Learning To Swim: Mastering The Basics
For many people, learning to swim can be one of life’s annoying little challenges. Most non-swimmers fall into one of these three categories. Which one applies to you?
- Had school swimming lessons a child but never quite grasped the correct technique Avoids swimming for fear of splashing around in the pool, resulting in complete embarrassment.
- Had bad experience as a youngster Spent the next 20+ years avoiding all swimming activities like the plague, through fear of drowning.
- Just never learnt Realises that to fully enjoy a holiday one must learn the basic swimming techniques.
The importance of building your confidence in the waterThe basic technique of swimming can sometimes be tricky if you don’t know how. Most non-swimmers benefit from a few swimming lessons to help them get started, but essentially it’s down to practice, just giving it a go. I’ll give you an example:
I met a young lady last year who was literally petrified of going in the water, before the lesson she was shaking and clinging onto the side for dear life. In the first session, I thought to myself “wow, this is not going to be easy.” Ever the optimist, I grasped the bull by the horns and took up the challenge… We sat and talked for 15 minutes until she calmed down and slowly got in the pool and had a little paddle around, nothing more. Over the next two lessons, we just worked on relaxing, breathing and floating whilst holding onto the side of the pool – and talking some more. By lesson four she was floating, kicking, talking and even starting to swim. When we reached the fifth lesson, confidence was flowing, she managed to swim from one side of the pool to the other – an amazing achievement for somebody who truly believed she couldn’t!One of my coaching highlights of the year without a doubt. How was it possible for this lady who was simply terrified of water to be swimming down the pool with her face in the water? Confidence! First you build confidence: you must believe you can do it, visualise yourself swimming, relax and enjoy it. It sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Believe me, it’s not. You just need to know how. Here’s where my 7 step guide to learning the basics comes into play. It’s unconventional, it conflicts with what you might have read elsewhere, it covers everything you need to know if you want to learn to swim:
- Getting used to being in the pool
- Putting your face in the water
- How to breath comfortably whilst in the water
- Developing a strong leg kick
- Experiencing your first swim
Swimming basics: What you will needGet some swimming goggles and a suitable swimming costume. Pick a pool that’s quiet and away from the crowds, somewhere you can go to relax. The pool should be 1.2m deep or less, so you can comfortably stand up in the water.
Step 1 – Getting used to being in the poolSpend around 15 minutes familiarising yourself with the feeling of being in the water, relax and paddle around. At this stage it’s important that you breathe slowly and deeply: in through your nose, out through your mouth. Try to enjoy the feeling of being in the water and keep paddling around until you feel completely relaxed and comfortable. Explore the pool, stay close to the edge, walk around with your shoulders fully submerged under the water. Feel the resistance against your body as you take long strides through the water.
Step 2 – Putting your face in the waterFor most beginners this is the big challenge. The reality is that you can either do it on your tenth trip to the pool or your first. You might as well do it right away and save yourself time; It’s actually a really nice feeling. Spend a while practicing this, at first it’s a strange feeling but you will get used to it and it will really help you relax.
Exercise you can try
- Stand with your feet on the bottom of the pool shoulder width apart.
- Hold the side of the pool with your hands and submerge your shoulders.
- Take a deep breath and slowly put your face into the water.
- Try and hold your breath for a count of five, remember to open your eyes to help relaxation.
Step 3 – How to breath comfortably whilst in the waterBreathing technique is one of the most common challenges facing beginner swimmers. Many people choose to swim with their head out of the water to avoid the challenge of putting their face in. The main problem with this style is the effect it has on body position, not to mention the pressure it puts on the neck and lower back. Developing sound breathing skills can aid relaxation, improve flotation and contribute to a well-rounded, streamlined, swimming stroke. Many swimmers can benefit from breathing practice, as even the most accomplished swimmers can suffer stroke imperfections due to breathing with poor technique.
Exercise you can tryRepeat the exercise for getting your head in the water, but this time, we’ll make a few adjustments:
- Whilst your head is under the water, try and release some air bubbles out of your mouth (as if blowing through a straw)
- Blow all the air out of your lungs
- Pause for a second and then lift your head for a fresh intake of air
Step 4 – FloatingMost of us can float, some better than others. The key to a successful floating position comes down to two simple factors: head position and relaxation. Focus on these two elements and you should see a horizontal body position with legs fully extended out behind, heels almost breaking the surface of the water. Your ability to float directly impacts your body position, which is crucial to a sound swimming technique. Take a little time to learn how to float first, before you try to swim. Learning the correct floating technique will help you to relax in the water and build your confidence without having to leave the side of the pool.
Exercise you can try – Part 1
- Hold onto the side of the pool, eyes looking slightly forward with legs extended fully out behind you.
- Slowly kick your legs up and down to help with balance.
- Keep repeating this until you feel like you’re floating comfortably.
Exercise you can try – Part 2Notice your body position, legs slightly low in the water?
- Hold onto the side of the pool, with your face in the water and legs extended fully out behind you.
- Kick your legs gently up and down, this time incorporating the breathing technique from step 3.
Step 5 – Developing a strong leg kickA strong leg kick is the balance and power to a successful swimming stroke. It takes time to build a strong leg kick, usually with plenty of trial and error at the beginning. Experiment with different kicking speeds and tempos, find out what works for you. Each time trying to better your previous effort in terms of distance and speed.
Exercise you can tryFor this you will need a small float board. The goal is forward movement, of any kind.
- Hold the board out in front of you, arms extended and eyes looking slightly forward, chin resting on the surface of the water.
- Give yourself a strong push off the side and try to get some momentum going by kicking your legs up and down (flutter kick).
- Try and replicate the flat body position from your floating exercise, with your legs extended out behind you.
Step 6 – PullingHere’s the fun part… It’s time to get your arms involved. Learning an effective arm action can help you to develop tremendous amounts of propulsion. The key part of any effective arm pull is the ‘catch’ this is the point at which the hands take hold of the water, ready for the propulsive phase of the arm action. The catch happens at the beginning of the stroke and determines how effective each pull is going to be. Once you’ve mastered the catch and you can feel the resistance against your pull, try accelerating your hands through the stroke. Notice the increased propulsion. This sounds complicated for a beginner, but it’s not. It’s just about building up your own ‘feel for the water’ and getting used to the resistance against your arms as you move them through the water.
Exercise you can try
- Start with your arms extended out in front of you palms resting on the surface of the water, shoulders slightly submerged, feet firmly on the floor, eyes looking forward and down (at this stage mouth and nose above the water)
- In turns, pull each hand through the water from the extended position.
- Relax your hand slightly to give you the largest possible surface area and keep your fingers close together
- As you ‘catch’ the water at the front of the stroke accelerate your hand towards your body and back past your hip
- As you pull through the water feel the resistance against your hand. The more resistance you feel, the more propulsion you will produce and ultimately the faster you will swim.
Step 7 – Experiencing your first swimHere it goes… You’ve learnt all the different elements that make up a successful swimming stroke, the only thing left to do is give it a go. Prepare yourself for plenty of trial and error. You will need bags of determination if you wish to successfully swim. The most important thing to remember at this stage is to be confident. Commit yourself to each attempt and remember, swimming is far easier when you have momentum. So give yourself a big push off and go for it.
Exercise you can try: Kicking
- Start a couple of meters away from the side, small distances to begin with
- Take a deep breath
- Give yourself an almighty push off to gain momentum and glide
- Face down in the water looking at the bottom of the pool, arms fully extended out in front of you
- Focus on your legs and keep kicking fast until your hands come to rest on the side of the pool
Exercise you can try: Kicking and pullingIt’s time to start using your arms, just like we practiced.
- Start with a push and glide just like you did the first few times
- Keep your arms extended out in front of you
- Concentrate on a fast flutter kick
- Now alternate your arms, as you did on the pulling exercise – aim for two long powerful pulls to get you to the end
Safety in the waterYour safety is most important. Swimming can be a really fun, enjoyable experience. But you MUST remember to stay safe at all times. We recommend that all non-swimmers or beginners, are accompanied by a strong swimmer AND there is a lifeguard present at all times. Do not try to swim alone if you are unsure of your capabilities. You’ll feel far more secure with a strong swimmer alongside you for encouragement.
What to look for in a swimming instructorLearning to swim can be a challenging, so it’d be understandable if you’d rather take some lessons at the beginning. If you are looking for a swimming coach, make sure to find an instructor that’s attentive and understanding. Of course you want results, but it’s important that you enjoy your swimming experience. Look out for attention to detail in your initial consultation and try to pick a teacher that’s interested in your specific goals. Your initial appointment should be an assessment lesson from which a plan should be customised to your ability level and individual needs.
A good swimming teacher should be able to teach anyone to learn to swim inside 12 lessons.Some people build confidence, adapt well and learn quickly whilst others have difficulties with nerves, coordination, timing and relaxation. Some learn quickly, others don’t, but here is the truth: Everybody can swim!