Many swimmers with neurological or muscular conditions, such as Cerebral Palsy, Traumatic Brain Injury, Genetic Disorders, or a Stroke, experience abnormal muscle tone, either tight or loose, and have difficulty moving. Some are dependent on others to help them move a lot or a little. Imagine what it would feel like to work so hard to walk. When your body is in a gravity environment, the muscle tone has to respond to hold you up so you can interact with the world. Whether you are sitting in a wheelchair or walking with a walker or crutches, your body is continuously fighting the pull of gravity. Breaking free in the water is possible because the effects of gravity are lessened. Now you are free to move without any resistance. Buoyancy now supports you and active movement is so much easier. When you are neck-deep in the water, you are 90% supported so you only have 10% of your body weight to control. New movement options can be explored, and a tight body can unlock from its holding pattern. As tone begins to relax, movement in larger ranges is allowed. When you lift your leg, the buoyancy provides an upward thrust toward the surface, assisting in activities such as kicking, stepping, or walking.
For the swim skill benchmark of flutter kicking, we love the FINIS Booster Fins. They are shorter, the lever arm isn’t as long as regular flippers, and they give just the right amount of feedback and assistance to the legs of a swimmer who is a little weaker and is trying to get more motion as they kick. Sometimes we want to counteract buoyancy and help our swimmers stay vertical. We use the ½ pound Sprint Aquatics Wrist Weights on the ankles to help ground the body and keep the swimmer in a vertical position to allow them to experience independent walking, as the water supports their body.
Buoyancy assists with the swim skill of a prone and supine float. These skills are foundational to progress towards more independent swimming. The upward thrust on the body that buoyancy provides also helps with movements that are important out of the water, like moving from sitting to standing. Altering the amount of support you are getting from buoyancy can make this activity much easier. For more information on creative ways to use our favorite equipment to assist your swimmers check out our equipment webinar.