The number one fear of new triathletes is swimming. Unless you learned to swim as a child and have been around water your entire life, learning to swim as an adult can be daunting. It is perfectly rational to have this fear. As humans we can survive in water, but its not our natural habitat. Did you know the average dolphin is 80% efficient moving through the water, and an world class swimmer is only 12%.
The key to learning to swim and overcoming your fear is to become more comfortable in the water. If you can learn to relax and not fight the water, you ability to swim will increase quickly.
Here three steps to get you more comfortable in the water, and eventually swimming. You have to get comfortable first to make progress in your swimming:
Step 1. Relax
This is step one, because it is the most important. Your comfort level in the water will determine the pace of your swim progress. To be relaxed in the water keeps you smooth, and smooth is fast. You can fight the water all out want, but it is a losing battle. (remember the world class swimmer is only 12% efficient)
How do you get more comfortable in the water? Find a pool that’s not super crowded, and bring a friend along. This is the fun part. Start in the shallow end, and act like a kid. Jump around, dive under water, slash around. You may feel silly, but you are achieving two things. You are changing your state and relationship with the water. Your fear of the water is replaced with a feeling of fun, and relaxation. This may seem embarrassing but do it.
Step 2. Float
The human body is about 65% water. We only need to worry about keeping 35% of you above the water. Now that you are more relaxed in the water, the next step it to learn to float. As you learn to float you will find the more you can surrender to the water the better you will float.
Floating sounds easy right? It is. Start by floating on your back, and see how long you can go. Then you can move to floating on your sides, and your belly. The focus with floating is to be relaxed and feel the water. Feel the water holding you up, and how your movements affect that feel.
What if I am a sinker? Everybody has a different body type, and will float differently in the water. No matter what your body type is you can float, remember you are mostly water. When floating your body is a teeter tooter. If your legs are more dense, they will sink faster. If you legs are sinking, push the top half of your body down, and your legs will come up. Experiment with where you move you center of gravity, and how it affects your position.
Step 3. Breath
Have you had the experience of swimming, going for one length of the pool, and you are totally out of breath? YEs, you’re not an out of shape blob, you are just not breathing correctly. You are eessentially holding your breath, if you are not using good breathing technique. You would be just as winded if you tried to run around the track, only breathing every three seconds. When you sort out your proper breathing, you will go from one length to 8+ instantly.
Learning to breath properly is like riding a bike. You may struggle with it for a while, then it will just click, and you will have the skill forever. Now let’s get to work on your breathing so you can get that swimming break through.
First, Take some time to blow some bubbles. Standing up in the pool put your face in the water, and exhale completely. Practice exhaling ten times. Now, do the same thing, but when you are out of air, turn your head to the side to breath. Then go back to blowing bubbles. Keeping practicing this until you can keep going up to ten breaths.
Now you have mastered these three steps, try and swim again. I know you will see a marked improvement. It will still take some time to execute good swimming form, but with these basics you will be more confident and relaxed in the water.
When you want to take your swimming to the next level, the quickest way to improve is the hire a coach, or get in a group program. They will be able to easily assess your form and make corrections.
If you can’t wait for a coach and want to put your new found confidence to work. Here are my two posts on the intro to freestyle swimming.