😐😣😊 This article was co-authored by Alan Fang, a trusted member of wikiHow's volunteer community. Alan Fang swam competitively for over 7 years, through high school and into college. He specialized in breaststroke events, and participated in events such as the Speedo Championship Series, the IHSA (Illinois High School Association) state championships, and Illinois Senior and Age Group state championships.
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😐😣😊 Learning how to swim can be scary when you don't know what you're doing. Don't worry though — there are things you can do to make learning how to swim less daunting. Once you get the hang of it, swimming will be a breeze.
Part 1Part 1 of 4:Getting Comfortable in the Water
- 1Let go of your fear. A lot of people put off learning how to swim because they're afraid of drowning. While drownings do occur, most of them could have been prevented by simple safety measures. Follow these guidelines whenever you're swimming, and the odds of drowning will decrease dramatically:XResearch source
- Don't swim alone. Always go swimming with one other person who is a strong swimmer, if not several other people. An area with a lifeguard is usually the best place to swim.
- Don't start out swimming in moving water. If you're learning to swim in an ocean or river, you'll need to be more aware of the motion of the water. If you must learn to swim this way, try to make sure you're with someone who knows what he or she is doing, and be sure to read the step about getting out of a riptide or a rushing river (below).
- Stay within a depth you can handle. When you're first learning how to swim, don't venture into water that's too deep for you to stand in. That way, if something goes amiss, you can simply stand up and breathe.
- Avoid swimming during inclement weather conditions. Swimming in a light rain shower should be fine, but if you see or hear a storm approaching, get out of the water immediately. This rule is to be followed regardless of how well you can swim.
- Don't swim in water that's too cold. Moving your limbs to paddle can become suddenly difficult if you're in frigid water.
- 2Get used to floating. When you're in the water, hold on to the side of the pool or a dock, and let your legs float out behind you - they should lift easily if you let them. But, for some people, they like to sink to the bottom, while your upper body floats. Don't worry; just retry the method again. Practice doing this on your stomach and on your back, until you're used to letting half of your body float.XResearch source
- Try floating on your back or your stomach as soon as you're ready. Stay in a shallow depth so that you can simply stand up if it's not working out. It might feel weird to have water around your ears while your nose and mouth are in the air, but you'll get used to it. For extra stability, put out your arms at a right angle so that your body is in a "T" shape. When floating for the first time, you can try taking a deep breath and then floating. If your lungs are full of air, your body will float for sure. Do this until you're more experienced.
- 3Don't panic.Always remember that you have a fallback if you're in an unmanageable depth or you simply can't move your limbs - floating on your back. Don't flail around or start breathing quickly if you can't swim; simply lie back as flat as you can, and let the water carry you while you regain your composure.
- A good tip for floating on your back is to hold your breath and have lungs full of air. Another good tip is to stick your stomach out.XResearch source
- A good tip for floating on your back is to hold your breath and have lungs full of air. Another good tip is to stick your stomach out.XResearch source
- 4Practice exhaling underwater. While you're still in a shallow depth, take a deep breath and put your face underwater. Slowly exhale out your nose until you're out of breath, then come back up. Bubbles should come out. You can also exhale out of your mouth, but usually in big bubbles until you finally let out a stream of bubbles.XResearch source
- If you're uncomfortable exhaling through your nose, you can hold it closed or wear a nose plug and exhale through your mouth.
- 5Wear goggles (optional). Wearing goggles can help you feel more comfortable opening your eyes underwater, and might allow you to see more clearly. Find a pair with spongy circles around the eyes and dip them in the water, so that they'll stick to your skin. Tighten the strap around the back of your head so that the goggles fit snugly.XResearch source
Part 2Part 2 of 4:Beginning Strokes and Treading Water
- 1Practice kicking your legs. Whether you're floating on your back or still holding on to the side of the pool, you can practice kicking. (To see how far each kick can propel you, practice it using a kickboard. This allows you to focus on your kicking technique without worrying about keeping your head above water.)
- Try a flutter kick. Point your toes out like a ballerina, keep your legs mostly straight, and alternate legs as you make small kicks. You should feel the most flexion in your ankles.
- Try a whip kick. Keep your legs held tightly together from your hips to your knees, and from your knees to your ankles. Bend your knees so that your shins come up to about a 90-degree angle, then quickly bring your shins apart and move them in a circular motion, keeping your thighs together the whole time. (That is, trace half a circle with each leg, moving your right leg to the right and your left leg to the left.) Bring your shins back together at the bottom of the circle, and lift them up again to restart the kick.
- Try an eggbeater kick. This kick is commonly used to tread water, and stay in a vertical position with your head and shoulders above water. Start with your knees bent and your legs slightly wider than hip-width apart. Then "pedal" each leg as you would on a bike, only they'll go in opposite directions: while one leg pedals "forward," the other leg should pedal "backward." This one takes some practice to get used to, but it's handy for "resting" when your feet can't touch bottom.
- 2Learn how to do a crawl. Crawls are great strokes to learn as a beginner, and they'll move you pretty quickly. Here's how to do them:XResearch source
- Try a backstroke first. Float flat on your back, and do a flutter kick with your legs. With your arms, do the "crawl" motion, lifting one arm straight into the air and keeping it straight as it re-enters the water next to your head. Once it's underwater, bend it to bring it back to a straight position next to your side, and repeat. Alternate arms as you swim, and try to keep your fingers together and your hands as flat as possible.
- Try a front stroke (also known as a freestyle or American crawl). Floating on your stomach, do a flutter kick with your legs and use your arms to "crawl" forward. Bring one arm out of the water so that it's "reaching" forward, then bring it back down and use your cupped hand to "push" the water behind you. Alternate arms. To breathe, turn your head to one side under the arm that's currently crawling, lifting enough for you to take a breath. Take a breath under the same arm each time, so that you're breathing once every two strokes.
- 3Tread water. Treading water can help you catch your breath and keep your head up without actually swimming. Do the eggbeater kick listed above, and use your hands to keep your balance by "sculling" - keep your forearms flat on the surface of the water, and imagine they're butter knives spreading on a piece of toast. Move one arm in a clockwise circle, and the other arm in a counterclockwise circle.XResearch source
- 4Use your arms to come up from the bottom. If you're below water and would like to come up, use your arms to propel yourself. Put them straight up above your head, and quickly bring them down to your sides. This should push you up a few feet. Repeat until you break the surface.
Part 3Part 3 of 4:Learning Advanced Techniques
- 2Try diving. Dives can be a fun way to get into the water and start a stroke. Start with a basic dive, and move on to more complicated swan dive, back dive, and rolling dive.XResearch source
- Always make sure the water is deep enough before you dive. At a bare minimum, the water should be 9 or 10 feet (2.7 or 3.0 m) deep; if you're a tall person, make it at least 11 or 12 feet (3.4 or 3.7 m).
Part 4Part 4 of 4:Being Prepared for Unlikely Situations
- 1Know how to get out of a rip current. If you're swimming in the ocean, you might get caught in a rip current. Knowing what to do can save your life, so try to memorize these steps before you get into the water.XResearch source
- Do not panic. This is, by far, the most important step of all. By flailing and panicking, you could actually keep yourself under the water.
- Swim sideways. Do not try to swim directly to shore or directly out further into the ocean. Instead, try to swim in a line that's exactly parallel to the shoreline.
- Swim in a stroke that allows you to breathe. Swim with the strongest stroke you can do that also allows you plenty of room to breathe. This might be a sidestroke, front crawl, or breaststroke.
- Keep swimming until you're out of the rip current. You might have to swim quite far before you're safely out of the rip current, but keep going. You don't want to undo the good work you've done so far by heading for shore at the wrong time.
- If possible call out for help. If you can, motion to the lifeguard or yell "Help!" as soon as possible. However, don't do this if it means sacrificing a breath or if you have to stop swimming - it's better to keep yourself moving.
- 2Know how to get out of a river current. If you're caught in a river that's flowing too quickly or pushing you under, follow these steps to get out:XResearch source
- Don't flail or panic. As with a rip current, panicking and flailing your limbs can push you deeper into the water. Try to take even breaths and remain calm.
- Aim to swim diagonally toward the shoreline. Swimming toward the shoreline at a 90-degree angle will force you to fight with the current too much, and might cause you to become exhausted quickly. Instead, plan to get to the shoreline at a diagonal angle that goes with the current.
- Don't try to swim upstream. You'll spend too much energy for not enough results. Only try to swim upstream if there's immediate danger downstream, such as sharp rocks or a waterfall.
- If you are being rapidly carried downstream by the current, point your feet in the direction you are being carried. This may prevent you from striking your head on a rock or other obstruction.
- QuestionHow do I become a competitive swimmer?Alan FangAlan Fang swam competitively for over 7 years, through high school and into college. He specialized in breaststroke events, and participated in events such as the Speedo Championship Series, the IHSA (Illinois High School Association) state championships, and Illinois Senior and Age Group state championships.
Former Competitive SwimmerFormer Competitive SwimmerExpert AnswerStart swimming as early as you can and practice consistently so you can become your best. One of my old coaches used to say, 'If you don't swim for a day, your progress goes back 2 days, but if you don't swim for a week, you have to start over again.' This is an exaggeration, obviously, but it's true to some extent. But if you just want to swim for fun, or for survival, that consistency isn't as important.
- QuestionI am not able to kick with my feet and claw with my hands, what do I do?Top AnswererYou'll get there, just keep practicing. Use kickboards under your hands and arms. They will float and you won't need to use your arms, so you can focus on your legs. Practice using your legs separately. Then switch, floating your legs and practicing with your arms. Do this often enough, and very soon you'll be able to put the two together.
- QuestionHow do I stay above deep water?Top AnswererThe depth of the water does not change the technique of staying afloat. Swimming, floating, or any other technique in water is the same, regardless of how deep the water is.
- QuestionHow do I retrieve an object from the floor of the pool?Top AnswererTake a deep breath and go underwater. Use your arms and legs to "frog-kick" (similar to breaststroke) your way to whatever you're diving for. Grab the object and push off the bottom of the pool with your feet. This will propel you upward quickly so you can reach the surface faster.
- QuestionIs it bad if water gets in my ear? Sometimes my ears get blocked, but is that necessarily bad?Top AnswererThere's a membrane in the inner ear that closes that opening to air and water. Your ears also take care of themselves. Just tilt your head to the side to let any water run out.
- QuestionWhen I start to swim, my legs get tired. What can I do?Top AnswererTry practicing with floating devices to isolate just the legs and focus on the correct technique so they don't bump into each other, breaking your stride. Keep training. Build up distance and time gradually, and before you know it, you'll be able to swim longer.
- QuestionIs it good to use a floatation device when swimming?Community AnswerIt will be useful for when you are learning to swim, as it will keep you above the water. When you get more advanced and ready to swim on your own, you can start swimming without one.
- QuestionHow many minutes can a person stay underwater?Top AnswererThis varies from person to person and can be increased through practice and training. Anyone should be able to stay under water for 30 seconds. With a few good breathing techniques, this can be quickly extended to 45-60 seconds.
- QuestionHow can I swim underwater?Top AnswererThe breaststroke works at the surface as well as under water.
- QuestionWhat if I can't float?Community AnswerYou can try kicking faster and use a float to help you stay above water. The more you practice, the easier it will be to float on your own eventually.
- Start off swimming lessons where there are no currents or waves.
- Swim in pools that are shallow (one meter deep) if you are a beginner.
- Make sure to buy some ear drops. They help in case your ears get clogged.
- Remember you can always put your feet down if you begin to panic.
- Use a kick board, life jacket, or arm floats to help stay afloat if you feel nervous about moving around the water.
- If you have lighter colored hair, invest in a swimmer’s shampoo and/or a sturdy swim cap so your hair doesn't discolor or break off.
- If you are nervous getting into the water, try putting your feet in first and slowly make your way in.
- Practice with family members until you feel confident in the water on your own.
- Close your mouth or invest in a snorkel so you don’t get chemically-treated pool water or bacteria from the people who’ve been in there previously.
- If possible, learn to swim under the supervision of a trained lifeguard. He or she has been taught to recognize signs that you need help, even if you're underwater and unable to call out.
- Use safety equipment especially if you are a novice and/or younger as accidents can and will happen.
- Practice with an experienced swimmer for more help.
- If you are floating on your back, stay calm or you won't float.
- If you're a beginner, swim close to the edge so you can hold on if you need to.
- Using supportive floats can be a great way to start experimenting with swimming and floating in calm waters.
- If you have long hair, consider wearing a swim cap to keep it out of your way. In addition, some public pools require swimmers with long hair to wear them, so it can't hurt to have one on hand.
- Be confident before you start progressing to the deep end.
- Always shower after swimming, because the chlorine is very damaging and drying. After showering, make sure to moisturize properly as well.XResearch source
- Just be aware that if your hair is blonde or lighter the chlorine might turn it green.XResearch source
- Never swim in a storm that has lightning with it. Lightning targets water, and can shock everyone in it if it hits the water. If you can hear thunder even from miles away, you can be struck by lightning.
- Be extremely cautious about swimming in moving water, such as the ocean or a lake. Rip currents can suddenly pull you out from the shore.
- Learning to swim is a slow process. Don't bite off more than you can chew.
- If you are still a beginner, never try to swim in the "deep end" of a pool, unless you are with an adult that can swim at an excellent level.
Things You'll Need
- Another highly experienced swimmer
- Goggles (optional)
- Nose plug (optional)
- Kick board (optional)
- Proper fitting swim trunks/suit
About This Article
To learn to swim, first understand safety before you get in the water. You should never try to learn to swim on your own. Always make sure an adult, instructor or lifeguard is watching you or helping you learn. Next, get comfortable by learning how to hold your breath. To hold your breath, take a long inhale and wait to exhale. Once you learn to hold your breath, you can try to float. Start by making your body parallel with the surface of the water while lying on your back. Ask an adult to spot you as you find your balance in the water. Try to maintain your parallel posture on your back for a few moments unassisted without submerging your face. Always practice in the shallow end, so you can stand up when you need to. When you’re comfortable floating, grab onto the edge of the pool and practice gently kicking your legs up and down in the water. Try keeping your head face-down in the water for a few seconds while holding your breath, but always come up for air when you feel that you need it. To learn how to swim the freestyle, breast, butterfly, and back strokes, try working with a qualified instructor.
Reader Success Stories
- "I don't know how to swim, and most everyone in my school knows how, even my crush. On Tuesday, our class would be going to McKinley Park, and I think my teacher said that they'd have a swimming test there. I did not wanna look like a fool or drown, so this was helpful."..." more