They say that it takes 21 days to form a good habit. Unfortunately, it takes just as little time to form a bad one.
Although floating about in water may not be the most natural of activities for us two-footed humans to practice, we have nevertheless managed to identify some efficient techniques for navigating this unfamiliar element faster and faster.
Get started on mastering these techniques by avoiding these 6 most common beginner swimming mistakes.
Lifting the head too high
One of the most common beginner swimming mistakes starts right at the head. Although you may feel inclined to lift your head out of the water to look in front of you, this turtle-style swimming will throw your alignment out of order and slow you down significantly.
Even though it may feel like a natural reflex to look in front of you to see where you are going, raising your head too high out of the water will both throw you out of alignment and slow you down. By straining your head up, your lower body is pushed down into the water which in turn builds up more resistance.
To fight the urge to jerk your head out left and right, try to concentrate on keeping your head face down so as to always have the bottom of the pool to look at. When coming up for air, try to maintain your head level with the surface of the water and instead rotate your face to the side to breathe in.
Beginner swimmers who feel like they are going too slow or simply not moving often have a tendency to start rushing their strokes – all but in vain.
This often results in an unfinished stroke which fails to make the most out of the movement and the effort they are putting into it. Instead of shortening your strokes, try to keep your arms fully extended from the start to the end of each stroke.
Remember that you do not have to move more quickly in order to swim more quickly. Good technique should allow you to take the time to finish every stroke completely and hence, be more efficient at converting the energy you are spending.
To keep track of your strokes, try counting the average number of full strokes you need to complete one lap and use that number as a reference to check yourself as you start swimming longer distances. Although you will likely find yourself shortening your strokes the longer you swim for and the more tired you get, it is certainly one of the most important things to be conscious of when one first learns how to swim.
Kicking too much or too little
Although all kicks may look like the same trail of splashes from the outside of the pool, you will quickly realise that it is a different story once you are actually in the water. Whilst you do not need great technique to splatter about in a pool, you certainly need it if you want to start swimming laps. You will struggle to move fast, if at all, without the correct kick. If you are tiring yourself out just to get to the other end of the pool, then chances are that you either have a weak kick or an over-kick – or both.
As it often does, quality trumps quantity when it comes to your kicking technique. The key things to keep in mind are the amplitude, flexibility and coordination of your kicks. Kicking too far out behind your back will likely throw your body out of balance. On the other hand, weak kicks will often have you trying to overcompensate and disrupt your rhythm.
As you increase your kicking power, try to maintain a certain flexibility in your ankles to avoid cramping and to promote a more continuous movement. This will help you achieve the final point, which is coordination. A kick is nothing without its stroke, and the timing between them should be led and coordinated by your breathing cycle.
Holding your breath
Swimming is all about breathing. One of the first exercises that beginners are initiated to is dipping their heads underwater and holding their breath. Many people feel enticed to take a big gulp of air and hold it tight until they resurface. Although this technique will work just fine if you are standing in place at the shallow end of the pool, it will not do you much good once you actually start swimming laps.
Practice inhaling deeply through the mouth and exhaling slowly through your nose once you are underwater. Repeat this a few times until you find a breathing rhythm you can keep up. You should try to maintain a steady breathing cycle as you transition in and out of the water to train yourself out of the instinct of simply holding your breath.
Lack of body rotation
Remember when we told you that you should try to keep your head down and stay level with the water? Well, from a purely physical standpoint, the straighter your body is, the less resistance you create and therefore the quicker you can glide through the water. Everything sounds good up to here; the issue arises from a lack of mobility. This is often referred to as ‘swimming flat’.
Ideally, you should aim to rotate your body with every stroke, rolling your hips from one side to the other as you extend the arm on each side. This movement will help your coordination and become increasingly more naturally to you as you find a steady rhythm between your strokes, kicks and breathing.
Stiff toes and ankles
This isn’t The Nutcracker, there is no need to point your toes. Stiff toes should in fact be avoided when swimming as this will only lock up your ankles and lead to choppy kicks and calf cramps.
If your feet are in need of a flexibility boost, take some time to warm up your ankles and toes with a few stretches before jumping into the pool. Once you are in the water, remember to keep your toes loose and let your legs guide your movement.
Need help improving your swimming technique?
As a beginner, you are likely to have experienced one if not all of these common mistakes. Maybe a friend told you about one, or you just noticed one whilst reading this article; either way, taking note of the swimming mistakes you are making is the first step to becoming a better swimmer.
Applying these tips when you are chin-deep in water is the next challenge.
A private swimming instructor can help you identify such common beginner swimming mistakes and offer you tailored advice and guidance on how to fix them. With the sea being within two hours’ reach of London, there is no excuse as to why you should miss out on next summer’s trip to the beach. With years of experience teaching beginners to overcome these same six common mistakes, Adam from Going Swimmingly London is here to help you do the same.