How To Be A Better Swimmer


So, you think you know how to swim. 

You probably do – according to a recent Red Cross survey in 2014, nearly half the population of the United States swims regularly, with the core skills needed to be safe in the water.

how to be a better swimmer

This is called “water competency”, and involves the following qualifications:

“…Stepping into water over one’s head, returning to the surface to tread water or float for one minute, circling around and identifying an exit, swimming 25 yards to that point, and then exiting the water.”

The rest of the population, which amounts to almost half the people in America, are unable to do these things.

how to be a better swimmerHow about you?  You may think you are a good swimmer, but do you know how to swim well?  

Does more water end up around the pool than in it, after you’ve been swimming? 

Do you look more like an electric eggbeater someone threw in the water (bad idea), rather than champion swimmers Michael Phelps or Katinka Hosszu? 

learning how to swim

Do eight-year-olds beat you to the other side of the pool with ease, and sit there giggling as you huff and puff, nearly spending all your energy, and nearly drowning in the process?  

Can you you even make it to the other side of the pool?  After you give the butterfly your best shot, do observers compliment your sidestroke? 

Even if some of us really can’t swim exactly like some of our water-friendly amigos (fish, frogs, polar bears, etc.), you can clean up your act a little bit, and lessen the chance of accidents in the water. 

The fact is, that even the best swimmers in the world have to stay in shape, and practice their moves, so maybe it’s time to learn a few of the right moves, when it comes to swimming.

Swimming Like A Fish

backstroke2Think of swimming as a performing art, like dance.  Aim for a smooth, graceful, rhythmic, fluid motion, with no wasted effort. 

Some techniques require more energy from your arms than your legs, or vice versa, but, overall, you always want to think about conserving some of your energy in the water.

how to become a better swimmer

Don’t fight the water, let its buoyancy work for you, so you can devote your energy to swimming through water, rather than trying to stay on top of it.  The less splashing, the better. 

In general, your body position should be elongated and streamlined.  The water should be about hairline level, except when your head emerges to exhale during some strokes. 

How To Do The Breast Stroke

Here’s a quick video on how to do the breast stroke.  It has some great tips, and focuses on your kick technique, which will lead to better swimming technique overall. 

The video will explain how to improve breast stroke technique further (such as using good kick technique), but one thing it mentions, is using a flutter board in order to practice your stroke, and that’s always a good idea for beginners, who aren’t yet the strongest of swimmers.

How To Breathe When Swimming


In terms of how you should breathe while swimming, it’s going to depend on the type of stroke you are doing, but, in general, your breathing should be rhythmic and constant; never labored. 

You don’t want to find yourself ever gasping for breath – try to inhale and exhale fully through your nose and mouth.  

Exhaling through your nose, is especially important for those strokes that require your head to be underwater, to prevent water from entering your nose.

As the following video will show, there are certain strokes that make breathing a little easier.  For instance, the backstroke allows you to keep your head out of the water most of the time, and so breathing while performing this type of stroke is a lot easier. 

For other strokes, you will need to find a rhythm, as your head will be going in and out of the water with more frequency.

In the crawl stroke (aka the front crawl), many people persist in practicing “Coney Island Breathing” – the head stays above the water, and whips from side to side during each arm stroke. 

This is a very inefficient, tiring technique. 

Your head should pivot on your neck to the most comfortable side, at the point at which that arm is down, and out of the way.

Power Ratios For Different Swimming Strokes

how to be a better swimmer

This next tip should shock most people: in most strokes, more power comes from the arms than from the legs. 

In the front crawl stroke, the ratio is 80 percent arms and 20 percent legs; in backstroke it’s 75:25; the butterfly, 70:30; in breaststroke and sidestroke, 50:50. 

Arms are a more efficient source of power, too, especially in the long run, because leg muscles are larger, and require more oxygen and energy. 

Your kicking should utilize the large muscles of the thigh and hip. 

For the flutter kick, used in the crawl and backstroke, just make the surface of the water “boil”. 

Kicking water high into the air – Old Faithful style – is useless.  Legs should be straight, but relaxed – not locked.  

Flex your ankles easily on the upbeat, and point your feet on the downbeat, to make the most of the resultant whipping action.  

And now…for a little swimming poem!

learning to swim

Come on in
The water’s fine.
I’ll give you
Till I count to nine.
If you’re not
In by then,
Guess I’ll have to
Count to ten.

How To Swim In The Ocean

swimming in the ocean how to

The incessant barrage of waves rolling toward you, means there’s usually never a dull moment in ocean swimming, unless of course you head out when there’s no sign of a breeze, and the water is relatively calm. 

Jumping over, diving through, and riding with the sea swells, make for exhilarating sport.  

Being slapped in the face or churned into mincemeat doesn’t, but you can accentuate the positive, and darn near eliminate the negative, with a little practice, timing, and luck. 

swimming in the ocean

Though the ocean may sometimes prove to be too rough, or dangerous, for even the strong swimmer (check with a lifeguard or other swimmers), challenging a moderately feisty surf, is the most alluring element for many a beach goer. 

If you’re a novice or a weak swimmer, you should, however, begin the baptism on a day (and at the beach) when the surf is relatively gentle.  

Out Past The Breakers

swimming in the waves

The first step is to get you past the breakers. 

Wade out slowly, and as a wave comes toward you, turn sideways to offer it the least amount of body surface.

Also, bend your knees, so you can give with the wave, and absorb the shock. 

Next, jump when the wave hits you, raising your arms above your head and screaming “AAGGHH” usually helps.

Alternate walking and jumping, until you get past the breakers.  This usually happens just at the point at which the water is over your head, so start treading.

Now face each wave, and allow it to lift you up ( a delirious sensation, and a natural progression from jumping). 

playing in the ocean

You can also rise up with the wave sideways, or facing toward the shore.  Though the waves usually break at about the same place, they may not.  If it breaks early, you can dive through.

Or you can cannonball through the wave if it breaks early, and it’s too forceful to dive through. 

In between waves, relax and tread or swim; you’ll find the salinity makes you more buoyant than fresh water.  Keep on the lookout for the next wave.  

To get back to shore in one piece, repeat the wading/jumping process, gradually making your way to shallow water. 

Once you get to a certain point, run like crazy, and hope the breakers don’t catch you.  

Here is a video showing some basic open water swimming tips and techniques. 

“Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish.” – Daniel Webster

About the author: Garth loves camping under the stars with his Arb III, scuba diving, snorkeling, and also tanning. His favourite snorkel spots include Alanya (Turkey), Koh Rong (Cambodia), and Maui (Hawaii, USA). He also loves to visit the cenotes in Mexico and he recommends everyone reads the book, “The Soul of an Octopus”, because, he says “they are sensitive, just like me”.