To further enable him to realize that water is capable of supporting the human body, the learner may adopt the following plan. Walk down the steps of the bath, or along a shelving beach on a calm day, into about 3 feet of water; turn and face the shallow place, and, having taken a breath, stoop down and try to pick an egg or some similar object (a handful of sand will suffice) from the bottom. Repeat this several times leisurely, going further out at each venture, till the water reaches up to but not higher than the middle of the chest. It will soon be found that the object is not so easy of recovery, and the beginner learns that but little exertion is required to keep the body afloat.
When this experience has been gained the novice should commence with the Breast Stroke, which is nowadays sometimes unjustly set aside as the "old stroke." It is neat, natural, and graceful enough, though necessarily the slowest, from the great resistance of the chest to the water and the fact that part of the arm stroke is negatived by its own movements. Like walking in pedestrianism, however, it forms the groundwork of every other branch of the art, and cannot safely be overlooked.
The stroke is commenced by placing the hands with the backs upward, and the wrists bent so that the fingers will point to the front, the insides of the wrist-joints between arm and thumbs touching the breast not lower than 4 inches under water.
Begin the stroke by pushing the arms gently forward to their full extent, keeping the palms flat and the fingers closed. Now turn the palms of hands outward, and make a strong stroke to the right and left by each arm through an angle of 90º; in this part of the stroke the two arms describe a semicircle, of which the head may be termed the centre. It must be most distinctly borne in mind that all depression of the hands will tend to raise the body perpendicularly, whereas the only true position in swimming is the horizontal, which propels it forward.
To complete the arm movement, bend the elbows backward and inward, until they come close to but not necessarily touching) the sides of the body. Carry the hands in a straight line edgeways to the position from which they started in front of the chest.
Simultaneously with the stretching of the hands from the front of the body the feet are struck out to the utmost width in a way cleft for them by the toes. As the arms are being brought round in the semicircular motion the lower limbs are stiffened and brought firmly together by grasping the water, so to speak, with the whole of the leg, more especially between the knees, and soles and toes of the feet. Whilst thus imparting forward motion to the swimmer, they finish in a straight line behind the body. Then, when the arms are bent, and the hands are being brought to the front of the body, the knees are turned outward, heels kept together, toes also turned out, and the feet are carried up to the body and in this position are once more ready for repeating the movements as described.
Beginners must be careful not to make the arm movements quicker than those of the legs, and it must be distinctly remembered that the latter are the great propellers. Unison of the movements are as mentioned, and regularity in each part of the stroke, are indispensable to perfection. All hurry and excitement must be carefully avoided, and every complete stroke and kick gone about with mechanical precision and neatness. The only part requiring strong muscular exertion being the closing of the legs after they have been spread wide apart, -- the one strong propelling elements, -- every effort is to be made to ensure correctness and power in its performance. The arm movements should be easy and graceful, all jerkiness or suddenness of motion being carefully avoided.
Breathing should be unrestrained and natural, without gasping, sputtering, or short or sudden heavings. A safe rule is to have a full breath at every stroke, its division being regulated as follows. Blow slowly outward when the first part of the arm movements is being performed. i.e., stretched out in front; inspire as the hands are going outward and round. Then, as the lungs are fully charged, no effort is necessary to suspend respiration while the hands are carried in the front of the body again. This regularity of breathing is essential to pleasure, comfort, and gracefullness of action. The nostrils and air-passages should always be thoroughly cleared, the mouth cleansed, and the throat gargled before entering the water.