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Techniques in swimming
Swimming is a form of exercise that burns a lot of calories, increases your cardiovascular fitness levels, improves your muscular endurance and strength, does not impact the joints due to the water supporting your weight, refreshes and cools you in hot weather, and which can be done safely even in old age. There is historical evidence of human beings swimming since millennia. For instance, there are cave drawings dating from the Stone Age, depicting people swimming. Swimming is also mentioned in the Bible as well as in the Greek epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, which date back 1500-2000 years. Four swimmers performing the crawl have also been shown in ancient clay seals of Egypt, dating from 4000 BC. In fact, humans are born with the inherent ability to swim. Some families are even befriending the idea of giving their babies swimming lessons!

The safety of such an exercise cannot be assured. However, as far as older children or adults are concerned, swimming is a great way to exercise, to spend leisurely time, and also to pursue as a competitive sport. Whatever may be the reason for taking up swimming, it is important to learn the techniques involved in the various strokes in order to be able to perform it well.

There are four basic stokes: the crawl, also known as freestyle; the backstroke; the breaststroke; and the butterfly. Of these, the butterfly and the breaststroke are harder to learn compared to the crawl and backstroke.

The Crawl, or Freestyle

Amongst all the strokes, the crawl is the most popular, and beginners find it the easiest to learn. The technique involved in this stroke is pretty simple. You float on your belly in the water, and propel yourself by rotating your arms in a windmill motion, and kick your legs in a fluttering motion. The hardest part of this technique is the coordination of the breathing while performing the strokes, since the face remains in the water almost all the time.

The Crawl Swimming Technique
  • The Arm Strokes
  • The arms should be moved alternatively, like a rotating windmill.
  • In order to swim in a straight line, each arm should be extended to full reach and pulled with equal force through the water.
  • When under the water, the arms should be moved to form an 'S' pattern.
  • During recovery, while the hands should be cupped, the hand and the wrist should be relaxed.
  • The Leg Movements
  • The legs are kicked alternatively, in a fluttering motion.
  • The knees should be bent slightly.
  • The ankles and feet should be relaxed. If kept stiff, it may result in a cramp in the foot.
  • For maximum propulsion, the downward kicking motion should be emphasized.
  • How to Breathe
  • The stroke is begun by raising one arm, and as the shoulder is raised, the head should be turned to the side to take a breath.
  • The head should be turned just enough so that the nose comes off the water in order to breathe.
  • The head should not be lifted off the water since that slows down the speed of the propulsion.
  • Take a single deep breath, or several breaths, as required, and then turn the head back into the water and exhale through the mouth and nose.
  • Coordinating with the stroke of the other arm, turn the head to the opposite side, and repeat the same process.
The Backstroke

The backstroke is akin to the crawl, except that you float on your back in the water. The arms are moved in a similar alternating windmill motion, and the legs a kicked in a similarly fluttering motion. The two basic techniques of a correct backstroke are: One, that the arms are moved with equal force, or else you will find yourself swimming off towards one side; Two, that the body should be rolled from one side to the other, so that the arms extend to their utmost reach, to propel you by catching enough water.

The Backstroke Swimming Technique
  • The Arm Strokes
  • The arms should be moved alternatively, in a windmill pattern of movement, as they are rotated.
  • The hands should be cupped, and when it comes out of the water, the thumb should come out first.
  • When under the water, the arms should be moved to form an 'S' pattern.
  • The Leg Movements
  • Like in the crawl, the legs are kicked in a fluttering motion, alternatively.
  • The knees are bent slightly.
  • The ankles and feet should be relaxed.
  • However, unlike the crawl, for maximum propulsion, the upward kicking motion should be emphasized.
  • How to Breathe
  • The head should be kept facing up.
  • Since the head is out of the water all the time, the breathing need not be as coordinated with the strokes of the arms or legs compared to other swimming strokes. Hence, you can devise a pattern of breathing that you find most comfortable.
The Breaststroke

Intricate timing is involved in the breaststroke. As a matter of fact, missing even a single stroke can disqualify you in a swimming competition. This technique involves a pattern wherein the body bobs upwards and downwards as you propel yourself forward in the water. The breaststroke is a difficult technique, and should not be chosen if you are just beginning to learn swimming. Basically, this stroke involves pulling your arms through the water, as you bob up and breathe, and then kicking with your legs as you bob down and glide forward. The arm pulling and the leg kicking are done alternatively.

The Breaststroke Swimming Technique
  • The Arm Strokes
  • The arms should be kept overhead when you start the stroke.
  • Then the arms should be brought towards the chest, pulling on the water.
  • The hands should be kept cupped.
  • Take the arms back to the starting position.
  • The Leg Movements
  • The knees should be brought up to the chest.
  • Then the legs should be thrust straight and backwards.
  • The legs should be snapped together in order to push the water as well as propel you forward, akin to a frog kick.
  • How to Breathe
  • A breath should be taken each time an arm-stroke is made.
  • As you complete one arm stroke, your head rises above the water. This is when you should inhale.
  • As your head dips into the water again, hold your breath.
  • When you resurface, exhale, and then inhale again.
The Butterfly Stroke

Similar to the breaststroke, the butterfly is also a difficult swimming technique, and not advocated for beginning learners, since it involves a fair amount of strength as well as precise timing. While performing this stroke, the legs should be moved together akin to the movements of a dolphin's tail, the arms should also be moved together, pushing the water downwards and then backwards, while the torso moves forward in an undulating manner.

The Butterfly Swimming Technique
  • The Arm Strokes
  • The arms should be moved together, pulling through the water, while the hands are kept cupped.
  • The palms should be faced outwards and pressed in a downward as well as outward movement.
  • The stroke is completed by swinging the arms forward in a sweeping movement while they are above the water.
  • The Leg Movements
  • The knees should be kept together and slightly bent.
  • Then the knees should be straightened, making a downward thrusting movement, while the feet are whipped downwards.
  • For each arm stroke two kicking movements should be performed.
  • How to Breathe
  • Breathing is similar to that in the breaststroke.
  • A breath should be taken at the culmination of each stroke of the arms.

Swimming is indeed a wonderful way to tone your body and to especially improve endurance and cardiovascular stamina. The best part, however, is the fact that you can learn to swim at any age! The best way to get rid of aquaphobia is to in fact get in the water and learn its ways. As paradoxical as it may sound, it is true! However, make sure you are not alone the first time you venture into the water for a swim. Once you learn how to swim, you will realize it is indeed one of the best ways to relax... and lose weight too!