Last week, I described the right mindset for teaching children or yourself to swim. This post is about one of the most essential and overlooked skills in learning how to swim: effortless floating.
There is no better time to learn to swim (or for that matter, teach people to swim) than the summer. Walking to the pool or beach in shorts and flip-flops sure beats encapsulating oneself in polar protective gear before trudging to the pool (I have clear memories of wearing snow boots home from the pool this winter as my towel froze in my bag).
One of the pitfalls in learning to swim is trying to do everything at once: floating, kicking, arms, and breathing. If this leaves you sputtering and clinging to the side, you’re not alone. A pilot learns how to operate a plane on the ground first, without worrying about whether they will crash. Same in the pool; it’s best to be standing or have mastered the float before trying to “swim.” It’s not possible to maintain the clarity of mind needed to synchronize arms, legs, and breathing if you’re not relaxed on top of the water.
But how do I learn to float?
The first practice is just bending at the waist until your face is in the water. Notice if your face crunches into a ‘taking the cat to the veterinarian’ expression. Try relaxing and giving your head to the water, like giving your head to the pillow. Despite its transparency, you won’t drop right through to the bottom!
Once you’ve unloaded your upper body weight fully into the water, then try pushing off the bottom into a glide.
Next, notice if your neck and arms brace as you float. Exhale a gentle stream of bubbles as you move your arms slightly back and forth to keep them free. Good. If you can learn to do this, swimming with ease is quite possible.