Not being able to swim

I’ve been swimming since I have been walking (I started lessons at an early age), so I’ve “always” been able to swim.

My question, out of curiosity not poking fun, is how is it that people can’t swim? It seems to me that it doesn’t take much effort to at least float and move around a bit, but like I said I have never NOT known.

Also don’t our lungs provide enough of a balloon to “float” on to be able to keep afloat?

My WAG is that some people are afraid of water (like some people are afraid of heights or flying or anything) and the fear causes their body to stiffen therefore rendering you more of an anchor than a bouy.

Any professional thoughts on this? Or how about a person who can’t swim?

Honestly, I am NOT making fun of people who can’t swim!!!

My husband cannot swim. It simply terrifies him. He is working on learning how to float on his back, and the panic is unmistakable. He simply does not believe he will not drown and then his fear prevents him from being able to float. It will be a long, slow process of undoing what his mother did to him with regards to his fear of water.

Why on earth would you make fun of people who can’t swim? As you so eloquently stated, it’s no great accomplishment.
I learned just enough to get by. I’m not at all afraid of water, and I sink. This subject was covered in a recent thread, BTW. Sinking, that is.
I just found it to be pretty boring to tell you the truth. Different strokes for different folks, right?

Stop making fun of me! :wink:

As someone who has taken beginner swimming lessons three, count 'em, three, times in my life, I feel qualified to answer. I’m not terribly coordinated, so I’m not going to get the stroke right until I’ve had a lot of practice. But, when I try to practice, after maybe one or two strokes, I don’t get my face out of the water far enough, and I end up taking a big 'ol breath of water. Hacking and sputtering ensue, and it’s all over for me.

So for me, learning to swim is a lot like learning tightrope walking. You might be able to take a few steps on the rope, but once you goof, there’s no continuing.

All my children have taken swimming lessons for the last several summers. They’re all really comfortable in the water – they’ll dive into 14-foot deep pools without a second thought – but all any of them do is dog paddle. I’m convinced that there’s a gene lacking somewhere.

I know my mom can’t swim. I think part of the problem is the breathing (probably the first thing that is taught to you). If you don’t exhale underwater (with your mouth or nose, preferably the mouth), sometimes it feels like you’re going to explode. Also water would get up the nose, wouldn’t it?

I’m very comfortable swimming, but even with a full lung load of air, I sink.

I can’t figure out what to do with my legs.
They always move backwards.

Can I hi-jack a little and ask a related question:
For those who can’t swim, do you think it is worthwhile learning or do you rate the ability to swim very low on your proirties?

I have a friend who can’t / won’t, and he argues its 'cause he sees no benefit at all in it. (He’s not scared of the water, just “can’t be bothered”)

It seems to me that, whilst not being the be all or end all of anything, it does open up more avenues of interest - surfing, water-skiing, or even general horseplay around pools on holiday. It seems a reasonable skill to have, like driving or speaking another language. You can get by without it, but wouldn’t it be better to know how?

What do you non-swimmers out there think?

You know, I’ve often wondered about this myself. But like the OP, I swam at a very early age. By the time I was a year old I was paddling about on my own with just my little inflatable ‘swimmies’- those ‘water wings’ or ‘swin fins’ you put on kids’ upper arms. (Supervised, of course.) It seems to me that your natural instincts are to move your arms and legs dog-paddle fashion and at least keep yourself afloat. But then, I can’t remember ever not knowing how to swim, so I must be biased.

I think it has to do with people who know they don’t know how to swim being very afraid in the water. In this case, maybe, your rational thought could override a natural swimming-motion instinct. You think “I don’t know how to swim!”, and panic ensues. But this would all rest on whether or not humans have a natural instinct to swim in the water, like most mammals do. Although apes do not- they are terrified of water. (A lot of their fear has to do with the fact that they have almost no body fat and are not very buoyant- a chimpanzee in water sinks like a rock.)

Also, treading water can be very tiring, especially if you’re not used to it, and it must be very frightening to wonder “How long can I keep this up?” And if you don’t know how to regulate your breathing or prevent water from getting in your nose, it can be even worse.

To answer the hijack, I think it depends. Not knowing how to swim can be limiting in some ways- you can’t go surfing, or scuba-diving, or any of that. But I’m guessing if you don’t know how to swim, those sorts of activities probably wouldn’t interest you very much anyway. But you can still go sailing or yachting or whatever- a lifejacket would keep you afloat should disaster ensue. Sailors of old often did not know how to swim- they believed it was useless to fight the sea. But maybe knowing how to swim is a good ‘just in case’ skill.

Continuing the hijack - I have a hard and fast rule that my children must know how to swim before they are allowed to even be near any body of water (swimming pools included) without a PFD (Personal Floatation Device). I have seen and read about too many cases where people (adults included) were playfully tossed into a pool during a poolside party and subsequently drowned because they couldn’t swim. Then you have the people who go fishing or boat riding, somehow end up in the water and drown because they can’t swim.

If you can’t swim, either wear a PFD or stay away from the pool, the beach, rivers and lakes, and boats. With those rules in place, my kids quickly decided learning to swim was no big deal.

Non-swimmer checking in here.

I took beginner swimming lessons more than once while growing up. The first time was when I was six. I was so terrified of drowning and my instructor quickly lost her patience with me. I don’t remember going to that lesson more than once. The second time when I was twelve I managed to get through the lessons, but I could still never convince myself that I could float. The doggie paddle was about all I could really do. My muscles always cramped up easily, I’d start swallowing water, etc. Swimming for pleasure or for exercise was just never my thing. To me it would only be good for a survival skill if I needed to learn it. I’m hardly ever near deep water as it is, so I really don’t feel that knowing how to swim is necessary for me.

I didn’t learn to swim until I was in my 30’s. I was always afraid of the water and still am not that comfortable. When I was in high school, my gym teacher threatened me to get in the water above my head or he would flunk me. I called his bluff, and got a red F-. Of course, that’s not the right way to teach someone to swim.

I was always afraid of the water and that’s why I could not swim. In my 30’s, I decided to try it and overcome my fear. I eventually learned well enough to swim at least one mile a day at the JCC in Chicago. They once had a swim-a-thon, and I swam 2 1/2 miles. I have now done quite a few triathlons.

But the reason is fear. If you are not comfortable, your muscles will tense defeating the ability to swim or even float. Even now, totally relaxed, I float almost vertically, lacking, as I do, sufficient adipose tissue for good flotation. So, if you’ve been exposed to the water at a very early age, like one year of age, you have no fear. If you are not until you reach a more mature age, like high school, you may have this fear.

I once had to tread water for 15 minutes (IIRC) to pass a SCUBA class, but I had a tough time and kept gulping water and bobbing, not treading, until I got so tired I became relaxed enough to tread. The lifeguard (swimming coach at the “J”) who taught me to swim said that I wasn’t able to tread water until my fatigue made me relax. That’s the secret: relaxation.

I had to float for a full five minutes for a scuba class with minimal or no movement of limbs. It was ALL about breathing shallow enough to avoid never sinking.
Relaxing like this was really tough, had to keep half my head (the back) submurged the whole time.

Does the amount of fat / muscle in your legs not have an effect on your ‘natural buoyancy’? Some people have ‘floating’ legs, others have ‘sinking’ legs…a phenomenon I have witnessed in many different people. (Just lie on your back in water and see whether your legs naturally float up or sink like stones.)

I only just ‘learned’ to swim at age 45. ('bout time!) I can attest to the ‘fear makes you sink’ phenomenon.

I was pretty traumatized by a ARC swimming instructor when I was six or seven and have been terrified of being in the water ever since. On those few occasions where I did try, the answer was always the same: panic, sinking, frustration.

Until…I found a teacher who addressed the fear first. We worked on back-floating until I could relax and breathe normally. Voila! I float! From there we did backstroke, side-stroke, and we are now working on free-style!

I’m like douglips, I swim - but I don’t float.

According to the people who were around, I’ve always been comfortable in water & always loved splashing around until I was old enough to finally swim.

When we were little, all of my siblings could swim, too. But my brother claims to have forgotten how - and my sister, who never liked having her face in water (but she would do it then), has now become entirely phobic about it and won’t allow her face to get wet. And tenses up, and fights the water, and every other swimming “no.”

I’m surprised no one has mentioned this but swimming is an absolutely natural, programmed behavior. Don’t believe me? Somewhere out there is video of infants happily swimming. They know to hold their breath underwater and everything and seem to like it.

Swimming for most people is unlearned or, perhaps more appropriately, people’s own head gets in the way. Panic is what kills more often than not. People who can’t swim and fall into water drown themselves usually as most people (not all but most…especially the generally overweight population of the US) will float quite nicely with no effort whatsoever.

I’ve been swimming as long as I can remember and have taught adults and children alike how to swim (I had a lifeguard certification and have an advanced scuba certification…I love the water). The first time I taught adults I figured it’d be easier than the kids I had been teaching. The overcoming the adult’s fear of water was very hard…kids can be bullied into doing what they need to do…adults tell you where to shove things if you try that. Except for the rare person who sinks no matter what they do (short of swimming hard and I’ve known a few people like that) getting enough info to survive a fall into the water isn’t hard assuming no extreme circumstances (severe cold, high waves, etc.). If you want to be the next Marc Spitz that’s something else entirely. I believe EVERYONE should manage to get at least a minimal comfort level with water to avoid drowning themselves should something unexpected happen that gets them in deep water (pun intended).

My own pattern in learning to swim was a bit odd. I was given innumerable swimming lessons as a little kid and never did learn to swim from them. Unlike a lot of people here, I don’t think I was really that afraid of the water. I didn’t MIND being in it as long as it was shallow enough to stand up in, I didn’t MIND sticking my face under the water, and I learned to float perfectly well. I just didn’t learn to actually swim. I can’t remember exactly why not.

Eventually, when I was about 10 or 11 I learned to swim, sort of. What I did was walked up a half mile of railroad track to a swimming hole in a nearby creek several times and figured out how to paddle around a bit with nobody watching.

I still don’t swim terribly well. I can get around in the water, but everything about the way I do it sucks. Frankly, I would do as well dog paddling as I do trying to swim properly. I’ve NEVER been able to get much good out of kicking, I don’t synchronize my breathing properly, etc.

My story: No swimming lessons when I was little where I grew up, so going into college my advisor suggested swimming for the physical education course. I’m glad my dorm mates talked me out of it, it would have been a certain “F”.

Ten years later, I took an adult swimming class for beginners, and learned how to float and do the elementary backfloat, but not the front crawl.

Ten years after that, and my son is in Boy Scouts, and I’m one of the leaders. For two summer camps, I stand back during the swim tests, but get determined to pass the test the third summer. I take two more 9-week classes, and in-between the classes, spend another 12 hours in the pool doing laps until I can do the front crawl pretty well. I still tense up while treading water, and avoid the deep-end if I can. But now I can swim!

Bullying by an instructor is exactly what made me wait 39 years to try to learn again.

Yes you are right, it does get 'em in the pool…in my case it almost got me in a body bag. Great teaching technique!:confused:
[sup][sub]Note to self: Whack is NOT invited to next pool party[/sub][/sup]

This is fine…great even. As long as you can endup in water, not freak and paddle yourself to safety (or at least keep yourself afloat till help arrives) you’re good to go. Who says you need to swim like an Olympic class swimmer?

Part of the problem (from my stance as a former lifeguard) is people who don’t have the minimal (or slightly above) level of ability that yabob has are a danger to ME! The LAST thing a lifeguard wants to do is get in the water with a drowning swimmer (actually that goes for anyone attempting to save someone who’s drowning). Throw them a floatation device, reach a pole out to them or whatever else you can think of before going in yourself. Many dual drownings have occurred because someone tries to save someone by swimming to them. The panic stricken drowner may very well clamp on to their would-be rescuer and then you have two people in serious trouble.

As a lifeguard I was specifically trained on how to approach a drowning victim to minimize the above possibility and what to do if I got caught by the victim anyway. I was actually trained to punch the victim to knock them senseless if necessary (a last resort I’ll admit but if comes to it and I’m trying to save you I will clock you one before I let you drown us both). Untrained people trying to be good Samaritan all too often endup as drowning victims themselves.

In short, if you don’t know how to swim at all, get some minimum training. The most basic of skills to float and dog paddle to safety are simple to achieve and you might save not only yourself but a would be rescuer.