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Preliminary Exercises In Swimming

Source: The Book Of Sports
Category: SWIMMING.

We have shown that much of the art of swimming depends upon having
confidence, and that that confidence is speedily dissipated upon the
swimmer coming in contact with the water. Besides this, a great deal in
the art of swimming depends upon the degree of ease with which the
swimmer can use his hands and feet. Now this sort of exercise may in
part be acquired on land, and it would be of great usefulness to the
learner were he to enter upon some preliminary practice which would give
him the use of his hands and feet, in the manner required in swimming.
To do this, he should provide himself with two ropes, which should be
fastened up in the manner of two swings, at about sixteen inches apart
from each other, and one a little higher than the other; these should be
joined together with two or three cords passing from the one to the
other, and on the rack thus made, a pillow or cushion should be placed;
upon this, the learner will throw himself on his breast, as upon the
water, and supporting himself in this position, and having his hands and
feet perfectly at liberty, he will move them to and fro in the same
manner as in swimming; this he should repeat several times a day, until
he finds that he has got a complete mastery over the action required.
The head must be drawn back, the chin raised, the fingers must be kept
close, and the hands slightly concave on the inside,--they must be
struck out in a line with the breast; the legs must then be drawn up and
struck out, not downwards, however, but _behind_, in such a manner,
that they may have a good hold upon the water. These directions being
followed for a few days, will give the learner so much assistance, that
when he enters the water he will find little more requisite than
calmness and confidence in striking out.

In proceeding to take water, the first thing the youth should do, is to
make himself thoroughly convinced that the spot is safe, that there are
no holes in it, that no weeds are at the bottom, that it does not
contain any stones likely to cut the feet. Ho must also be cautious that
he does not enter a stream whose eddy sweeps round a projecting point,
or hollow; the bank should slope off gradually, so that he may proceed
for ten or twelve yards from the shore, before the water rises to the
level of his armpits. With regard to the use of bladders and corks,
although it may perhaps be better to learn to keep ourselves afloat
without their aid, yet they may be used with advantage, if used
sparingly. The pupil, in using them, places his breast across the rope
which unites them, so that when he lays himself over them in the water,
they float above him, and thus assist in buoying him up; thus sustained,
he strikes out and propels himself with his hands and feet. In striking
out when in the water, the fingers are to be perfectly straight, and the
thumb kept close to the hand; the hands are then to be brought forward,
palm to palm, and to be thrust out in a direction on a level with the
chin; when at their fullest reach, they are to be parted and swept
slowly and regularly with the palms in a horizontal position, the full
stretch of the arms backwards, they are then brought up from the hips
and struck out forward, as before. While the hands are near the hips, is
the time for the legs to perform their part; they are to be drawn up as
near to the body as possible, and the soles of the feet struck against
the water with moderate force, immediately the hands are again thrust
forward. Now all this is very easily performed with a little practice,
but will be very difficult if the learner have not coolness and
self-possession. A slow long stroke, the hand thrust forward with
energy, and the legs brought up and struck out with a regular and even
stroke, is the whole art of simple swimming. The swimmer must, however,
be careful to draw his breath at the time when his hands are descending
towards his hips; if he attempt it when he strikes out his legs, his
head will partially sink, and his mouth will fill with water. The breath
should accordingly be expired while the body is sent forward by the
action of the legs.

The young swimmer will find much use in having a plank, ten feet long,
two inches thick, and a foot broad, which he may take hold of at one of
its ends, and his body being thus supported he will perfect himself in
the action of the legs, and will, by striking them out, drive the plank
before him: he must, however, take care to hold it fast, for if he
should let go his hold, he will find himself sinking over head and ears
in the water. A rope may also be so fixed as to reach over the water, by
which the swimmer may support himself while learning to strike out with
his legs; but he should be careful always in performing this exercise,
to keep his legs near the surface, as, if the legs drop down, he will
make very little way in the water. One of the best kinds of assistance,
however, the young swimmer can have, is the hand of some one who is
willing to teach him, and is superior to any other methods for very
young swimmers. If a grown person will take the trouble to take the
little learner out with him till he is breast high in the water, and
sustain him with one hand under the breast, and occasionally hold him up
by the chin, at the same time directing and encouraging him, and
occasionally letting him loose that he may support himself by striking
out, the little learner will soon reach that triumphant period when he
floats alone on the water.

After this triumph, however, the young swimmer must be exceedingly
cautious, though he may feel conscious of his own power, he must venture
only a few strokes out of his depth: should he be in a broad river, he
must be careful not to do so where there is a strong curling eddy or
flood: in a small river, the breadth of which is only a few yards, he
may venture across with a few bold and regular strokes; but should he
become flurried and lose his time, he will most assuredly be in danger
of sinking. Let him then obtain such perfect command over his limbs, and
also over himself, that when he ventures out of his depth, he may be
able to keep afloat in the water, pleasantly to himself, and without

A most important branch in art of swimming, is floating, as the swimmer
may frequently rest himself when fatigued, and otherwise engage himself
in the water. To do this, he must turn himself as gently as possible on
the back, put his head back, so that his eyes, mouth, and chin, only,
are above the water, elevate his breast, and inflate his chest as much
as possible: the arms may be brought towards the hips, and the hands
should be paddled in a horizontal kind of sweep, which will sustain the
body. Should the learner wish to swim, he must strike out with his legs,
taking care not to lift his legs too high; in this position the arms may
occasionally be folded across the breast.

To _tread water_, the legs must be suffered to drop in the water till
the swimmer finds himself upright, he then treads downwards with his
feet, occasionally paddling with the palms of his hands. The swimmer,
when long in the water, will soon find himself tired, changes of action
are therefore necessary; there are many which are highly advantageous to
learn, such as swimming like a dog, porpoise, etc. To _swim like a dog_,
he must strike with each hand and foot alternately, beginning with the
right hand and foot, he must draw the hand towards the chin, and the
foot towards the body, at the same time; he then must kick backwards
with the foot, and strike out in a right line with the hand, and the
same with the left hand and foot: the palms of the hands must be hollow,
and the water pulled towards the swimmer. In _swimming like a porpoise_,
the right arm is lifted entirely out of the water, the shoulder is
thrust forward, and while the swimmer is striking out with his legs, he
reaches forward with his hand as far as he can; his hand then falls, a
little hollowed, in the water, which it grasps or pulls towards him in a
transverse direction towards the other armpit. While this is going on,
the legs are drawn up for another effort, and the left arm and shoulder
are raised and thrust forward, as the right had previously been. When
the swimmer feels tired, he may change these positions for swimming on
the side. To do this, he must lower his left side and elevate his right,
striking forward with his left hand, and sideways with his right, the
back of the hand being in front instead of upward, the thumb side of the
hand being downward so as to serve as an oar. Should the swimmer wish to
turn on his back, he must keep one leg still, and embrace the water
beside him with the other, and he will turn to that side. To shew the
feet, he must turn himself on his back, and bend the small of it
downwards, supporting himself by his hands to and fro immediately above
his breast, and hold his feet above the water. Swimming under water is
performed by the usual stroke, the head being kept a little downwards,
and the feet struck out a little higher than when swimming on the

Next: Bernardi's System

Previous: Swimming

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