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How to Float for Swimming

Everyone can—and should—learn how to float in water. Knowing how to float can save your life, and it’s the first step in learning how to swim freestyle. It may seem daunting -- or downright impossible -- but the first thing you have to do is believe that you can float. Then get an instructor, and try the three tips below. 

Hot Tip: Finding an Instructor 

If you are just learning how to swim, the best thing you can do is take lessons with a qualified instructor in your area. Not sure of where to start? The iSport swimming lesson finder can match you with someone in your area who meets your needs and schedule.


Your Body’s Floatation Features

Let’s start with a basic principle of physics: anything with a higher density than water will sink in water. The human body is, by weight, roughly two-thirds water. This means your density is similar to that of water. Thus, you shouldn’t have to do much, if any, work to float on top of the water.

That said, your body composition can affect your natural ability to float. Very generally speaking, men tend to have greater muscle density than women. People with greater muscle density, or very lean muscle (a very low ratio of fat to muscle fiber), will have a greater tendency to sink. So, if you are young, a man, or a very athletic woman, good mechanics and technique will help you a lot. Nevertheless, your body still wants to float more than it wants to sink.

Your lung capacity can also make a difference in how easy it is for you to stay on top of the water. People with a higher lung capacity will float somewhat more easily, for two reasons. First, they have a larger pocket of air in their chest. And second, they tend to have more oxygen circulating throughout their bodies. Oxygen is less dense than water, so the more oxygen you have in your body, the more buoyant you will be.

Now that you know why your body might be more or less inclined to float, here are three ways you can improve the way you float in water.


The key to floating is, ironically, a major challenge for beginners: You have to relax. As soon as you master this, you will be able to “swim.”

If you’re afraid of the water, find an instructor you like and trust to help you overcome your fear. Practice in shallow water until you have confidence in your natural ability to float.

If you can float, but you’re still tense, notice your breathing pattern. Deep breathing is not only scientifically proven to help your body relax, but it will also bring more oxygen into your body, which should make you more buoyant.

Look at the sky (or the ceiling tiles, if your pool is indoors), and breathe in deeply. Fill your lungs with oxygen on each breath – feel the air travel all the way down to the lower end of your lungs (near the bottom of your rib cage). Hold your breath for a short moment and feel yourself essentially weightless atop the water. Exhale and repeat.

Improve Your Float Mechanics

Gently press your weight onto your shoulder blades and let your head relax into the water as if you are resting your head on a pillow. Or, if you are in streamline position facing the sky, press the top of your hands into the water.

If your legs always sink, reach your hands above your head. By reaching your arms above your head, you are creating a longer support above your waist, which gives you more leverage for lifting your legs up to the surface. At the very least, it will bring your legs higher in water.

Strengthen Your Technique

Engage your abdominal muscles. Use your core strength to lift your lower body toward the surface. You might think about a string attached to your bellybutton that is pulling your torso to the top of the water. The link between your mind and your body is powerful. If you can simply imagine the string pulling your belly and your feet to the surface of the water, your muscles will probably organize themselves and make it happen!

Kick very, very, very gently. Okay, so perhaps this is cheating a bit. Don’t kick so hard that you have forward momentum. But very light and gentle, alternating leg movements will help force them to the surface. Of course, as you do this, stay relaxed.

Everyone can—and should—learn how to float in water. Knowing how to float can save your life, and it's the first step in learning how to swim freestyle.
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