Floating is easy, right? Either something floats or it sinks. This might seem like common knowledge, but what we have learned teaching more than 200,000 people how to swim is that there is more to floating – and specifically floating up – than meets the eye.
That’s why Foss Swim School identifies “Float Up” as one of the key milestones on the Swim Path® for our Learn-to-Swim progression, just as important as becoming acclimated to the water and mastering strokes.
Practice and Games: How a swimmer learns to Float Up
That’s not to say we spend weeks and weeks just floating in the water, of course. But effective floating and confident mastery of the skills involved does take time and practice, so activities and lessons that include floating and float-control skills are woven into what we teach students based on their age and ability.
Float Up skills are a focus in later Backfloat Baby levels and the Little, Middle, and Big 1 levels. Some Float Up activities are also included in levels Little 2 and Little 3 – younger students take more time to truly master a skill and need to learn in smaller doses.
These activities build a swimmer’s confidence to float on their front or back. First, with a little support, and then gradually on their own, students learn how to control where their body is in the water and how to keep it there – key elements when learning to swim.
Things students learn when they “Float Up” at Foss Swim School
Here are some of the key elements of floating up:
- Learning to trust buoyancy: Humans do float naturally, of course, thanks to the air in our lungs. Natural buoyancy alone isn’t enough to keep the entire head above water when motionless, but there is a bit of buoyancy to work with. The first thing students need to learn is to feel for and rely on the point where their body naturally stops sinking. Sinking can be a scary feeling, so knowing it will stop helps a brand-new swimming student learn not to worry so they can focus on other elements.
- Holding air: These lessons involve learning how to take in, hold and release air underwater. Since nostrils point downward, keeping the face forward so water can’t enter is important. Swimmers also shouldn’t look up to breathe through their mouth – water pressure will force air up from their lungs, lowering buoyancy.
- Taking and releasing breath: Skills that involve timing when to take a breath and when to release it are critical to floating and swimming strokes. An instinct is to try and release breath above water, but since most strokes give swimmers just a moment above water at a time, this doesn’t work. We teach students to hum water out below the surface, so their moment above water can be spent breathing in.
- Managing center of gravity: The human body is less buoyant from the waist down than from the waist up. The lungs sit high in the body, while the pelvis and legs together are relatively dense and extend out like a lever. This tends to cause people to slowly rotate into a head-up position when floating. Teachers show students how to counteract that by using their muscles to try and lift their hips higher in the water than their chest, changing their center of gravity in a way that allows floating on their front or back.
- Propulsive hands and feet: Small motions with the hands and feet then augment natural buoyancy to keep the swimmer more or less level and on the surface. Adding just a little upward motion to a slightly buoyant body gives a swimmer just a few extra inches above the water, enough to choose when to breathe and when to submerge.
- Floating up while swimming: Finally, these floating skills are applied when learning strokes. If you look at a competitive swimmer doing the freestyle, you’ll see the head is almost completely underwater most of the time, the hips are high and they are essentially swimming downhill. In the butterfly and breaststroke, the swimmer’s head undulates below and above the water – each time they go under, they manage buoyancy and add a push with their hands and feet to their natural “float” back to the surface, giving them the time to take a breath.
Reaching the Float Up milestone and moving to the next stage
Like every part of our Learn to Swim progression, we teach floating deliberately and progressively. Students don’t need to understand physics to know it when they feel it. By working with the natural inclinations of their bodies, any student can learn to float – and swim – well.
Once a student has mastered floating, they are ready to take the next step: learning how to Flip to Breathe, which is where we start to introduce propulsive motions that allow a swimmer to move through the water deliberately and with growing confidence. Flip to Breathe takes the core lessons learned while floating and learning to control breath, turning them into true swimming!