Teach Yourself to Swim | Adult Guide

Teach Yourself to Swim – Congratulations on taking this step to learning how to swim or to teach the fundamentals of learning to swim. The older you get, the more difficult it is to learn to swim. Babies & toddlers have an advantage to learning to swim; their bodies are typically more buoyant, legs are more relaxed in natural swimming position, and they tend to have less anxiety with water on the face. 

It’s important to be able to desensitize yourself to the water on your face so that you can be able to eventually be able to go underwater without any type of concern or anxiety. If you can’t let your air out underwater, then you’ll never be able to swim really any of the strokes efficiently, certainly not the freestyle. Submersion underwater and exhaling is the most important skill that we have to focus on in order for you to learn to swim. 

The second most important skill to master is buoyancy, how the water actually holds you. Buoyancy is the weightless feeling you experience when you swim. If you don’t have an understanding of this sensation of weightlessness, then it’s understandable that it would cause you anxiety in the water. You must become comfortable with the sensation of how the water holds you. 

Don’t overreact or overcompensate to weightlessness feeling in the water. Slow movements in the water will help you feel more control when swimming. Make sure you have some basic tools handy to desensitize yourself to the water. The tools you want to have ready are a bucket for pouring, thick pool noodle, kick board, and goggles. It’s important to have a pair of goggles to help you feel more comfortable with your eyes in the water. If you have your eyes open underwater, then you’re going to have less anxiety when you are swimming. 

The way you wear goggles, is you put your thumbs underneath the straps, put the seals under your eyebrows, the seals need to go under your eyebrows. It’s important that you pull the seals onto your eyes, under your eyebrows. Make sure you keep your eyes open underwater while wearing goggles, otherwise they will leak. Bucket or cups for pouring water will help you overcome the negative reaction to water over your face. 

You will start with pouring water on your ears and the back of your head and then move on to over your face. If the sensation is difficult for you to bear the use your hands to press or wipe your face. The pressure on the face trick is super helpful to rid yourself of the negative response to water on the face. Use an over-sized noodle before trying to use a kick board to practice the streamlined swimming position. 

You grasp the noodle under your arms giving you a strong sense of buoyancy and control. Kickboard are less stable and when you feel off balance you will tend to let go. You are ready to start the process of getting yourself comfortable, desensitized, and starting to enjoy the water. Start with lots of pouring water on your head with your cups and buckets. You can work on these skills in the bathtub, shower, or very shallow water like the steps of a swimming pool. 

Once, you’re completely comfortable with water on your face then you must learn to exhale while you’re pouring water on your head. You need to keep your mouth closed and blow air out of your nose. This will keep water out of your mouth and nose. You are learning a reverse breathing pattern from what you are used to normally. Breathe in through your mouth, out through your nose forcefully to avoid water in the nose. The best way to make sure you keep water out of your nose and mouth is making a loud humming sound. 

I talk about growling in a lot of my classes, growling is a loud humming sound. The reason I do that is because it allows you to be able to force air out of your nose and keep your mouth closed. You will also hear it while you’re under water helping you to remember that you’re indeed exhaling underwater. Your instinctive response will be to hold your breathe making it impossible to take a fresh breath.  

If you can get really good at growling or humming, every time you go under water, it will make taking a breath easy. Practice in shallow water like a stairs or splash pad area. Find an area that you’re really comfortable and feel grounded. Start with your feet underneath you, hands on the side of the pool then put your face in the water humming, or growling. Try to get your mouth and your nose in the water. Don’t hesitate putting your face in the water, otherwise you might suck water into your nose.

 Repeat this a few times consecutively without stopping and try to get into a rhythm. When you let your air out, then your lungs will actually grab the breath when you come up. Exhaling underwater will allow you to take full breaths. You will feel more control and comfortable when you swim without holding your breath. You can’t really get comfortable swimming unless you’re able to exhale underwater. Lower your shoulders into the water with your hand on the side of the pool.

 Each time you put your face in the water try to put your whole face in the water and cover your entire face up to your ears. So let’s extend on this and stretch your legs behind you in a streamline position either on the step or in shallow water. Use any shallow water area where you can get on your stomach and stretch your legs behind you. Now try the breathing skills in this streamlined position. 

You will now be ready for our next step in this process of learning to swim, we are going to work on our glide. If you can master gliding on top of the water, it’s going to make you feel much more comfortable because you’re going to be more efficient when you’re swimming. Back away from the shallow area that you are practicing. You should always have a target that you will be swimming towards. You will stretch your arms in front of you and put one hand on top of the other. 

You will look into the water and find the bottom. When you look down you will feel your lower body begin to lift or become buoyant. Allow your legs to float behind you. The last step when you are gliding is to recover by looking up, keep your eyes and head up, your legs will be underneath and you can then stand up. Now transition into exhaling underwater while gliding. You should practice this until you are comfortable. Grab your noodles underneath our arms in shallow water. Remember we’re always going to work in shallow water. The stairs are your friend. 

Many adults will feel like they can’t get their head out of the water to breathe. You can practice pop up breaths using the noodle. Your head controls your position in the water, look up for a breath and down to exhale. You need to be able to take quick breaths, and then exhale. So the noodles are a great way to practice your body position while you’re actually floating and you’re feeling the natural buoyancy. Now we can move on to pop-up breaths with arm strokes. 

Pop-up breaths are taking a breath by looking up and then going right back underwater after taking a breath. If you hold your breath, you won’t be able to take a pop-up breath, so breath and then exhale underwater. Your arms strokes will focus most of your energy underwater pushing against the water creating forward momentum. Practice the catch of the stroke by sitting upright and pushing water in front of your body. You should feel the water push against your forearms and biceps. 

You want to have the same resistance when you are swimming. If you don’t feel resistance you are pulling your arms through the water instead of pushing against. Your arms strokes should recover over the water after you have pulled the water behind you. You must allow your shoulders to rotate with your head stationary looking down. Your shoulders will create the power for the strokes. You create more power the faster you rotate your shoulders. 

The shoulder rotation will allow your arms to recover over the water. You should finish your power phase of your stroke with your arm straight and your shoulders turned. Allow your elbow to bend as your arms recovers over the water and then relax. Your arm will travel over the water with very little effort. You take a pop up breath lifting you head up out of the water. Take a quick breath then go back underwater and find the streamlined position again looking straight down.

 I don’t recommend kicking, but your kicks will happen naturally. Focus on keeping your legs straight. Make sure that your head’s down and allow your shoulders to roll as you pull through your strokes. Keep your muscles as relaxed as possible. If you feel robotic that’s your clue that your muscles are tense. Freestyle Swimming – Next step in the process will be to start learning the freestyle with breathing on the side. Try to be aware of tension in your muscles, especially your neck. Stretch your arms, shoulders, core, and neck before swimming practice. 

The most important aspect of the Freestyle you must maintain throughout your stroke is your streamlined position. Keep your head down follow the line on the bottom of the pool, and allow your shoulders to rotate as you swim. Your legs should be floating on top of the water behind you. Glide after each stroke and try to find a rhythm. Remember slow strokes and focus on pushing the water. To breathe on the side you must first be able to glide on your side while maintaining your balance. 

You can use a kickboard or noodles to balance yourself on your side until you get the hang of it.  To begin swimming start in the glide position on your side then start your arm strokes. You will breath every 2nd stroke. You should breathe on the same side each cycle. When your hand hits the water that is a 1 count, exhale, then second arm stroke 2 count, then turn your head, and press your ear to your arm. Continue these cycles while swimming until you are finding a rhythm. 

Don’t worry about technique yet. To fine tune your technique you must remember that your muscles must stay relaxed. Make sure your neck, arms, etc are as relaxed as possible before you begin swimming. Press your ear to your arm and turn your head upwards to breathe. You must exhale underwater, otherwise you will not be able to breathe when you turn your head. You’re strokes should be pulling close to your body and you should feel resistance. 

Remember you generate more momentum turning your shoulders, not from your arms. Your arm angle should catch the water and the shoulders should generate the power. Finish your stroke with your arm straight, shoulders turned. Then your elbow points to the sky as your forearm will rotate under your elbow through the recovery phase conserving energy.  When you swim efficiently like we have discussed you are not panic if you find yourself swimming further then you planned. Panic is the feeling that you get when you just can’t think anymore, that you’re so worried about trying to stay on top of the water, that you can’t even think. 

The best way to avoid panic is to focus on your breathing, remember, breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. Treading Water – Controlled breathing is the key to treading water not by using your arms or legs super fast. You can use your arms slowly, stretch out your arms and slow push the water back and forth sculling the water. Your legs should slowly move outward like an egg beater, keep your legs open when you are treading. 

You want to move as little as possible. So almost like you’re floating. You’re gonna lean your head back. Focus on your breathing. In and out. If you hold your breath, you’re gonna bob. You have to let your air out, take another breath in, you can’t hold your breath. It’s very important when you’re treading water not to hold your breath. You got to slow down, do not panic. Panic is what will cause you to suck in water and to have bad things happen when you’re in the water in a bad situation. You don’t want to flap, that’s gonna put you up and down because you’re pushing against the water up and down. You don’t want to kick like a flutter kick, you want to do very little kicking. 

You have to stretch your legs out, you want to be as wide as you can on the surface of the water. When you are trying to learn how to float the first thing you want to do is focus on your breathing.  Floating is like treading water and very dependent upon your breath control. The better you can control your breathing, the easier it is to float. Don’t hold your breathe when you are on your back floating. Always take breaths in and out and using the reverse breathing pattern, breathing into your mouth, out through your nose.

 That will prevent water from going in your nose and it will keep water out of your mouth. Master the breathing pattern before you practice floating. When you begin learning to float make sure that you use a noodle or kick board to maintain your balance. 

The best way into the back floating position is using a kick-board, holding it to your chest. To recover from the float don’t try to sit up, instead turn your head toward the water then stand up. You can feel very stuck because once you get to your back you’re going to want to sit up to get off of your back position. 

You can’t go from your back to your front easily by sitting up, you must turn over. You have to turn your head towards the water and that will turn your body. Before you do any back float practice make sure that you are thinking that through.

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