Keeping Your Head Above Water

Swimming with your face out is not much use if it’s the only thing you can do. But you need to be able to do it!

Gill’s been learning to swim for a long time. More than anything she’d like just to be able to get into any pool and do a few easy lengths.

Lots of her friends just swim with their faces out of the water. They can’t understand what all the fuss is about. But she knows she doesn’t want to do that because she’s learnt to swim by breathing underwater and gliding and this feels good. But not only that; she doesn’t know how to keep her face out of the water. She’s never learnt to do it and doesn’t believe she can.

This is where Gill was when she arrived at Croft Farm on Monday. She’s had lots of lessons but the thing that’s continued to stump her is learning to get her face out to breathe.

Swimming only with your head out of the water, like so many people do, isn’t a good idea because trying to move forward carrying the weight of your head puts tremendous strain on your neck and back. You’re not engaging properly with the water and it’s generally about the worst thing you can do to ‘keep fit’. Gill understands this. But she also wonders why it’s so difficult to get her face out to breathe.

Getting out to breathe is much easier to learn for someone who can already swim with their face out of the water.These people can learn that when your face comes out gently, inhalation only takes a moment. They can learn this, and try this, because they know that if they want to, if it all gets a bit tricky, they can always revert to swimming with their head up. Gill didn’t have this option, this luxury.

At the start of her course this week, Gill was able to get her head out in breaststroke but maybe only for one or two strokes. It looked ok but she couldn’t keep it going because she wasn’t confident about getting a breath. She didn’t believe she had enough time. Each subsequent stroke got worse because of increasing tension and lack of momentum.

So the essential skill that was missing for Gill was not so much getting her head out to breathe but being able to keep her head above water. This was the thing she’d never done.

So we worked on sitting on the bottom of the pool and bobbing up and down, exploring vertical floating, treading water by thinking about riding a pedalo. And this made all the difference.

Now, when she comes up to breathe, she knows that if she wants it, she has time. Time for a breather, for a look around, for a chat. Time to let her balance change from horizontal to a more vertical position with her face out of the water. And having breathed nicely she can return comfortably to moving through the water with her face in.

Good swimmers only need a moment to get a breath but learners can’t learn this by trying to copy it. Something much more basic has to be accomplished first.

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