All I really needed to know about swimming, I learned from two sources: Benjamin Franklin and a popular song. Franklin flew kites, invented stoves and bifocal glasses; he taught himself to read in several languages and helped write the Declaration of Independence. He published his wisdom about many things, so it’s no surprise that he wrote about the relationship of the human body to water. Expounding was not enough; he had his students discover that relationship for themselves.
When milk was sold in glass bottles, I used to ask my students, "Which is heavier, cream or milk?" The usual answer was, "cream." Then I’d ask, "Which is at the top of the bottle?" Of course the cream rises because milk, although thinner, is heavier than cream. Our bodies, which look heavier than water, are actually lighter. Franklin had his students wade out from shore until they were almost chest deep, he then put an egg on the bottom of the lake in front of them. He asked them to go under and pick it up.
Before they were deep enough to touch the egg, their feet came off the bottom and their bodies hung, floating, in the water. They could not even touch the egg. As soon as they learned to let the water support them they could concentrate on moving around almost effortlessly.
Spend some time watching swimmers at a public pool, beach or water park; it’s full of happy, noisy, splashing people, particularly children, and almost no one is floating, or "float swimming." In roped-off lanes, the swimmers are moving fast, training for racing or swimming for health and fitness. Many others are splashing the water with arms and legs flailing wildly in order to support their heavy heads, flopping from side to side above the water to breathe. Heads are heavy, say 10 to 13 pounds or more, and on one end of the spine. When the head is up, the feet and legs drop low in the water and slow the progress. The floundering body makes little progress when the heavy head is not supported by the water. I yearn to break the monotony there and yell, "Relax, rest, slow down! Swim down in the water, not up on top." What makes swimmers move through the water when they are floating? That’s where the song comes in!
"You’ve got to Ac-cent-u-ate the positive, E-lim-i-nate the neg-a-tive, and don’t mess with Mr. In Between." Propulsion in swimming is a matter of positives and negatives, by arms and legs. For example, when a firm hand reaches forward, takes hold of water and pulls against it, the body moves. That’s positive. Then it’s elbow lifts and most of the arm comes out of the water, that’s negative. We can think of it as "drive," which moves us, and "recovery," which gets us into position for another drive.
When we float on our backs, the water covers both ears and "fits" around the face like a baby’s bonnet. When the body is floating in a forward position, the face and both ears are under water to keep the heavy feet and legs from dragging. When air is to be inhaled, the head - and body - can roll slightly in the water to take in air without upsetting the body’s natural "lighter-than-water" buoyancy.
Fly over my backyard pool about 7 o’clock any morning, and you’ll see my face, or the back of my head, because I’m float-swimming, and I learned it from Ben Franklin and an old song! It’ll not win medals, but it’s great for old swimmers who are not in any hurry! Sometimes I think I’ll just swim all day.