Why Might Your Legs Be Sinking?

'Why are my legs sinking down when swimming freestyle?' might be the number one question we are asked here at Swim Smooth. The extra drag from a low body position slows you down dramatically but why does this happen? There's more than one possibility, here are the most common causes:

1) Holding onto your breath underwater. If you hold your breath and don't exhale into the water you have too much buoyancy in the chest - this lifts you up at the front. Since the body acts with a see-saw action when swimming, lift up at the front and your legs sink. If you have sinky legs, exhalation should be the very first thing you work on in your stroke. Find out more here.

2) Kicking from the knee and inflexible ankles. Both of these create a lot of drag and sink your legs, find out more here.

3) Flexing through the core. You don't need abs of steel to fix this but you do need co-ordination and engagement of the core muscles. Find out more here.

4) Pushing down at the front of the stroke. In swimming, we call the initiation of each stroke in front of your head 'the catch'. A good catch action bends early at the elbow and so presses the water backwards, to the wall behind you. This propels you in the opposite direction, forwards. A poor catch presses downwards on the water with a straight arm which does nothing for your propulsion but instead lifts your front end up. You guessed it, the see-saw action then sinks the legs down. Pressing down with a straight arm like this can also cause shoulder injury. Find out more here.

5) A high head position. We have to be a little careful with this as it is a very individual thing for swimmers. If you have a good body position then you can afford to look a little further forwards, so creating a higher head position. Doing so helps your proprioception and is beneficial for navigation in open water. However, if you do suffer badly from sinky legs you may have to look straight downwards to lift them up.

Which of these might you be suffering from? Shameless plug: we designed our Swim Type system to help swimmers diagnose their stroke issues (and provide you with a complete training guide to fix those issues).

Swim Smooth!


Oscar said...

Hi Paul,

I really enjoy your post, they are great!

In this case, I have an issue with this topic and is that I try not to kick too much because I get cramps all the time. I normally swim 1200 or 1500 meters before start getting any cramp but it happens almost everytime after that time and I end swimming with a PB.
I know my flexibility at my ankle is really bad and it should better but could it be the answer of my problem?


PS: BTW, I get dump feet we I ride and it's cold.

Anonymous said...

My left leg doesn't work exactly as the right one, any suggestion ?? I have been trying for past four days to get the leg works get a bit better.

Adam Young said...

Hi Oscar,

Yes flexibility is very often a compounding factor for cramp. Where abouts are you getting the cramp?

Caffeine intake can also be a factor - are you drinking coffee before swimming?

Hi Anonymous,

When you say your left leg isn't working, in what way? Often strange kicking patterns come from a crossover in front of the head with the lead hand which causes you to kick to maintain balance. If you're crossing over on one side that could explain the uneven kick. Worth checking out!

Cheers, Adam

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr Adam Young for taking your time, By "My left leg isn't" working i meant it isn't keeping straight, i get knee bends. Any suggestion ?? I don't crossover. My University instructor says to kick the water from hip joint keeping the entire leg straight, no knee bends, is it correct ?? My right leg is working well according to him and he says my left leg needs to be syncronised exactly. Sorry for being anonymous.

Adam Young said...

90%+ of the time when there's something uneven in the kick it's something elsewhere in the stroke that's causing it. Really the key to sorting this out for you is to understand what that is and to fix it, then your kick should fall naturally into place.

Any video available of your stroke?

Anonymous said...

Thank u Mr Young for ur time again, I have got no video yet, but i'll try to manage. As for the knee bend i have almost minimized it to a 10% than previous state. Thank you. It turned out all i needed was practice 4 hrs a day.

Anonymous said...

P.S: Its a really amazing superb cool and helpful site.

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