How to Swim

Today I took my first step towards actually learning to swim. I last had swimming lessons when I was 5 or 6, and it really didn’t take. We moved to the desert right before I turned 7, and since then my “swimming” experience has been limited to treading water, floating on my back, and splashing around. (I first saw the ocean when I was 15, and it terrified me.) I’ve been meaning to remedy this deficiency for a while. The YMCA’s Saturday lessons haven’t worked well with my travel schedule, so I finally called the local Swim America program, which offers lessons at the high school pool. Sadly, they only offer them in the summer, but, I was informed, there are college students who train every evening and are willing to take a break and teach private lessons. So I ended up with my very own instructor! He was absolutely fantastic. First, he didn’t laugh at me. We then covered a pile of new material (for me), and did it in progressive steps, which was very useful. I learned:

  • Breast stroke kick: bring the knees in, kick outward, then sweep legs strongly closed
  • Breast stroke arms: sweep out, pulling the head up to breathe, then close in to the chest and straight ahead
  • Freestyle*: first swimming on one side, lower arm extended straight above the head and upper one flat down my side, breathing at will; then rolling to switch sides periodically; then just doing a simplified version of the arm stroke and not worrying about breathing (swimming on a single breath); then finally stroking and breathing every fourth stroke (only on the right)

To my surprise, I could do this freestyle thing! The times friends had shown me it before, it was a disaster of uncoordination — too many limbs, plus breathing, to get synchronized. I didn’t do it well tonight, but I did do it a little, and now I think I see how I can practice it on my own. The breast stroke was actually harder to get going with, but I think I see how to work on that one as well. I asked my teacher why the breast stroke used this kind of kick, instead of a simple up/down kick, was it more efficient this way? and that seemed to throw him for a minute. He said, “It’s the kick that goes with the arms for breast stroke.”

After the lesson, I also found some good online resources:

  • Freestyle Tips
  • Freestyle Instructable: I love the “talk to the fishes, listen to the fishes” bit. The Instructable also includes this interesting tip: “Your legs require 2x as much energy as your arms, but your arms can generate 2x as much propulsion. That’s why distance swimmers basically only kick enough to keep their feet floating.”
  • Freestyle instructional videos
  • Several sources suggest breathing every third stroke, so that you alternate sides and develop strength equally. I’ll try that next time.

After dance class Sunday, Jazzercise on Monday, dance practice on Tuesday, and now a swim lesson on Wednesday, I’m starting to feel like today’s over-scheduled children I keep reading about. Well, at least I don’t need anyone to drive me around. :)

*Freestyle: This term always cracks me up. I once asked a swimmer friend why the event was called “freestyle” if everyone does the same thing. He said that it originally was a “free” style event, in which you could do whatever you want — but everyone converged on the same stroke as being the best one. Apparently its real name is “front crawl”.