There’s nothing like swimming on a hot summer day. However, swimming is also a skill that can save your life. When you know how to swim, you can safely enjoy water activities like kayaking and surfing.

Swimming is a great workout, too. It forces your body to work against resistance, which strengthens your muscles, heart, and lungs.

The best way to learn how to swim is to take lessons. Let’s look at the most commonly taught strokes and how to improve your technique.

The breaststroke cycle is often described as “pull, breathe, kick, glide.” To remember the sequence, many swimmers recite this phrase in their head. Take a look at the video above to get a visual for how it’s done.

To do it:

  1. Float with your face in the water, your body straight and horizontal. Stack your hands and keep your arms and legs long.
  2. Point your thumbs down. Press your hands out and back in a circle, elbows high. Lift your head slightly and inhale.
  3. Bring your hands together in front of your shoulders, thumbs pointing up. Keep your elbows close to your body. Simultaneously bend your knees, bringing your feet toward your butt and pointing your feet outward.
  4. Reach your arms forward. Kick out and back in a circle then snap your feet together. Drop your head underwater and exhale.
  5. Glide forward and repeat.

Pro tip

Keep your legs behind you instead of below you. By maintaining a horizontal body position, you’ll minimize resistance and go faster.

The butterfly, or fly, is the most difficult stroke to learn. It’s a complex stroke that requires precise timing and coordination.

Before trying the butterfly, learn the wave-like body movement first. This is the core motion of the butterfly stroke. Once you’ve mastered this move, you’re ready to incorporate the arm motions. Watch the video above to see how it’s done.

To do it:

  1. Float with your face in the water, your body straight and horizontal. Stack your hands and keep your arms and legs long.
  2. Send your head down and forward and push your hips up. Next, move your head up and push your hips down. Continue alternating like a wave.
  3. When your head goes down, follow with your hips and kick. Send your arms down and past your hips. Simultaneously lift your head to inhale.
  4. Kick and continue the body wave, sending your arms up and across the water. Put your face in the water and follow with your arms. Exhale. This completes one arm cycle.
  5. Repeat. Breathe once every two or three cycles.

Pro tips

  • For a faster butterfly, avoid exaggerating the wave-like body movements. Your hips should be near or at the surface, not above. Moving your hips too high or low will slow you down.
  • Pointing your eyes and nose downward will also help you move smoothly and quickly.

Freestyle, also called front crawl, involves a leg movement called the flutter kick. It’s recommended to learn this technique before trying the full stroke. Take a look at the video above to get a visual for this stroke.

To do it:

  1. Float with your face in the water, your body straight and horizontal. Stack your hands and keep your arms and legs long.
  2. To do the flutter kick, move one foot up and one foot down. Alternate quickly, keeping your ankles loose and knees slightly bent.
  3. Reach your right hand 12 to 18 inches ahead, palm facing down and in line with your shoulder.
  4. Pull your right hand down and back, pointing your fingers diagonally toward the bottom. Point your elbow upward.
  5. As your right hand passes your thigh, rotate your hip and shoulder upward. Bring your hand up and across the water.
  6. Enter your right hand in the water and repeat with your left hand.
  7. Repeat. Breathe every two or three strokes as your hand exits the water.

Pro tips

  • To speed up your freestyle, always reach forward before pulling down. Your arm strokes should be long and relaxed, not short and forceful.
  • Think of your nose as the center line. When you reach and pull, your hand shouldn’t pass your nose. Align it with your shoulder to propel forward.
  • Avoid looking too far down. This puts your shoulders underwater, which adds resistance and slows you down.
  • Also, when you kick, don’t bend your knees too much. Kick from the hips and keep your legs almost parallel to maintain speed and balance.

Beginner swimmers should work with a certified swim instructor. It’s the best way to stay safe and learn the correct technique.

If you’re a beginner swimmer, never enter a pool alone. Always swim with another person until you can float and swim on your own.

Here are basic swimming instructions for kids and adults:

Kids

When teaching kids how to swim, the experience should be fun and playful. It’s recommended to use songs, toys, and games.

You can also give different techniques fun names. For example, reaching their arms straight ahead can be called “superhero.” See the video above for a visual.

To teach your child how to swim, practice each step until they’re comfortable with each phase:

Simple instructions

  1. Enter the water together, holding their arms or hands to help them stay afloat.
  2. Hold your child under their armpits. Ask them to inhale, reach out like a superhero, and blow bubbles for five seconds underwater to practice exhaling.
  3. Repeat and let go, allowing your child to float for five seconds.
  4. Hold your child under their armpits. Ask them to blow five-second bubbles as you walk slowly backward.
  5. Repeat and have them kick their feet up and down.
  6. Repeat, this time letting go.
  7. To inhale, have your child lift their head, take a breath, and move their hands forward like a tiger.

Adults

It’s never too late to learn how to swim. With practice and professional guidance, adults can master basic swimming techniques. See the video above for some basics.

To start swimming as an adult:

Simple instructions

  1. Stand up in a pool. Inhale deeply, place your face in the water, and exhale for five seconds.
  2. Repeat in starfish position, floating with your arms and legs spread out.
  3. Hold on to the side of the pool. Inhale and place your face in the water. Exhale and flutter kick for five seconds.
  4. Stand with your back to the wall. Extend your arms above your head and stack your hands.
  5. Enter the water in a horizontal position, exhale, and flutter kick for five seconds.

Regardless of your age or level, the following tips will help you get better at swimming.

  • Work with a swim coach. A swim instructor can teach you proper technique and increase your confidence in the water.
  • Do swimming drills. A swimming drill is an exercise that focuses on a specific phase of a stroke. When done regularly, swimming drills can help you perfect your strokes.
  • Breathe properly. Exhale whenever your head is underwater. Holding your breath will make you feel winded and slow you down.
  • Take a video. To better understand your own form, have someone film you as you swim. This is a great way to see how you can improve.
  • Watch videos. Watching instructional videos allows you to see proper body positioning in action.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Regular practice will improve your technique and coordination.

When you’re ready to take the plunge, look for a swim instructor in your area. You can take private or group lessons. Some instructors teach at public pools, while others teach at their home pool. Choose whatever is most comfortable and convenient for you.

A swimming school is an excellent place to find swim instructors. You can also look at:

Another option is to search for swim instructors online. Simply enter your zip code on one of these sites to find a local instructor or class:

Swimming is a lifesaving skill. It allows you to enjoy the water for fun, leisure, or exercise. As a physical activity, swimming strengthens your muscles and cardiovascular fitness.

The best way to learn is to get swim lessons. A certified swim instructor can provide personalized guidance for your age and skill level. With practice and patience, you’ll be swimming in no time.