Humans do not have fins or gills, and so, obviously, they cannot swim as effectively as aquatic creatures can; however, they have taught themselves how to survive in the waters, swim, treading water and hold their breath so that they can submerge for up to 90 seconds. Some people can even hold their breath underwater for up to 25 minutes, which is astonishing!
Mimicking how fish move through the water has become an art called swimming and over time, humans have made a sport out of it, competing who can swim the fastest and rewarding them with gold, silver and bronze medals in local and international sporting events. Treading water can be equated to fish hovering in the water, or more accurately, how they remain in one spot for a few minutes to several hours.
There is actually no competition for this type of swimming technique, but rather, it’s just a survival instinct for when humans need to conserve their energy and catch their breath before swimming to a certain location again. But treading water is an important skill for survival while out at sea, or when you’re competing for the triathlon.
How Did Humans Learn How to Swim?
Learning to swim, like many skills in human history, probably developed out of necessity rather than from recreational activities. Our ancient ancestors needed to cross bodies of water for various reasons, such as escaping from predators, reaching food resources, or migrating to new lands.
As such, they would have developed primitive swimming techniques to survive. Swimming is not an innate ability for humans, unlike many other animals, so it would have required practice and learning.
There are even early records and depictions of swimming in human history. For instance, swimming scenes have been found in Egyptian cave drawings that date back to 2500 BC. The first written records of swimming date back to ancient times and are found in works like the Bible and the Epic of Gilgamesh.
The development and refinement of swimming techniques likely happened over centuries, if not millennia. Different cultures probably developed different styles based on their unique needs and environments. For example, in some communities living near the water, swimming might have been a fundamental part of daily life and, therefore, a skill learned from a very young age.
The codification of swimming as a sport and the development of specific techniques like breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle, and backstroke are much more recent, with much of this development occurring in the last few centuries. The formation of swimming associations and competitive swimming events have further standardised and improved swimming techniques.
What are the Different Swimming Techniques
Swimming as a sport involves using the entire body to move through the water. The sport takes place in pools or open water (e.g., sea or lake). Competitive swimming is one of the most popular Olympic sports, with varied distance events in butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle, and individual medley.
Here’s an outline of the main competitive swimming strokes:
- Freestyle: Also known as the front crawl, it is the fastest and most commonly swum stroke in competitive swimming. The swimmer is on their stomach, and the arms move in a windmill motion while the feet perform a flutter kick.
- Backstroke: This stroke is performed on the back and uses a similar windmill arm motion to the front crawl but flipped 180 degrees. The kick is the same flutter kick.
- Breaststroke: This is a more technical, slower stroke where the swimmer is on their stomach, the arms move in a half-circle motion in front of the body, and the legs perform a frog kick.
- Butterfly: This is the most physically demanding stroke. The swimmer is on their stomach, both arms move in unison, and the legs do a dolphin kick.
- Individual Medley (IM): This event combines all the four strokes in a single race. The order is the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.
In addition to these, there are also relay events where teams of four swimmers each do a portion of the race. There’s the freestyle relay and the medley relay, where each swimmer swims a different stroke.
For those looking to get into competitive swimming, the sport requires not only strong swimming skills but also excellent cardiovascular endurance, precise technique, and consistent training. It’s also critical to understand the rules around turns, starts, and what constitutes a legal stroke in each event.
On the other hand, recreational swimming is a great way to stay fit, and rehabilitate injuries, and it’s a skill that can save your life in water-based situations. The ability to swim is something that can be enjoyed over a lifetime.
Why is Treading Water Important?
Treading water is the ability to remain afloat in a body of water. This swimming skill can help you avoid drawing, especially when you’re out at sea or in deep waters, because it keeps your head out of the water, allowing you to continue breathing.
Triathlon athletes use the treading water technique to help them swim farther than their competitors, and they practice swimming and treading water for months on end.
Best Swinners in the World
Since swimming has also become an international sport, the world is bound to know who among the 7.888 billion people are the best of the best swimmers around. These people can do more than just treading water, in fact, almost all of them can complete the 100m freestyle challenge without breaking a sweat (figuratively speaking, of course)! You may already know some of them through the mainstream media.
Below are the ten fastest swimmers in the world:
- Cesar Cielo (Brazil): He set the current 100m freestyle world record in 2009 with a time of 46.91 seconds.
- Michael Phelps (USA): Known as the most decorated Olympian of all time, Phelps holds the record in multiple events. His 400m individual medley record of 4:03.84 set in 2008 still stands.
- Sun Yang (China): He holds the world record in the 1500m freestyle, set in 2012, with a time of 14:31.02.
- Paul Biedermann (Germany): He set the world record in the 200m freestyle in 2009 with a time of 1:42.00.
- Ryan Lochte (USA): He set the world record in the 200m individual medley in 2011 with a time of 1:54.00.
- Kristof Milak (Hungary): He set the world record in the 200m butterfly in 2019 with a time of 1:50.73.
- Peaty Adam (UK): He set the world record in the 100m breaststroke in 2019 with a time of 56.88.
- Sarah Sjöström (Sweden): She is a dominant force in women’s swimming, holding the world record in the 100m freestyle with a time of 51.71, set in 2017.
- Katie Ledecky (USA): She’s arguably the best female swimmer currently, with world records in multiple events. Her 800m freestyle world record of 8:04.79 was set in 2016.
- Cate Campbell (Australia): She holds the world record in the 100m freestyle set in 2016 with a time of 52.06.
Budimir Šobat and the Bajau Tribe of the Philippines
According to the International Association for the Development of Apnea (AIDA), 56-year-old free diver Budimir Šobat, was able to hold his breath for a world record time of 24 minutes and 33 seconds!
He’s the only land-based mammal that can hold his breath that long underwater; meanwhile, marine-based mammals like the humpback whale can hold theirs for 60 minutes! Šobat is a truly impressive human being!
He told reporters that he was able to do this feat through years of training and practice, but did you know that there is also a tribe of people in the Philippines who can hold their breath on average of 13 minutes? They are called the Bajaus, and they practically live in the sea, as well!
The people of Sama-Bajau community can stay under the water for 13 minutes at a depth of 230 feet (70 meters). They can do this without any scuba gear. For them, it’s like breathing; they’re not even putting any effort in holding their breath. If they were to dedicate their time to practice holding their breaths for a much longer time, they might get close to or even break Budimir Šobat’s record.
Of course, no one has been with them long enough to know that there might be someone in their community who can hold their breath for as long as Budimir Šobat has done also, so we really don’t know.
It would be hard to compete with these people in the Olympics if they ever decided to participate in professional swimming. One could just wonder how well they can do in treading water – they probably could do it in their sleep.
While people’s ability to hold their breath at impressive times, there has yet to be a sport for this kind of competition, just like treading water. Still, it is mind-blowing to know that some humans can actually do this kind of feat!
Treading water and other swimming methods are essential survival skills that humans have learned over thousands of years since they started to appear on this earth. It allowed them to source food from the rivers, lakes and oceans, and over time, it also inspired them to harness their ingenuity in order to build vehicles that could traverse large bodies of water called “boats.” From which, commerce and trade was made possible and had allowed them to establish the civilisation as we know it today.