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Landing Before Standing

Getting your feet back on the ground…

“ Without confidence in the skill of regaining the feet, adult learners need to get to a wall or a person, a point of safety. If they don’t manage this, it can get messy, if not dangerous. “

If you know how to regain your feet properly in shallow water,  you don’t have to get anywhere. So it’s a crucial skill when learning to swim. To do it well requires counterintuitive thought. Without guidance and practice, people tend to make a mess of it.

I was watching an elite swimmer demonstrating something to do with front crawl arms on YouTube.  Everything was admirable till he stopped.  Having done his job of executing a few nice strokes, he pulled his head suddenly out of the water (tightening his neck and shortening his back) and gasped,  all before his feet touched the ground. So in the case of that advanced swimmer,  an important basic skill appears to have been missed when he learnt to swim. 

Without confidence in the skill of regaining the feet, adult learners need to get to a wall or a person,  a point of safety.  If they don’t manage this,  it can get messy, if not dangerous.  Until they’ve mastered ‘landing’, which means keeping the head in the water until the feet touch the floor, chaos can ensue from the moment they feel a need to stop. The first mistake is to pull the head out of the water with legs still extended behind. This causes a loss of balance, disorientation, panic and sometimes an inability to find the floor with the feet, which further deepens the sense of panic.

For that reason,  swimming teachers interested in the Alexander Technique consider regaining the feet the most essential skill for people learning to swim.  But many teachers have never even thought of it as a skill in its own right.  This may be because their training focused on getting people moving from A to B over being relaxed and balanced in water. 

Whatever swimming related movement we do, however well or badly,  we haven’t finished until we’ve landed. And if we’ve landed well, ended well, we’ve done ok. While we might feel that getting our head out so we can breathe is the priority,  we have to remember to get our feet on the floor first; to find balance with our feet on the ground so we can stand in a safe,  balanced and coordinated way.  If you have any anxiety about being in water,  the way you feel when you stop is very important. So this is what you need to do: From a prone floating position –  with your head resting in the water, neck relaxed, looking at the floor – when forward momentum (if applicable) slows, watch your knees and feet as you let them drop and come forward.  Let your legs come past where you think you want to land – bringing them a bit further forward will help your bottom drop down towards the floor, and so rotate you into a more upright position.  Think of rolling into your back or curling into a ball. Watch your feet land on the floor, let your weight settle down into your bottom and legs, before standing up,  which is a separate event. If it’s not happening easily, keep reminding yourself to relax your neck and let your head drop to the floor.

In other words, wait until you’re balanced with your feet on the floor and your head continuing to  rest face down in the water. Pause.  Then stand up, if you want to,  only after balance is achieved with the feet on the ground.Landing before standing reinforces understanding, of the importance of keeping your neck free, getting the order of things right and refusing to panic. This simple act of coordination needs to be mastered before moving on. If you’re learning to swim, try not to run before you can walk.  Work on getting your feet firmly on the ground. If you’re a swimmer and you’ve never thought about what you do before standing,  have a look. 

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