The Forgotten Way To Improve Your Body Position In The Water

The easiest way to improve your body position in the water and lift up your legs is, ironically enough, the one most overlooked by swimming coaches.

Your body acts a little bit like a see-saw in the water, pivoting around your centre of mass which is just above your hips:

If you lift up at the front end then your legs will sink down low in the water creating lots of drag. For a large number of swimmers, particularly you Arnies and Arnettes out there, this is a huge limiting factor. You're putting out lots of power but it’s mostly lost to drag meaning you travel much more slowly through the water than you should for your fitness and level of effort.

Coaches: The temptation when trying to improve a swimmer’s body position is to look at their core control, leg kick technique or catch technique. These are certainly important factors that might need addressing but here at Swim Smooth we always start by looking at a swimmer’s exhalation into the water. Most swimmers hold their breath when they swim and this gives them excess buoyancy in the chest and so puts downward pressure on their legs. By learning a smooth exhalation into the water they shed this excess buoyancy in the chest which helps bring their legs up.

Here are two quick tips on developing your exhalation technique:

- It may seem like a childish exercise but first perform some sink-downs in the deep end of your pool to tune into the feeling and technique of exhaling (see here). Don't worry, it's normal for exhaling to feel strange or even hard to do at first!

- When transferring this exhalation into your swimming, try breathing every three strokes ("bilaterally") straight away. This will give you sufficient time to shed air and buoyancy since breathing every two strokes is not normally enough time. Getting rid of the CO2 by exhaling makes bilateral breathing much easier too, a win-win!

On a related subject, we’ve been working with Blue Seventy on their wetsuit design for a while now and one of their design concepts that we’re a big fan of is something they call ‘balanced buoyancy’. This isn’t a marketing gimmick, it’s a concept that really works by making the upper body of the wetsuit less buoyant and the lower body more buoyant. If you are a ‘leg sinker’ then their Axis suit will be much faster for you as it lets your upper body sit a little lower, which lets the suit pull your legs up to the surface. On the other hand if you are someone with very good natural body position (such as a Kicktastic or a Smooth) then this suit would feel very unbalanced for you as it would bring your legs too high. You would be much more suited to a natural buoyancy suit such as a Helix.

Swim Smooth!


Edward said...

Dear receiver I can not us the link for the Axis suit . It seems like is not working

sheila sekhar said...

I am mildly asthmatic, so always fear that my lung capacity is small & so not enough air in the lungs, not enough buoyancy etc. & always look completely sunk in the water. I don't like it as all the others look as if they are floating above the water level or at least not sooooooooo immersed in the water, & they are faster. Is it still a good idea to exhale powerfully? I breathe bilaterally, every 3strokes.
thank you

kiel said...
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Anonymous said...

I find it hard to change my old habit of hold-hold-bubble-breath to bubble-bubble-breath. I learned the first "technique" while trying to learn crawl myself. When taking lessons my coach didn't correct me.

I can do a few laps with bilateral breathing but have problems for longer distances.

A friend of mine watched me swim and said I was lopsided. I guess my body roll is weak to my non-breathing side. I have tried a few of those single arm exercises. I struggle to perform them well on my bad side. I get just a little bit better every time I try them.

What should I do? Just keep practising my bad side with bilateral breathing and single arm drills?

Adam Young said...

Hi Sheila. Yes you should still try to exhale into the water, it's really very unlikely you're lung capacity is causing you to go underwater. What is your head position like? Are you looking straight down? If so try lifting your head and looking further forwards, it could well help balance you out.

Your exhalation should be nice and relaxed a little like you've just sat down on the sofa after a hard day at work and you sigh out! It's relaxed but you get rid of it fairly quickly.

Cheers, Adam

Adam Young said...

Hi Anonymous!

When you're doing single arm exercises are you doing them with fins? On your bad side, become aware of what your lead arm is doing. Is it crossing the center line or is the arm dropping? This will make a massive difference to your stability and ability to hold that side-lying position. It would also mean that you are doing this in your main stroke too. So work on your posture in the water to help you straighten out and so breathe to that other side:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Adam!

I use fins for the single arm drills. I've tried the drills without and that's much more difficult! I can do 6-1-6 without fins with no problem. Even the bad side is more or less okay. The drills I'm struggling with are unco and the similar easier one where you breath to the side you're stroking with.

Thanks for the reminder of posture. I do sit by the computer all day. Maybe that's the problem.

I also feel that as I don't roll enough to my bad side, I lift my head much higher when breathing to that side. This disrupts the swimming. I probably drop the arm during breathing. (Difficult to observe what my lead arm is doing when breathing but something is not right.)

Adam Young said...


OK, many swimmers do find Unco challenging - it is a fairly advanced level drills. One important aspect of the drill is to make sure that the shoulder of the non-stroking arms dips down fully into the water. The drills should have a "stroke and dip... stroke and dip" rhythm to it. This will help drive the rotation and help the stroking arm come over the top.

Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...


I've watched the box set and catch masterclass and wanted to try the exercises before doing the training sessions.

I haven't done the 1000 m test but I'm fairly sure to fit in the intermediate range. I did 1:32 on 100 m at the end of a session a few days ago. I did 6:15 on 400 m a few weeks ago when feeling fresh.

I've been a bit unsure what my swimtype is, but I think I'm a swinger who used to be a kickstatic.

Reading the stroke hierarchy page, it seems that I should focus on fixing my breathing before anything else. Maybe I can leave unco for a while.

sheila sekhar said...

Thank you, Adam,
Ya, I look directly down to the bottom of the pool. I'll try lifting the head slightly & see what happens.
I guess I forget to start exhaling immediately after 'inhale' & hold my breath. I have to learn the relaxed breath.


NG said...

Thanks Paul for this tip.
It'll be on my top 5 focus point for a while !
I first tried the sink-down exercice. I was suprised to feel tension the 1st time. Even though I've been swimming for 2 years now, I wasn't at ease. I had to repeat the forceful exhale a few times before feeling relaxed.

I then spent my whole drill session forcefully exhaling each time I put my head underwater. I thought that was crazy, and I would be out of breath quickly with a half empty trunk.
But I was wrong. I actually felt more relaxed.
(And I got a nice abs workout !)

Does this apply to real swimming and racing as well ?
When swimming, should I exhale forcefully as soon as my mouth returns to the water ?

Paul Newsome said...


No, you don't want to be too forceful with that exhalation, better that you feel like you're exhaling like you're sighing in the water.



webdesign said...
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webdesign said...

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