During warm weather there is a mass exodus for pools, beaches and lakes. Many seem to get enjoyment from swimming. But is there real value in knowing how to swim? Can swimming benefit you?
Swimming is obviously a pleasurable form of relaxation. But it is also a very healthful activity. Some physicians prescribe it as a treatment and prevention of many mental and physical disorders.
Numerous Benefits of Swimming
One malady that swimming sometimes improves is varicose veins. Movement in the water massages and tightens them, giving veins a firmer tone. In fact, every external part of the body receives massage from the water as the swimmer moves along. Those troubled by sleeplessness often are helped by swimming, their nerves soothed by the effects of the water.
But particularly beneficial is the excellent exercise. Practically every muscle of the body is involved in the coordinated movements of a swimmer. Fine muscle tone can be developed. Circulation is often improved, and so is the function of kidneys, bowels and other internal organs.
Swimming also can be of help in improving the figure. The up and down kicking action serves to firm hips and thighs, and in time it can be a factor in trimming the waistline. The overarm movements strengthen the shoulder and back muscles, and help posture. In some cases regular swimming is even noted to improve the complexion, youngsters often having their acne disappear.
But knowing how to swim can prove of even greater value. It may save your life. Thousands of persons drown each year, some 7,000 in the United States and Canada alone. And about half of the drownings occur within only twenty feet of safety! If only persons could swim, or swim better, many could save their lives in an emergency.
Not a Natural Skill
People do not naturally know how to swim, as do fish, frogs and other animals. Humans must learn to swim. But it is a skill that can be mastered without great difficulty.
Swimming is simply moving the arms and legs in such a way as to propel the body through the water. There are various methods of doing this. Some are designed for speed, while others are better for traveling long distances without tiring. It is best to learn more than one method. Not only does this provide more enjoyment and better exercise, but it may save your life.
Dog Paddle and Crawl
Names have been given to various swimming methods or strokes. The easiest to learn is the so-called dog paddle, or human stroke. It is natural for humans, resembling the position of the body and the movement of the arms and legs of an infant crawling about on land. Breathing is not a problem, for the head can be held out of the water. Very young children often learn this stroke quickly, sometimes swimming quite a distance at two years of age.
But the dog paddle is slow and rather ungraceful. So most swimmers abandon it and try to learn the crawl, the fastest of all strokes. In about 1900 an Australian, Richard Cavill, reportedly learned it from the son of a Solomon Islands planter. Later investigations revealed that islanders had been using it for as long as natives could remember.
Old swimming records were broken with the introduction of the crawl. And with improvements in style and emphasis on better conditioning, they continue to be broken at a fantastic rate. Girls now swim the 400- to 1,500-meter distances faster than men did just fifteen years ago. The women’s world record of 17 minutes and 19.9 seconds for 1,500 meters (nearly a mile) is over 32 seconds faster than the men’s world record in 1956! The men’s record for 1,500 meters is now 16 minutes and 4.5 seconds, a fairly rapid walking speed!
But the problem is that the crawl is hard to master. Both arms are alternately brought out of the water in an overarm stroke. But many persons do not do it right. They barely bend their elbows as they bring them out of the water, and they swing their arms forward in a wide arc. This tends to throw their hips and legs out of line and cause them to wiggle, interfering with correct kicking. The legs should be held almost straight, and moved up and down from the hips in a powerful flutter kick, with the heels just coming above the water. The ankles should be relaxed.
Correct breathing is especially hard to master, and yet it is absolutely essential if one is to swim very far. As the face is regularly rotated to one side, air is quickly sucked in through the corner of the mouth. But many swimmers lift their whole head up to one side or to the front. This drops their body from a proper horizontal position in the water, creating frontal resistance and drag.
A good swimmer keeps his head in the water, and when he rotates his face to the side he actually gets his air below the normal waterline—from the slight trough or pocket that is created as the head cuts through the water. Then, as the face is rotated below the surface, the air is expelled underwater through the nose.
When the arm and leg movements and breathing are correctly synchronized and executed, the crawl stroke is one of effortless precision. It is very graceful. But that simply is not how most persons swim. They struggle in the water. As a result, the majority of those who swim the crawl tire very quickly. The United States Coast Guard estimates that half of all Americans cannot swim fifty feet! So in emergencies they often drown.
Thus for one’s safety it is wise to know other swimming strokes. Strokes that are executed entirely below the water are easier to learn, less tiring to execute, and hence can actually be more enjoyable to swim. But they are particularly valuable because they may enable you to save your life in an emergency.
Valuable Strokes to Know
One of these strokes is the side stroke. When it is learned well, it makes swimming a really enjoyable activity for most persons. Arms need never be lifted from below the water. And because the face is never underwater, there is no breath-control problem. So the swimmer doing this stroke is helped to rest and to take it easier.
In swimming the side stroke, the swimmer lies in the water on his side, with one ear in the water. Beginning with both arms near the chin, the upper arm is pulled straight back and the lower arm is extended forward. At the same moment, the legs are snapped together with a scissors kick. The position is held momentarily for a good glide. Then the hands are brought back again into position near the chin, and the legs are opened for another scissors kick. As you learn to take advantage of the glide, and thus swim more slowly and restfully, you may travel over thirty feet with every ten strokes.
When becoming tired from swimming face down or on the side, it is restful to turn over on the back and use another stroke. De elementary back stroke is an ideal one for this. It permits a real ease of motion in the water. And another advantage is that breathing is done entirely above the surface. This stroke is perhaps the least tiring of them all. It has been used successfully to teach the least gifted nonswimmers to travel over a hundred yards after only a few hours’ instruction.
The swimmer lies on his back in the water. His arms lie along his sides, and his legs are extended straight out. The legs are alternately moved up and down from the hips in an easy flutter kick. The ankles are relaxed. During the kick the toes may just break the surface.
The arm movements are especially easy, requiring a minimum of effort. Both arms are at once brought up to about shoulder level. They are bent at the elbows. Then they are brought rather sharply to the side of the thighs, the hands at all times staying under the surface of the water. Except for this quick movement to the sides, the arms move quite slowly. No more than about six arm strokes should be completed in the space of thirty-five feet.
When persons know these more restful strokes, they not only enjoy swimming more, but are less likely to drown. They know that if they ever get tired and start to weaken, they can turn to a different position in the water and use another stroke.
The important thing if you get into trouble is NOT TO PANIC. Do not fight the water. Keep calm. Even if you become tired and are unable to swim any farther, you can still stay afloat.
Most beginning swimmers think that they must kick their legs and move their arms vigorously to keep from sinking. But this is not true. Try to relax. Most people have natural buoyancy, and will readily stay afloat if panicking is avoided.
Do this: Lie on your back in the water, with your face upward. The water will cover your ears, but your nose and mouth will be above the surface. Spread out your arms and make a slight sculling motion with your hands. Breathe normally. To keep your legs from dropping below the surface, kick them slightly from time to time.
Or another way to stay afloat is to assume a vertical position in the water, but slump forward. Let your arms hang limply from the shoulders. It may surprise you, but most people will not sink. Even without leg or arm movements, your body will still float with your head a little below the surface. But what can you do when you need air after a quarter minute or so?
Lift your head, exhaling underwater through your nose. As you do this, bring your legs up and execute a scissors kick, pushing the water downward with the bottoms of your feet. Også, cross your arms in front of your head in a relaxed easy manner. Your face will be lifted out of the water, allowing you to draw a breath of air.
After getting air, drop your head in the water again, face down, and bring your arms to your sides. Relax until you need air again, and then repeat the procedure, One severely burned man with an arm broken stayed afloat for five hours using this method. He was finally rescued.
Take Precautions, Enjoy the Benefits of Swimming
Swimming can offer many benefits in the form of fun, relaxation and improved health. It is good to know the restful strokes that can save your life and increase your enjoyment of the water. But, at the same time, never become overconfident, taking chances in the water or ignoring safety rules.
Never swim right after a meal. It could result in painful stomach cramps, which have caused even excellent swimmers to drown. Do not swim alone. Be with someone who can help in an emergency. Never leave a small child alone in or near the water. They can drown without even a sound. If you go out on a boat, always wear a life jacket. It can save your life in an emergency. Never dive or jump into strange waters. Investigate them first, making certain they are sufficiently deep and free of hidden rocks or timbers.
Take precautions. Reflect on this sobering fact: Drownings are the second-largest cause of accidental deaths in the United States. Enjoy the benefits of swimming, but do not let your enjoyment be marred by tragedy.
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