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Five Basic Skills in Swimming

author image Peter Mitchell
Based near London, U.K., Peter Mitchell has been a journalist and copywriter for over eight years. Credits include stories for "The Guardian" and the BBC. Mitchell is an experienced player and coach for basketball and soccer teams, and has written articles on nutrition, health and fitness. He has a First Class Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) from Bristol University.
Five Basic Skills in Swimming
Inflatable supports help younger children learn to swim. Photo Credit Goodshoot RF/Goodshoot/Getty Images

Swimming takes a little coordination. You need to move your legs and arms in tandem, as well as time your breathing and swimming strokes for maximum efficiency. Swimming skills also include diving into the water to get a good, smooth start on your stroke. Once you feel confident moving around in the water, you can start learning basic swimming strokes such as breast stroke.


An often overlooked basic skill in swimming is the ability to time your breaths. If you're not comfortable breathing while swimming, you'll struggle to make streamlined, coordinated movements. The basic idea involves breathing out through both nose and mouth when your head is underwater, then lift your head to the side, taking a full breath before plunging your face back down under the surface. In his book "Swimming: Steps to Success," David G. Thomas suggests practicing this motion when holding onto the side of the pool with your arms outstretched.


Gliding through the water is a basic skill to master before you even consider kicking and paddling, according to swimming instructor Ian Cross, speaking to "The Guardian." Gliding helps you to get used to the sensation of moving through the water headfirst. Try gently pushing off the side wall of the pool with your arms stretched out in front of your head. Keep your head face-down in the water and glide until you slow down.


Beginner swimmers often find themselves messily chopping through the water with their limbs. That's fine. It takes a while to get a feel for moving your limbs in time. You must also get used to moving muscles in your lower back, abdomen and hips to power you forward. Similarly, try to let your legs come up behind your body, and keep a slim, streamlined position. Over time, this reduces drag from the water and makes you a more efficient swimmer.


Once you feel confident with basic swimming techniques, mastering a specific stroke is your next challenge. Breaststroke, while requiring slightly more coordination than front crawl, offers a stable, gentle stroke that's ideal for beginners. To do the breaststroke, you need to stay straight at the water's surface, holding your head up. Pull your arms in together with the hands almost touching. As your hands reach your chest, bend your knees and lift your feet up in a frog-like shape with the soles of your feet pointed out to each side. Push back with your legs and reach forward with your hands simultaneously. This double-propulsion should help you surge through the water.


Diving into the pool is a basic swimming skill -- even if it starts out of the water. Always practice diving in a deep pool with a lifeguard on duty. When you begin, diving may only involve putting your hands together above your head and gently curling your body forward toward the water until you fall in, headfirst. As you progress, try jumping slightly and straightening your legs behind you as you dive to enter the water smoothly.

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