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4 secrets to floating in the water

4 secrets to floating in the water

Floating is an important skill for a few reasons. In order of importance (in our opinion):

  • Survival
  • Learning the strokes
  • Having fun

Being able to float can keep you safe if you get tired while swimming or fall into the water unexpectedly. It’s a crucial step for getting the body position right for learning how to swim all the major swimming strokes. And it’s a versatile skill for playing in the water, as well!

Getting into a floating position on the back or front—and back out of it again—can be a challenge. It requires putting your body in a vulnerable position. It makes it hard to see what’s happening nearby. With a trusted coach and a calm pool, you can practice until you feel confident.

There are many different float positions, but we’re going to focus on just 2: the wide, horizontal float on front and back—also known as the star float.

What affects the ability to float?

There are a couple of things that can significantly affect how well you float that are mostly out of your control:

  1. Water salinity
  2. Body composition

Water salinity

floating in sea water

Saltwater is denser than freshwater because it has more molecules packed into each cubic centimetre. This increased density gives salt water (such as the ocean) the ability to prop you up more easily. That’s because the denser water is exerting more pressure from below than your body is pushing down from above. This is called buoyancy.

In fresh water, the molecules aren’t as closely packed, so there is less pressure pushing upward against your body. You become less buoyant, and you sink a little lower. However, the lower you sink, the higher that pressure becomes. That’s why you don’t drop straight to the bottom. With our four tips, you can manipulate this pressure and keep yourself at the top of the water, even if it’s freshwater, such as your local swimming pool.

Body composition

Learn How to Float in Water

The fact is, body composition will affect your ability to float easily. People with higher muscle mass or with very low body fat will find floating more difficult. This is because their body composition is denser than people with a higher body fat percentage.

This doesn’t mean you have to be ‘fat’ to float. It just means you may find differences in how your body behaves depending on your build. But these four tips will help keep you at the top of the water whatever body you have.

  1. Spread out
    The wider you can distribute your weight, the better you’re going to float. This is because you will be putting less pressure on each square centimetre of water. So the buoyancy—the pressure of the water pressing up—will overpower the pressure of you pushing down. This makes the star shape ideal for learning to float
    On your back: Lay back in the water with arms and legs wide apart from each other. Imagine making your body into a starfish shape. You might start by holding a small float in each hand until you’re confident.
    On your front: Make the same shape while lying on your tummy in the water. Lift both feet off of the ground. Try holding the pool wall the first few times, and let go when you feel confident.
  2. Relax your muscles
    When you are tense in the water, a couple of things work against floating.
    a. Your breathing becomes shallow
    Shallow breathing means your lungs aren’t full. Having full lungs will help you float because they act like a couple of internal balloons. Mindfulness exercises can help.
    b. Your body tends to curl up
    If you’re clenching your tummy because you’re nervous, your body is naturally going to draw itself together like a clamshell. As we said above, you want to be spread out as wide as possible. Try to relax your tummy and let your legs float apart.
  3. Drop your head
    This goes hand-in-hand with number 2. Relax your neck muscles so that your head can drop down. This will get your body into the full position needed for efficient floating and swimming.
    On your back: Let the head drop back so that the ears are right under the water. Look up towards the ceiling or sky. If your chin is towards your chest, lift it out of the water and point it up.
    On your front: Take a breath and hold it. Allow your face to drop into the water and your neck to relax. The water will come right up over the forehead, even as high as the crown. Anytime you need a breath, just lift your head, take your breath, then let it down again.
  4. Keep your feet up
    Okay, a moment ago, we said relax your muscles. But… if you’re really struggling to stay at the top of the water, this last tip is for you. Get that core activated and bring your heavier lower body back to the surface with muscle power. You might need to repeat occasionally as your legs sink back down.
    On your back: Engage your abdominals to draw your toes up towards the top of the water. It will feel hard to drag your legs through the water column, but resist the urge to curl up, as this will make you sink further. Push your head back into the water. Once your feet are near the top, relax, and your head will float back up to the surface.
    On your front: Push your face into the water and arch your back slightly. Draw your feet up until you’re in a position similar to that of a skydiver. Try not to bend your knees excessively. Once your feet are near the top of the water, relax and take a breath if needed.

If you’re feeling unsure or want some assistance before trying to float on your own, let us help! Private lessons with our teachers will help you master floating skills and overcome any worries.

by Alistair Mills

In 2016 I saw an opportunity for a new swimming company that did things a little bit differently and here we are almost 4 years later, having built a family of teachers and clients that we are all really proud of.

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