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I've just started learning how to swim as an adult but I am feeling that one hour lesson a week is just not enough. I hardly can move forward with my arms and certainly I almost move backwards using my legs.

As a result, I am already looking for a public swimming pool to practice, but still need some type of swimming aid to keep afloat. What can I do on my own outside swimming lessons?

Now the most obvious thing to me looks like practicing my legs kick with some type of board or pullbuoy. Are both of them necessary? Would holding a pullbuoy with my hands do?

Even if most of them are cheap, I am wondering if I should just wait a bit longer until I no longer need them. On the other hand, I wonder if people get one to improve their technique on the long run.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Kickboards and pullbuoys are certainly used as training aids by swimmers of all abilities. If you have only just started learning then a kickboard will be of more use than a pullbuoy. You might also consider using a noodle float.

One thing to bear in mind is that if you develop bad habits, these can very easily become ingrained if you practice on your own and then quite hard to break later. So it is probably better to keep it simple for now. In the pool you could do things as simple as regulating your breathing, getting used to having your face submerged. Unfortunately, for most people, there is no good substitute for a proper swimming instructor.

Which strokes are you learning ? If you are learning front crawl and/or backstroke you probably won't do much harm practicing kicks with a kickboard - but even with this you can develop bad habits quickly such as using too much knee and not enough hip; legs too far apart; not pointing the toes, which you may not be aware of. If you are learning breaststroke, there are so many things that can go wrong with the technique that I would not recommend doing much yourself for it directly. If you are going to practice kicks, try to keep the legs fairly close together, straight and let the power come from the hips, not the knees. Kicking from the knee creates a lot of drag. If you hear a lot of splashing behind you, then you are doing it wrong - the heels should just break the water, that's all. And keep your toes pointed. Finally, don't expect to be charging up and down the pool like this - most of the propulsion in front crawl comes from the arms, not the legs.

How is your overall fitness ? If it's not so good then general dryland cardio-vascular (eg cycling) and strength/conditioning exercises will be of great help. If this is the case then I would probably put this as a priority, because it may hinder your progress otherwise.

Edit, based on first comment to the answer: So you are learning only breaststroke ? Well, a noodle-float is a good aid for breaststroke. For one thing it helps to prevent you pulling your arms too far back. A pullbuoy on it's own will not be much use. The propulsion from the legs comes from a whipping kind of action that might feel quite unnatural. See if you can find some youtube videos that show you how to do the leg and arm action on dryland and try to get those right first, independently before practicing on your own in the pool.

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Our first day was like: "here is a swimming noodle, jump to the water, show me what you can do", which does not match my expectations for a total beginner course, and no correlation with the contents of their brochure, just adapting to the best swimmer in the group. After our group display, we were immediately taught the breastroke, but Youtube has proven a great ally when learning proper technique. Anyways, my instructor insisted I should practice at home if I could not propel forward with my legs... ?!??!? I am so glad I decided to pay more than the other courses for this privilege :-( – SystematicFrank Oct 7 '13 at 6:13
You need a course that will teach you how to be comfortable in the water and balance horizontally well if you want to become a lap-swimmer! Don't worry about buoys yet. They are a crutch if you don't already know something about balance. – Peter DeWeese Oct 7 '13 at 15:53

I have to say that I would encourage using a snorkel rather than flotation aids. With a snorkel you can easily just lay face down in the water and float, without doing anything.

From there it's quite natural (I think) to do a breast stroke style swim, but you can also work on front crawl.

Once you can move forward, you can learn to breathe (without the snorkel) with basic advice from youtube.

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