8 Crucial Skills to Being a Competent Beginning Swimmer

Have you just decided to learn to swim?

Maybe your taking lessons or watching Youtube videos?

Perhaps you’re teaching your kids to swim and aren’t sure what to teach them.

This article will cover the 8 skills that a competent swimmer will be able to do. No, swimming butterfly for 100 yards is not one of them.

These skills carry through not only for the beginning swimmer but for the expert as well. As you progress through your swimming career, you will be revisiting each area.

The 8 crucial beginning swimming skills are:

  1. Being able to relax in the water.
  2. Knowing how to breathe in the water.
  3. Float on your back and stomach.
  4. Swim
  5. Go underwater.
  6. Be able to enter the water.
  7. Be comfortable in deep water.
  8. Know water safety.

These skills all tie in to each other for beginners to experts. And as your abilities improve, you’ll find each of them becoming more difficult.

For instance, take entering into the water.  I’m an OK diver from the side of a pool or a diving board about 3 feet off the pool.

Put me on a high dive and I’ll jump…but no way will I dive.

And put me on a cliff in Acapulco and ask me to jump…not a chance.

For beginning swimmers and those just starting out, when you can accomplish these 8 skills you can be considered a fairly competent swimmer.

Notice I didn’t say “water safe”. There’s no such thing as being water safe. There is always an element of risk being around water, whether it’s your local pool, lake or ocean.

Here are the skills you should be able to do to be considered a competent
swimmer.

Beginning Swimmer Skill #1. Be relaxed and confident around the water.

Beginning Swimmer Skill #2. Be able to take at least twenty consecutive breaths while swimming and while treading water

Beginnning Swimmer Skill #3. Be able to float on your stomach and back for 30 seconds.

(Some people are not able to float in a pool. They are allowed to use their feet and hands to achieve the float position.)

Beginning Swimmer Skill #4. Be able to swim 20 yards.

Beginning Swimmer Skill #5. Be able to go underwater and retrieve an object at a depth of 4 to 6 feet.

Beginning Swimmer Skill #6. Be able to jump into a pool from a height of one to two feet.

Beginning Swimmer Skill #7. Be comfortable being in water over your head.

Beginning Swimmer Skill #8. Know the dangers of the water, how to avoid them and what to do if something happens.

When you, your child or your client can perform these 8 areas they will be pretty good swimmers.

I think they will still be beginners but they will have the skills to enjoy and improve in the water.

What are the skills they (or you!) should be able to do to be considered an intermediate swimmer?

That’s a great question and you’ll have to read the next post to find out!

 

7 Surprising Secrets to Help You Breath Better in Swimming

 

Do you need help on breathing when you swim?

Taking that breath can be surprisingly difficult, especially when you’re learning to swim. Even good swimmers can have a difficult time with their breathing.

What we do on land comes natural. But put us in water and it can become much more difficult.

Add deep water, cold water, dark water…it becomes almost impossible.

A lot of swiSm programs gloss over breathing. They will tell you to blow bubbles underwater and turn your head. But this is too simple and not really helpful for most beginners. Even intermediate swimmers make common breathing mistakes.

This blog post will show you seven surprising tips and techniques for making your breath easy. Practice them when ever you swim and you’ll find yourself swimming much easier and further.

Swim breath secret #1. Don’t exhale like a candle. Blow out like a motor boat.

Many swim teachers teach kids to exhale like they were blowing out a candle. This is wrong. The problem is once you fully exhale your mouth and lips are open. The water comes gushing in and you have to stop.

The correct technique is to keep your lips together and push the air out your mouth. Your lips should make a “bbrrrrrppp” sound. When you stop pushing the air out, the lips will seal. And no water will come in!

You can practice this technique at home. You don’t even need a pool. You can do it while your watching TV or when you brush your teeth. If you’re a complete beginner and afraid of the water, practice this with only your lips under the water. You’ll see that the water won’t come in.

Swim breath secret #2. Your goal is ten consecutive breaths on the wall.

If you can’t do at least ten consecutive breaths, then you’re not getting enough air.

What’s a consecutive breath? A consecutive breath is where you inhale, submerge, exhale, rise up, inhale. Repeat.

The mistake most swimmers make is when they come up, they do two cycles above the water. This is cheating! If you find yourself taking two breathes above the water, then stop.

Rest up and try it again.

When you can do ten consecutive breaths then you’re starting to get it!

I recommend practicing the ten breaths every single length for anyone having trouble breathing. Try this:

  • Hold the wall with both hands and both feet on the wall and take ten breaths. Work on relaxing. Swim one length.
  • Next hold the wall and kick. Put your face in the water and take take ten breaths while kicking. Swim one length.
  • Finally, hold the wall, kick and pull with the right arm (or whatever side you breath to). Ten breaths, then swim one length.

Repeat this sequence four times.

Before you know it, you’ll find that ten breaths is easy. Then go for twenty. When you can do twenty breaths you really are able to breath and swim.

Swim breath secret #3. It’s really all about the exhale.

If you’re not able to get the ten breaths or when you swim, you’re only able to get one or two, then 99% of the time the problem is with your exhale, not your inhale.

“You think you’re not getting enough air in…but you’re really not getting enough air out!”

What happens is that you only exhale half of your lungs air. Then when you breath in, you take in more air…and only let out a little bit. And then inhale a little bit more…and eventually you have to stop to fully empty your lungs.

I believe there’s a couple of reasons for this. First, if you’re a beginner you’re probably a little bit afraid of the water. This fear tends to make us hold our breaths. We tighten up in the chest and hold the air in.

I’ve seen very good swimmers do this. One sign of having a breathing problem is they will swim without a breath. They can turn their heads to breathe…but they don’t.

Here’s some keys to making sure you fully exhale.

  1. Make sure you do “motor boats” under water as in secret #1.
  2. When you’re doing wall breathing, focus on fully exhaling. Learn how to do it on the wall before you swim.
  3. While swimming, when your face is in the water you have to exhale forcefully. If you exhale without any power, you won’t empty your lungs.
  4. Don’t swim in a hurry to get to the other side. Relax and take MORE breaths…not less.
  5. See swim secret #4

Swim Secret #4. Exhale through the transitions.

The transition number one is when you go from under the water to above the water. You want to continue the exhale as you’re coming up. This does two great things.

First, it blows the water away from your mouth, making it easier to inhale without getting the water in your mouth.

Second, it gives you more time to exhale and clear the lungs.

Transition number two is going from the air back into the water. As soon as you take your sip of air, start exhaling out your mouth with motor boat method. This will give you even more time to exhale. It also keeps the water from rushing in.

Exhaling through the transitions gives you almost twice as much time to expel the air from your lungs. It takes practice to get the hang of it (hence lots of wall breathing) but it is well worth it.

Another benefit that I really love; it makes a great sound that is meditative and relaxing. The sound helps you establish a rhythm which helps you relax and maintain your stroke.

Swim Secret #5. Barely open your mouth when you inhale.

Many swimmers think they have to open their mouths really wide to get enough air in.

You now know that it’s not how much air you get in, its how much air you get rid of.

You really only need a sip of air, especially if you’re working building up your endurance. Your goal is to relax and control your breathing. Taking smaller breaths will help.

Opening up your mouth too wide causes other problems as well.

If your mouth is wide open, it’s very similar to a scream. This will automatically make you tighten up and be afraid. Keep your mouth barely open, almost like you’re going to kiss someone. If you can put your tongue past your lips then you’re opening too wide.

Another problem is that it closes off the esophagus. This makes it even harder to get any air in at all. Keep your mouth barely open and it’s easy to get a lot of air in quickly. Open your mouth really wide and it’s almost impossible.

Try it while you’re reading this. Just don’t let your office mates see you. They will think you’re really weird.

The other problem is that an open mouth tends to get more water in it. It’s not the most comfortable thing to happen and it won’t kill you. Still, I prefer to keep the water out of my mouth as much as possible.

“Getting water in your mouth is not the end of the world”

Try this technique to inhale. When you turn your head, push your jaw to the side. Don’t even try to open your jaw.

This will make a nice small hole for you to inhale and difficult for water to come in. It makes it easy to seal your lips and do motor boats.

And you will turn your head a lot less to get the air.

Which leads us to the next secret…

Swim Secret #6. Roll your body to breathe.

It’s much easier to breath (for freestyle) to the side when you roll your body.

If you turn your head, you tend to lift your head. Lifting is bad.

Turning your body will keep you in line when you breathe, it will keep you horizontal in the water and it will make it much easier to swim faster.

Practice turning your body doing wall kicks. Turn your hips to the side you’re going to breathe on. If you breathe to the right, turn your hips about 45 degree to the right. It should require little or no extra turning of the head to get your breath.

Keep your left ear in the water. If you’re good, you can keep your left eye underwater as well (see secret #5!).

If you want to learn how to breathe on both sides (bilateral breathing), then you almost have to turn your hips. That’s a more advanced technique that I’m not covering in this article, but you can try it if you want. Just before to practice on the wall first.

Swim Secret #7. Breathe every stroke.

The more you breathe in the water the better.

An analogy I use is for jogging. It’s pretty easy for most people to walk a quarter mile.

Now, try it holding your breath. Not so easy is it?

For swimming, you want to breathe every stroke cycle. Pick one side (usually to the right for right handed swimmers) and breathe every stroke cycle.

If this is too fast for you…slow your arms down.

When you pull with your left arm, keep exhaling. Don’t blow it all out, just a slow easy exhale.

As the left arm enters the water you start to pull with the right arm. As you finish the right arm, you will roll to the side. Exhale the water out forcefully to completely empty the lungs. Take a breathe as you’ve learned how to do in this article.

Then relax and repeat.

Swimming is really all about breathing. “If you hold your breath, you’re really not swimming.”

As you get closer to the end of the pool, relax and keep breathing. Some swimmers hold their breath as they get closer to the wall. If you get tired, instead of speeding up, relax and go slower.

Conclusion:

Breathing is something swimmers always work on, even Olympic swimmers. As conditions change, the challenges of breathing change. For instance, swimming in the ocean requires different techniques. It becomes much harder to relax.

The time I did the Alcatraz swim (yes, I did do it!), I found it very difficult to breathe. It took me half the race before I could breathe normal and establish a rhythm. I don’t know why and I used every trick I know but I just couldn’t get there.

Do don’t give up. Practice breathing every time you’re in the pool. Always work on relaxing and swimming easy.

Use these secrets and let me know how they’ve helped you.

 

How to Swim Fast

​Reducing Swim Resistance: The First Path to Swimming Fast

​There are six paths to swimming fast. The first path and the most important is reducing resistance in the water. This article will give you three techniques on ways that you can reduce your drag in the water.

​Now, I'm not talking about shaving the hair on your body. That's a very very small reduction of drag.

The reason that you want to reduce the drag on your body is that the faster you go, the more resistance you create. And the resistance increases four times as you double your speed. So you better get your body streamlined in the water.

The way that we have to reduce the water's resistance is to shape our body. How we position our body in the water is the best way to do it. There are others.

Besides shaving we could...

  • Go to a medievel torture rack and stretch us out
  • Find some spray that reduces surface tension on our skin
  • Have an operation to shape our heads like a torpedo.

​Those aren't really very practical. Neither is buying a $500 technical suit either. The best way is to adjust the shape of your body. Here's how to do it...

​Swim Tip #1 to Reduce Resistance

​The first way is to adjust your head position. Most of us swim by looking forward. This does a few bad things to our shape in the water.

First, it lowers your legs and hips. This creates a ton of resistance going forward in the water. Instead of being parallel to the direction you want to go, you are now closer to to perpendicular.

Try this next time you're driving. Put your hand out the window of the car. Put your hand parallel with the ground and feel how your hand cuts through the air.

Now, turn your hand so your thumb is up and your hair is perpendicular to the ground. Can you feel the air hit your palm and try to rip your arm backward like a big bear?

That's what happens when you lift your head up.

Also, the top of your head is more streamlined than your face. By lifting your head and looking forward, the flat part of your face cuts through the water.

​When you keep your head down, looking towards the bottom of the pool, the round top part of your head cuts through the water like a torpedo (see, you don't need an expensive, weird operation).

There's one added benefit for swimmers that is rarely mentioned. Looking forward when you swim causes you to extend your neck which causes head, neck and back pain. For you high school swimmers this isn't such a big deal but for master swimmers it is. Many start swimming because it's one exercise which is supposed to be easy on your body. But looking forward  can create worse conditions for your neck and back.

Bottom line: Look at the bottom of the pool to swim fast.

​Swim Tip #2 to Swim Fast

​The second technique is lengthen the body. We do this by leaving an arm extended in front of the body. This does a couple of good things for reducing swim resistance:

  • All things being equal, a longer body is faster than a shorter body. An 18 foot kayak is going to be faster than a 12 foot kayak. The extended arm has the effect of making your body longer, if even for only a second or two.
  • The extended arm and hand cuts through the water like a knife. The other option is to have the forearm and triceps hit the water first. Try the car experiment again. This time, point your hand to where you're going. Feel the hand cut through the air like a jet. Now, lower your arm and point your arm to the bottom of the street. Don't go too fast because this time, it really might rip your arm off.

​When you finish your pull with one arm, leave the opposite arm extended out in front of your shoulder for a bit. I teach that the lead arm stays out until the recovery arm comes past your head. This allows you to get the maximum benefit of the longer body.



​Swim Tip #3 to Swim Fast

​The third tip is similar to the second and it has to do with the lead arm. The arm needs to form a straight line with the side of the body. Swimmers tend to put the arm in front of the face, instead of the shoulder.

This does two things bad. First, instead of having the tip of the fingers cut the water first, it has the forearm cut the water. No need to do the car test (feel free if you want) but trust me. It creates a lot of drag and resistance.

The second negative is it tends to throw the body out of alignment. Instead of having the body be nice and streamlined it becomes wiggly and squiggly. This causes a ton of other problems with swimming fast as well. Instead, the lead arm should form a straight line along the side of body and shoulder. T

Try this; Place yourself against a wall opposite a mirror. Place your arm and side of your body against the wall. Notice how you have a straight line from toes to the finger tips. Now, move your arm away from the wall and place it above your head. You have to bend your elbow and you'll probably shift so that your body bends.

You Can Be As Fast as An Olympian

image of swimmer diving into a lake

As fast as an Olympic Swimmer?

​Everyone can swim like an Olympic swimmer for a few seconds. ​

​Not everyone can be an Olympic swimmer. Most aren't going to be able to swim on a​ Division 1 swimming College rankingsteam (though everyone can swim at the Junior College level. And I highly recommend you consider it if you're in high school.)

The cool part is there is one part of every race where you can move though the water as fast as anyone. And that's pretty cool.

What part is it you ask? Can you guess?

It's the dive. Assuming you have one thing...

A great streamline! A good streamline won't do it. You need a great, perfect, locked in streamline.

When you push off the blocks your body is moving downward with pretty much the same velocity as an Olympic swimmer. Actually, the higher you go, the faster you will be moving. They probably have more forward velocity than you do, but the speed when you hit the water is remarkably the same.

The big difference is when you hit the water. A good swimmer has a tight streamline. They hit the water like a needle. They keep that speed going for as long as possible.

You probably hit the water like a hammer with your hands. And then when the rest of your body enters its like a water balloon being dropped off a high dive..."SPLASH!"

And pushing off the wall is just as bad. Pushing off the wall after a turn is a opportunity to get a lot of speed and then keep that speed as long as possible. Even without a great kick or stroke, your push-off could be very very fast. But it won't be if you don't practice the streamline.

Most swimmers don't work on the streamline. But it's something that needs to be worked on every single day. You should work on it daily at home and during practice. Every chance you get to push-off the wall you should work on that streamline.

When you're brushing your teeth in the morning and evening look in the mirror and check out your streamline. Stand with the sun behind you and observe your streamline in the shadow. Look for sunlight coming from between your shoulders and ears.

​The next post will go into details on how to perform a streamline and give you more tips.



What is the purpose of high school swimming and why you need to know

​High School Swimming is more than just showing up to practice and going to a few meets.

​Why do you want to compete in high school swimming? Here are the reasons that most swimmers give...

  • ​It's fun
  • My friends do it and I want to hang out with them
  • I want to get in shape
  • I want to get out of PE
  • Looking for a full ride to college

​Those reasons are fine but there is so much more you can get out of swimming in high school. High school swimming is a great sport for many reasons.

  • ​It's a no-cut sport. For most schools you don't have to already have been a great swimmer. Most swim teams can take 18 athletes and usually, they won't that many. This gives you an opportunity to compete on a sports team that you might no be able to do if it was basketball or volleyball.
  • Swimming is a sport that you can do throughout your life. You can do it recreationally, competitively and leisurely.
  • ​From swimming there are tons of other activities which you can do; water polo, ​snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking and even scuba diving.
  • The discipline of swimming will help you in school, college and life. You will be able to carry the focus, grit and determination of swimming into all aspects of your life. You learn about setting goals and how to accomplish them.

​But if you go out for the swim team, you should know what the big picture is. You should have some idea of how to swim physically; you should also know about the finer details and what I think are the most important ones about the sport.

​Here are my top five purposes for going out for your high school swim team:

​Swimming in High School Purpose #1

​Learn the very valuable skill of goal setting. Goal setting for swimmers is not just saying, "I want to get faster." Goal setting is about making S.M.A.R.T. g0als (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timely). They are about learning how to set rewards and sacrifices to accomplish those goals.

Swimming in High School Purpose #2

​Swimming is a sport where the last meet of the season is the Superbowl. You work hard for the season and then at the end you race in the championship meet. All season long you focus on this one meet and probably only a few events. It's an all or nothing meet. You swim fast or you can be heartbroken that you didn't swim fast. It's a harsh reality but that's what makes it a great sport.

​Swimming in High School Purpose #3

​All sports require a great deal of work, time and self-discipline. It's not easy to go to practice in the rain, when you have a test on the next day, or when you're tired from staying up late. Swimming is particularly difficult because much if it is individual.

The ability to focus and sacrifice is why many swimmers go on to excel in college and in business.

​Swimming in High School Purpose #4

​The physical, tactical and social aspects of swimming help your body grow and develop. Being an athlete is good not just for your body but for your brain as well. When your body works out and learns, so does your brain.

​Swimming in High School Purpose #5

​It's fun! Sometimes you just gotta have fun. It's fun to learn, improve and compete. Whatever level of swimmer you are from beginner to State qualifier, being on the swim team is fun.

​Conclusion

​There's a lot of reasons to swim in high school. You should know what your purpose of swimming is so that you can get the most out of it.

​Knowing your purpose will help you be determined and get the most out of the swim team that you possibly can. Swim fast and work hard!