The 4 B’s in Swimming: Breath Control, Buoyancy, Balance, and Body Position

The 4 B’s in Swimming: Breath Control, Buoyancy, Balance, and Body Position

These are four foundational principles that help swimmers develop a successful range of swimming strokes. These skills may be taught as early as 3 months. Our baby and me swimming lessons introduce both caregivers and the child to these fundamental skills, allowing caregivers to have a fuller understanding of swimming mechanics.

We recommend our private, semi-private, or group swimming lessons for kids and adults of all skill levels. Swimming is a great way to stay physically and mentally active, learn new skills, and become water safe. Let’s move on to the four basic skills of becoming a champion swimmer at SWSS!

#1 – Breath Control

Developing breath control is one of the first steps in learning how to swim. Learning how to hold your breath with your face in the water is a skill that even babies can quickly learn and actually lose without practice. Students will then learn to blow bubbles, which introduces the skill of inhaling a full breath of air and followed by exhaling underwater while swimming, diving, and exploring the water. 

There are many simple breath control skills that can be practiced in the bathtub and shower. Breath control during swimming means inhaling when the face is either raised or titled, just breaking the surface, and holding your breath or blowing bubbles while your face is submerged in the water. Rhythm while doing this is key. One runs the risk of taking water in through the nose or mouth during swimming. While this is a risk, it’s not dangerous but just unpleasant. To avoid inhaling or taking water in, developing this skill using practice is essential. Bobs, or simply taking one breath in and then submerging to exhale is a simple and effective way to build this skill. This can also be practiced in the bath and shower!

For Expert Swimmers: Direct your exhaled bubbles down your body to avoid having them in your face by slightly pulling your chin inward and pulling your upper lip downward. Exhale out both your nose and mouth at the same time.

#2 – Buoyancy

Buoyancy is the force that enables a swimmer to float in the water, even when not moving. There is definitely a genetic component to floating. Body composition and fat composition are a couple of factors. There are always exceptions to this, but as general rule women float better than men. Further, there are three main body types: ectomorphs (tend to be thinner, with long limbs, slight build, and lean muscles), mesomorphs (tend to be more muscular, leaner, with a build between ectomorphs and endomorphs) and endomorphs (tends to gain weight easily, larger build, and tend to have shorter limbs). 

Ectomorphs and endomorphs tend to float more easily than mesomorphs, which tend to sink easily and find it harder to stay afloat. The ability to relax is key in maintaining a front or back float. Do not fixate on keeping your entire body perfectly horizontal at the surface. It is alright if your legs and feet angle down slightly toward the bottom. 

The head’s position is everything when floating and swimming! Try this exercise, either while doing your front or your back float. Get into a full float, starfish works great so extend your arms and legs out wide forming a star. If your body is long, straight, with head, torso, and limbs all in a horizontal alignment, you should be floating. Now, lift your head slightly. You will immediately experience the descent of the rest of your body down toward the bottom. So, in order to maintain a floating position, your head needs to be vertical with the surface of the water.

Our bodies have natural centers of gravity, with women’s generally being slightly lower than men, falling about the pelvic region, and men’s just at the top end of the pelvic region. Our bodies also have natural centers of buoyancy, with women’s falling right about the belly button region, and men’s falling much higher, slightly lower than the sternum’s center. Try relaxing in the water, and find that spot where your body wants to shift to allow for floating.

Your lungs are two huge reservoirs of air, which will help you float. Try taking a big breath in to help you get into that float position. Then try relaxing into the float, find a moment of relaxation and slowly exhale. See what your body does in the water.

For Expert Swimmers: Retain buoyancy by keeping some air in your lungs at all times, so do not fully exhale on each breath. This ability will come with conditioning. Your goal is to develop a normal rhythmic breathing pattern, just like during a run.

#3 – Balance

Balance is an essential foundation for efficient swimming. This skill means being in total control of the head, torso, and limbs, and really thinking about where these body parts are in relation to each other. When swimming on your front, think about pushing your chest and lungs “down” in order to keep your hips up. Think about your pull, kick, and if your core muscles are engaged; if any of these are weak, or fall off your brain’s radar, it’s likely you will be snaking through the water in a drag-inducing “S” pattern. 

Are you rolling too far over to one side or the other as you breathe in during freestyle? This is not balanced and will cause drag. Are you reaching too far across during backstroke? This is also not balanced, and will also cause drag. Balance is why swimming is such a fantastic total body workout; every part must work in unison with one another in order to be efficient and effective. Proper balance is needed in order to develop our last and final “B”, body position.

For Expert Swimmers: Develop your balance by doing balance drills. Try balancing on your side in the water; have a long straight body with the bottom arm extended to the front, and your top arm relaxed at your side. Try this on both sides while floating, then add a kick

#4 – Body Position

Body position is generally the last “B” that swimmers develop as they improve their swimming skills. This is a skill that even the most advanced swimmers work on on a daily basis in order to be in the most streamlined and efficient position in the water to reduce drag and increase efficiency. 

Body position while swimming means maintaining length by keeping the body and limbs long. Think about reaching for the opposite ends of the pool, and about keeping your body just below the water’s surface. Imagine that as you swim, your body is an arrow slicing through the water, rather than the wide blade of a plow, which would have to push against the resistance of the water. Both freestyle and backstroke use a roll of the body to allow for the swimmer to be on a knife-edge slicing through the water, rather than plowing. Core strength is crucial as a weak core will allow for your hips to drop during backstroke, and your back to sway during freestyle. 

For Expert Swimmers: Develop your core strength with dry land training. A stronger core will improve your ability to maintain the correct body position. Correct head position is critical, so try this drill next time you are in the water. Kick on your stomach with your arms down along your torso. Play with different head positions to find that perfect spot where you can maintain your hips just below the surface. 

Get Started with Swimming Lessons or Try Video Analysis Class

While it may seem daunting, keep these four fundamentals in mind when swimming. Break your stroke down and get back to these basics. Use drills, practice and be mindful of your stroke mechanics. If you are new to swimming, know that building these fundamentals early on will mean stronger and more efficient strokes later on.

Take advantage of a swim lesson or video analysis class we have available or check out all our other programs at Wallen Swim School in El Dorado Hills and Roseville.

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