Whilst beginner swimmers often focus on staying afloat, swimming under water is a very useful skill. Being able to swim under water is needed for lifesaving, casualty rescue and retrieval of objects that have sunk. As a recreational activity, swimming under water can feel very relaxing. It is as close as we are likely to get to feeling weightless and being able to explore an underwater world is a unique experience. Where a beginner swimmer often feels anxious in deep water, a swimmer who knows how to sink and resurface is likely to feel more confident and in control. A whole variety of water sports require strong under water skills. For example, surfers may need to hold their breath for a long time if they get stuck under a wave. Artistic swimmers spend a long time under water and need good breath control. SCUBA divers will need to know how to manoeuvre themselves under water in different directions and be confident to dive to depth.
Skills that help to improve Swimming Under Water:
- Confidence to put the face in the water
- Blowing bubbles
- Butterfly (dolphin kick)
Development of Swimming Under Water from Beginner to Advanced:
Young children and beginner swimmers do not need to be in deep water to experience the under water world. Just gaining confidence to put the face in the water is a great start. Sinking toys can provide motivation to encourage swimmers to go further under water and children can work on collecting sinkers from incremental steps. Some swimmers are naturally very buoyant and will find sinking under water surprisingly difficult. Whilst this can be reassuring for nervous swimmers who worry about sinking, it can be frustrating if you are trying to submerge! There are many different methods of getting to the bottom of the pool, from blowing bubbles to using a push and glide, a surface dive, upward sculling or simply swimming down using a breaststroke-type arm pull. At a beginner level, being able to get to the bottom of the pool (in shallow water) and resurface is a good start.
When swimmers have understood the basic principles of floating and sinking, they can work on improving control. Being able to submerge using a variety of methods (sculling, swimming, push & glide and surface dives) and doing so neatly and powerfully are good targets. The more a swimmer practices under water swimming, they find that they can hold their breath for longer and can swim further or deeper under water. As swimmers improve their skill, they can aim to pick up more sinkers in one go, swim through hoops or submerge in deeper water. Learning how to manoeuvre in different directions under water is a useful skill to develop.
At an advanced level, swimmers can aim to improve their under water swimming distance. This is a component of future competitive swimming as a racing start and turn incorporate a long distance of underwater dolphin kicks. Swimmers can also branch out into a variety of water sports that utilise under water swimming skills such as surfing, SCUBA, freediving, snorkelling and artistic swimming.
Skill-specific Hazards for Swimming Under Water:
Besides the general inherent dangers involved with water-based activities, Swimming Under Water has its own specific risks:
- Swimming under water should only be practiced under the supervision of a competent adult who is able to safely retrieve a swimmer from the bottom of the pool. Even strong swimmers may find it difficult to rescue someone from the bottom of a deep pool.
- Holding the breath for long periods of time or excessive practice of under water swimming can lead to unexpected fainting. Swimmers should limit the time they spend practicing under water swimming and should alternate practice with activities where they are able to recover their breath. It is helpful to have a buddy or spotter who can alert a lifeguard if a swimmer passes out under water.
- Swimmers should avoid hyperventilating in order to trick the body into being able to hold the breath for longer. This can lead to unexpected fainting.
- Young children’s ears are susceptible to pressure damage when swimming to the bottom of a deep pool.
- Swimmers should not swim into or under objects which can trap or disorientate them. Swimming into under water caves, submerged boat wrecks or even under poolside furniture such as water slides and seating can prevent a swimmer from resurfacing.
- Tie up long hair or wear a swim cap. Long hair can become tangled in pool drains and vents, trapping the swimmer under water.
- Children can easily become so focused on collecting sinkers or completing an underwater challenge that they run out of breath before they have time to resurface. Sometimes, children are unable to resurface without help yet will not look like they are in distress. A supervising adult should help a child to resurface if they have been under water for 5 seconds if they are uncertain about the child’s under water abilities.
- SCUBA divers often wear heavy weights to help them sink. This is not necessary for general pool swimmers, however anyone choosing to use weights to help them sink should ensure that they can be easily jettisoned in an emergency.