If you have not yet learned how to float you are unnecessarily denying yourself the opportunity to safely participate in many activities that take place in, on or near the water. Learning to float allows you to rest comfortably in deep water when swimming out over your head or when swimming long distances. If you have learned to float, then diving or jumping off a spring board or dock can easily be followed by a few minutes floating while you catch your breath and decide what you want to do next. If you are in any type of water craft that inadvertently capsizes, you’ll be very glad you learned to float because you possess a survival skill that will keep you alive and calm until help can arrive. Learning to float requires some concentration and a little practice, but once you have learned the skill of floating, it is yours for a lifetime. As with any water skill do not attempt to learn to float or practice floating on your own. Put yourself in the hands of a trained water safety instructor, lifeguard or experienced swimmer.
Surprisingly enough, sometimes the first major step towrds learning how to float on your back is actually for the swimmer to learn how to float face down in what is called a prone floating position. Just as people more often try to move in the water on their stomachs than on their backs, most also feel a greater comfort level on their stomachs which makes the prone float an easier place to begin learning the mechanics of floating.
To accomplish the prone ( on your stomach) float walk into shallow water and kneel down so that after kneeling the water is approximately waist deep. This allows you the safety of remaining in shallow water while experiencing the feelign of somewhat deeper water. Put your arms out directly in front of you, take a deep breath and then drop your head down and forward into the water as you use your feet to push off from the bottom. Do not try to kick or perform an arm stroke. Just hold your prone floating position for a count of about 5 and then stand up. It may take a number of attempts before you get it, but you will know when you do. There is a unique and peaceful feeling that you will experience when you find yourself totally suspended in water. When you have mastered the prone float in shallow water, walk out to waist deep and then chest deep water and repeat the process. Always face toward shallow water when attempting prone floating. This will keep you safe from unexpectedly gliding into deep or uncertain waters.
Knowing how to prone glide not only prepares you for learning most other swimming strokes, it also proves to you that you can float. And if a body can float face down ,common sense tells you that the same body can float face up. In other words you have just proved to yourself that you can, in fact, float. You can increase your readiness to attempt the back float by gaining a comfort level with the back float position first in very shallow water. Start by lying on your back in shallow water at a pool or beach or even in the bath tub. Just remember that such attempts should never be attempted alone. As you put your head back in the water, try to relax, keep your head well back and let your arms go out to your sides, extending straight from the shoulders at right angles to your body with the palms up. Keep your chin up and let your eyes look up toward the sky. Your ears are likely to be under water and you will want to take time to adjust to that rather different feeling. If this position causes discomfort, or if you have an ear problem, invest in a pair of ear plugs. As plugs will also alter your hearing, be sure you get comfortable with this change as well.
After practicing for some time in very shallow water, move out into slightly deeper water where you can sit or kneel on the bottom. Always face out toward deep water with head pointing toward the safety of shallow water. Again put your arms out to the side, put your head way back, arch your back, chin up, eyes looking skyward, take a deep breath and then gently push off from the bottom. It is very likely that on your first few attempts you will get water in your face. You may even find that your head dips under water briefly and you get water in your eyes or even your nose. Try to calm yourself by recalling that you have taken a deep breath and that oxygen held in your lungs very quickly is going to raise your body to the surface. You must continue to keep your head in the proper position with your chin up and eyes looking overhead.
It is helpful to understand that in any swimming activity your head acts as a rudder for the rest of your body turning the body left or right up or down in accordance with its own movements. By keeping your head back, eyes to the sky and chin up, you will draw the rest of your body up as well. It is when you drop your head, chin, eyes or all three that you can adversely effect your body position and disrupt your attempt at holding the floating position.
When you have worked with the floating position successfully in shallow water you are finally ready to move to waist deep water to complete the learning process. Once again face out toward deep water so that when you push off into your floating position you will be headed in toward shore or the shallow end of the pool and safety. Assume the floating position with hands out to your sides, then arch your back, put your head back, take a deep breath and gently push off from the bottom. The more gently you push off from your standing position into your float the less likely you will be to cause your body to submerge. again remember to keep your head way back. It is very tempting to drop your chin and take a look to see how the rest of you is doing but the result of dropping or tucking your chin is to immediately send your feet and then you to the bottom. Chin should stay pointed up, eyes looking up at the sky and try to keep your body relaxed. Sometimes people learning to float will want to move their hands in a sculling motion by their sides feeling that without this they will sink. If this helps you initially to get and hold a comfortable position so be it. Just remember floating is not a stroke, it is meant to offer the swimmer a comfortable stationary position in which the entire body can rest.
Once you have learned to float you will be truly amazed at how quickly you can also acquire swimming strokes on your back that will allow you to move swiftly and efficiently through the water. You can begin to learn the basics for strokes like the elementary backstroke, the back crawl and even the inverted breast stroke. But more important than adding strokes to your collection, when you learn to float you add effectively to the personal safety skills that you pack whenever, wherever and however you come to find yourself in the water. Floating keeps you safe and it may even keep you alive. Do yourself a favor, learn to float.