Swimming offers tremendous fitness benefits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that just 2.5 hours of swimming per week decreases the risk for chronic illnesses. Swimming improves mood and decreases anxiety, and the buoyancy of the water makes swimming a good choice for those with arthritis and other pain conditions. Even if you have no plans to become the next Michael Phelps, basic swimming skills are easy to learn.
The most basic and essential swimming skill is simply becoming comfortable in the water. Although humans are born with innate water skills, many people develop a fear of the water. When unintentional submersion occurs, panicking gets in the way of logical thinking and increases the likelihood of drowning. To become more comfortable in the water, spend time in a shallow pool or wading in the ocean. Never enter the water alone, especially if you are not a strong swimmer.
Breathing is often difficult for novice swimmers. With water all around, having some water enter the nose and mouth is a common occurrence. Some novice swimmers panic at the feeling of water in their noses, while others have trouble holding their breath while submerged. Learning to control your breathing is a key component in learning to swim.
Breath control begins with simple exercises such as drawing a breath, submerging, blowing bubbles and then resurfacing for another breath. As your swimming skills improve, you will learn specific breathing techniques for different strokes. Work with a swimming coach or a friend or relative who is a strong swimmer.
Floating, or keeping your body in a horizontal position in the water, is a basic water skill. If you accidentally fall in the water, you may be able to float until you are rescued, even if you are not strong enough to swim to safety. Humans are naturally buoyant, and floating is not difficult. Like any other skill, however, floating does require a bit of technique. Get lessons from a coach or a competent friend or relative.
Kicking provides propulsion through the water. Once you are comfortable with floating, kicking is the logical next step. Kicking is also used in treading water, which is the process of remaining in one place while keeping your head above the water line. Many coaches use kickboards, or flat flotation devices made of foam or plastic, to support the swimmer’s body. A kickboard allows you to focus solely on your kicking technique without worrying about staying afloat.
Strokes are the arm movements used to pull the body through the water. The front crawl, sidestroke, breast stroke, backstroke and butterfly are the five most common swimming strokes. Each stoke uses different body positioning, breathing techniques and arm movements. Training with a qualified swimming coach is the best way to learn the various strokes.
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer specializing in disabled adventure travel. She spent 15 years working for Central Florida theme parks and frequently travels with her disabled father. Fritscher's work can be found in both print and online mediums, including VisualTravelTours.com. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of South Florida.