Interesting to see that the chimpanzees here swim with their faces both in and out of the water. I find with many people I teach that it is the fear or reluctance to put the face in the water that stops them from swimming efficiently and effectively.
From A la Recherche du Temps Perdu by Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922
In this quotation Proust is talking metaphorically but the more I teach swimming the more I understand that letting go and trusting the water is the most important aspect of learning to swim. However it is probably also the most difficult thing to learn. It is certainly the most difficult thing to teach because it has to come from inside. It takes experience and understanding of the body in the water to be able to allow oneself to float and glide freely. You have to let the water support you, if you try to hold on to the water, even a little bit, it won’t work. And this I have realised is the biggest difference between a swimmer and a non-swimmer. A swimmer knows, instinctively and through practice, how to let the water support them, a non-swimmer doesn’t. Fear makes us try to hold on, and so fear of the water can stop someone being able to swim, even if, as is sometimes the case, they understand the technique perfectly.
Sports journalist Sam Petherick interviewed me about my approach to teaching swimming. Listen to the clip here. http://
I learned to swim butterfly using the Shaw Method and from being completely unable to swim this stroke I can now manage several lengths.
Remember the key part of any stroke is the glide. In butterfly you glide as you bring your arms over your head and your body is moving forward and slightly upwards through the water.
- the key to a good smooth butterfly is the undulation
- leading from the head, and keeping the feet together you need to ripple through the water using a dolphin kick
- the ratio of kicks to arm movements is two to one, so two kicks to one arm movement
- count one, two and on the second kick open the arms out slowly, like unfolding your wings and bring them forwards together in front of you
- let your head follow the movement of your arms and body
- breathe every other stroke
- swim slowly and evenly and you will soon build up stamina and rhythm.
One of the most common requests I get is from people who can swim but can’t swim front crawl, or think they can’t. In fact front crawl is an easy, relaxing and calming stroke if done proplerly. I often see people, I am afraid to say, especially men, swimming a wild thrashing kind of front crawl. They are using a lot of energy, making a lot of splash, but not travelling very fast. Or they may be able to travel fast for a short while and then collapse exhausted at the end of a length. This is inefficient and unnecessary.
As with all swimming strokes the key is to let the water do most of the work. First of all you must find a good balance in the water. A gentle leg kick is all you need. In fact it is perfectly possible to swim a reasonable front crawl without kicking your legs at all. You should kick from the hips, not the knees and the kick should be gentle, a flutter rather than a big scissor kick.
Look straight down at floor of the pool, keep your neck long.
As you reach forward with each stroke let your body rotate keeping the head still.
Feel the glide on each stroke, listen to the water.
Roll out to breathe, letting your head turn to the side. Don’t lift the head. Imagine you are breathing from your core. Get the feeling of turning your lungs to the air, not your head.
Try to make sure your left arm stays on the left side of your body, and the right arm stays on the right side. Don’t let your arms cross over in front of you.
Breathe out gently under the water so that you are ready to breathe in as you turn.
Keep the stroke slow, steady and relaxed. As your stroke becomes more efficient you will get faster.
Feel the rhythm of the stroke. Sing to yourself if it helps.
I trained with Steven Shaw at Art of Swimming as a Shaw Method teacher at the same time as I was studying for my Amateur Swimming Association level two qualification. Shaw Method is a gentle approach to swimming without strain or stress. It is based on the Alexander Technique
This is what Steven Shaw’s company The Art of Swimming says about the Shaw Method.
Shaw Method applies the principles of Alexander Technique to swimming. Alexander Technique will teach you to use your body and mind without strain. Put simply, this is what Shaw Method also seeks to achieve, in the water.
Shaw Method teaches greater body awareness, strengthens the relationship between mind and body, promotes freedom of movement, and helps to prevent strain and injury.
I loved the training it was innovative and inspirational. It transformed my own swimming and now when I am swimming in the people often comment on the smoothness and ease of my stroke. I also learned to swim butterfly for the first time in my life. I discovered that using the Shaw Method approach butterfly can be a smooth elegant relaxing stroke.