If you’ve recently learned to swim you’re probably steadily increasing the number of lengths you’re putting in at your local pool—which is the best way to start. Because when it comes to swimming, practice really does make perfect. Most new swimmers start off wanting to swim too fast too soon and in their enthusiasm use more muscles than they need to. When it comes to endurance swimming it’s important to try to relax your body “into your stroke.” An efficient stroke means less energy wasted, so you will find that you won’t need as much air which in turn will help with your overall endurance.
Most beginners cite breathing as the most difficult aspect of swimming, particularly if they’re swimming freestyle (front crawl), a stroke that involves immersing the face in the water. But if you get your body position right for this stroke then breathing will present no problem. This stroke requires the swimmer to “roll” their body (see below), so that they’re actually swimming on their side, not on their stomach. When it comes to breathing, the head should stay in line with the spine while the body rolls to the side. If you practice this technique it will assist greatly with your breathing. Also remember to exhale as soon as you can in readiness for your next inhalation: don’t “hold on” to air, release it as soon as your face is re-immersed in the water.
Co-ordination is another reason why those more experienced swimmers make it look effortless. While your breathing technique is important, it’s equally important to get your swimming position and stroke right. Think about the position of your body in the water and always try and keep it as streamlined as possible. Kicking will help keep your body horizontal in the water. In most strokes the legs are used to keep the body balanced, while the arms are used to propel you forward.
As mentioned above, freestyle involves a rolling action. The forward or “leading” arm is the arm on the side of the body that’s angled towards the bottom of the pool, and should be kept close to the side of your head, just brushing your ear on its way into the water, while the arm surfacing from the water should be kept close to your body, brushing the side of your thigh. The legs should kick in a steady and continuous motion.
One of the big problems that new swimmers encounter with backstroke is managing to swim in a straight line! If swimming indoors use something on the ceiling to help direct you, a line of tiles, for instance. If you’re outdoors, you could try using the rope dividing the lane, or there may be something running parallel to the side of the pool you could glance at (without having to turn your head). The arms should be fully extended as they reach over the head, and your hands should enter the water from the side, with your little finger going in first.
Butterfly stroke always looks impressive—when done correctly! But it can be tiring for the novice swimmer. The stroke is made up of two kicks—one big kick to move the body forward and out of the water while at the same time the arms are brought round the head (a breath is taken while the head of out of the water) and then used to dive into the water: the second smaller kick occurs once the body has re-entered the water.
Breast stroke involves a continuous movement of the upper body and kicking legs, and can be a difficult stroke to perfect. The legs are used to kick in a motion similar to that of a frog swimming while at the same time the arms and shoulders propel the body forward. Stretch your arms out as far as possible in wide circles (imagine trying to touch the sides of the pool), and keeping your hips level with the rest of your body and flat in the water will help lift your shoulders when you come up to breathe and finish the “circling.”