some materials to help us practice. This particular tip caught my eye. I think the fine line between hobby and passion or enthusiast and professional lies in this key piece of advice. We all do the things we do for different reasons but when we put the dedication needed, not just to to do it but to do it WELL especially during the time fatigue and emotion hits, that’s when we truly get results. It applies to so many other things in life, really! 


Just Keep Swimming

I’m not going to say that I learned all I needed to know in 2 hours. I don’t think that’s possible. However, I did learn a lot and felt the difference after a few laps. I’m not sure if it was just the confidence boost that was making me feel it, but I really felt the improvement in the way I glide through the water. I was finishing the laps, I was more comfortable, and I think the biggest success of the evening was that I was eager to keep swimming. It was definitely a big step towards the right direction. I’ve actually invited my mother in law to swim with me one of these days!  

Thanks to everyone behind the awesome #FFSwimSquad Fitness First swimming workshop and for having me! To be clear, all opinions above are mine.

If you want to look into Richard Stannard’s swim clinics, visit

You can also learn more about Fitness First swimming workshops near you! 

Here are some pictures that I took from the event.










Feeling pretty damn official post swim training w @richardstannard & everyone in the #FFswimsquad. Thank you @FitnessFirstUK and @HammersmithFF for the #Olympics level #motivation and training!  😊🏊 🇬🇧 ⭐🏆

A photo posted by Abbi Gabasa – Stolagiewicz (@abbistoli) on  


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