Bubbles and Buoyancy!  by Karen Cox, Swim Instructor

Bubbles and Buoyancy! by Karen Cox, Swim Instructor

Learning to Swim at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center Swim School: Phase 1

Coach Samara giving “just enough” support.


“Bubbles” is code word for “air exchange” in swim vernacular.  It goes over better with the 3-6 year old set, but the idea is the same whether you are a little kid or an adult learning to swim.

We teach nose bubbles because it takes care of several issues at one time… For children we encourage them to think of something yummy and hum. Making a yummy sound “mmmm” closes the mouth (so no water comes in) and pushes air down the nasal passage so no water goes up!  Timing happens to be important, but if a child will hum as they put their face in the water bubbles will definitely come out the nose!  Exhaling under the water allows for the capture of a quick breath when surfacing.  If the swimmer holds their breath and doesn’t exhale until the face surfaces there is less time to capture a fresh breath, which in turn deprives the body of longed for oxygen and makes the next swim cycle less efficient which then starts a downward spiral and suddenly swimming becomes a battle with your body…not the desired outcome!

Step 1 is learning to exhale in the water (nose bubbles)… Step 2 is learning to make a series of relaxed air exchanges.  While holding onto the side of the pool we call these air exchanges “bobs”.  While moving prone through the water we call air exchanges “little dips”.  Adult assistance is usually needed for the young beginning swimmers. Kick boards are helpful for anyone tall enough to stand on their own in the pool!   Try starting with 3 bobs, then 5, 7 and so on.  We ask for ten relaxed wall bobs, no touching the face, adjusting goggles or talking in between!  Ten seems to be a good number to indicate they’ve mastered the technique and are ready for more.  Jumping bobs would be the next skill set followed by “streamline bobs” (Jumping bobs with your hands held above the head in a streamline position… also great for developing ab muscles and coordination.

While swimmers are learning to master bobs they can be working on other skills of preparation for enjoyable and efficient swimming.  Here is where buoyancy comes in.  Buoyancy is related to the state of “being” in the water.  It’s not fighting the water or your own body but being able to relax in the water.  Easier said than done if one is timid or fearful of the water.  The fearful tendencies of bringing limbs in close to the torso, tensing muscles and craning the neck work against buoyancy.  Surprising even tensing toes can hinder progress… So we teach back floating, tummy floating and glides as the next step in the journey called swimming, having trusted assistance is obviously important for little ones but may be helpful for older swimmers to have reassurance and feedback.

When working on glides we start by asking for a big reach when pushing away from a bench or even when being towed by an adult… opening up at the armpit and stretching the hands and arms way out in front of the body is essential. It’s helpful for children to experience what this “feels” like before they are able to do it themselves.  Providing just enough support for swimmers to be successful is key: meaning don’t support too much so that the swimmer is too high in the water… but just enough to avoid that sinking feeling.  Supporting the hands, maybe the hips while the child is moving forward in the water would be an example of this.  Next ask a swimmer to put their face in including their forehead and doing nose bubbles while moving through the water.  If a swimmer, of any age, can commit their head to the water and lengthen out their body they are well on their way toward independent swimming!  But don’t shortcut this step!  It feels more vulnerable to put the forehead in the water and look down at the bottom of the pool than it does to just get the nose and goggles in.  But this simple 2-3 inch difference makes an unbelievable difference when it comes to swimming with optimal buoyancy  – stay tuned for my next blog post: “If the head is up the hips will sink!”

If you have a child 6 months to 3 years I encourage you to come to Parent and Me to learn some of the techniques used to give children “just enough support to be successful”!  If your child is in group or private lessons we’d love to answer your questions or have your child give a “show” of what they are currently learning.  If you are an adult and desiring to learn to swim we have several great options for you here at UVAC!  So practice those nose bubbles and stay in touch!

Swimmingly!  ~ Coach Karen