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How to Teach Yourself to Swim

By Jodi Thornton O'Connell

For many who haven't learned to swim by adulthood, childhood swim lessons involved a traumatic sink-or-swim experience. Despite bad memories, teaching yourself to swim in a backyard or public pool can be relaxing and enjoyable. Small positive steps and oft-repeated practice drills are the best way to overcome your fears and get into the swim of things.

Get Used to It

Swimming pool water is significantly cooler than shower or bath water, and chemicals in the water can sting your eyes. The feeling of buoyancy in the water feels much different from walking on the land and can throw you off-balance. Spend your first lesson getting used to how the water feels and entering and exiting the water on the pool steps. Take your time getting in the first time, allowing your body to adjust to the cool temperature a little at a time, until you are standing in water up to your waist. Bend your knees and submerge yourself up to your neck. Practice walking around in the shallow end and dipping down into the water until you are comfortable with the feel of the water around you.

Learning to Breathe

Practice rhythmic breathing exercises before you ever put your face in the water. Practice exhaling while counting to eight slowly, then take in a quick, deep breath to a count of two or three. The technique will help you remember to slowly exhale the entire time your face is in the water and prevent water from entering your nostrils. When you add in a stroke, you'll only have about a two-count to grab a breath, so practice getting as much air in as quickly as possible. Practice the technique in the pool by crouching down until your shoulders are underwater. Dip your face into the water and exhale, then lift your head to grab a short breath. Remember to open your eyes to get used to seeing underwater -- you can always wear a pair of goggles if the pool chemicals bother you.

Staying Afloat

The human body naturally floats in water, and you can get a feel for this in the shallow end of the pool. Crouch down so your shoulders are below water level. Take a deep breath and tuck your head under water, bending your knees and feeling your body float just beneath the surface of the water. When you need to breathe, just stand up. When you are comfortable floating in this position, stand in water just below your armpits. Extend your hands in front of you and push off the bottom, allowing your legs to extend along the surface of the water. For a back float, use a styrofoam "noodle" under your neck and extend your arms out to the sides. Be careful not to let your head bump against the side of the pool.

Arms and Legs

Once you are able to float and breathe, there are numerous ways to add in arms and legs. The easiest is a flutter kick, where the knees bend slightly and the right and left foot alternate kicking. A front crawl has your arms alternately come out of the water at about waist level and return to the water fully extended in front of you. Breathing takes place by rolling slightly on your side as your arm comes out of the water. Watch online swimming videos to get a feel for the rhythm and technique, and practice in the shallow end of the pool until you get the hang of it.

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