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.