Pushing Up - Another Reason Why Your Legs Might Be Low In The Water

Many swimmers suffer from low lying legs in the water, creating large amounts of additional drag, slowing them down hugely. If you are much faster with a pull buoy and/or a wetsuit then you know this is an issue for yourself - in fact it will be the single biggest thing holding you back.

There are many reasons why a swimmer may have low lying legs including holding their breath, pressing down at the front of the stroke, poor kicking technique and lifting the head to breathe. But here’s another that is often overlooked:

PRESSING UP At The Back Of The Stroke

Pressing up at the rear of the stroke is often overlooked by coaches because it is quite hard to spot without video analysis:

On the simplest level, propulsion in swimming is about pressing water backwards to send you forwards. Pressing up at the back of the stroke can feel quite nice because you feel quite a lot of water pressure on your palm but by pressing it upwards you are not producing any propulsion and only creating downward pressure on your legs. All by itself this can be enough to create a low lying body position.

Instead, think about pressing the water back to the wall behind you through your arm stroke and as your hand passes the top of your thigh, smoothly turn the palm to face towards the thigh to finish the stroke neatly. That will leave you perfectly placed for a relaxed recovery over the water:

Remember not to extend the arm fully straight at the rear, you’re not looking to force your arm out bolt straight, that will put a lot of stress on the elbow (commonly leading to medial epicondylitis - “golfers elbow”) and not give you any additional propulsion. Elite swimmers don't do this, they actually finish at the back of the stroke with a slightly bent elbow:

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David said...

Can the Finis hand paddles be helpful in correcting this? I think I'm guilty! / Is it true, by the way, that runners tend to have heavier legs? And that women have more fat, thus more buoyancy?

Unknown said...

I'd say low legs are going to be more affected by poor core muscle strength rather than a hand pushing up.
Better off practicing sculling on your back and pushing your hips up to the surface.
The core muscles than keep you straight in the water work front the chest to the hip flexors.
It's all about the core.

Unknown said...

Paul you nailed me in one hit right down to my issue of golfers elbow. I do 2.5 hours of core work each week but but still have sinking legs. Your email is a 100% accurate description of both my stroke and my frustration of sinking legs.

LaDeane Hansten said...

Great thought! Many Olympic sprinters actually do straighten their arm and flick their hand out at the farthest point behind them. Especially when finishing a race.

Paul Mason said...

Really useful post, thanks! It's already (today) helped one of my swimmers, who had exactly the symptoms you describe.

Patricia said...

good point. my legs sink but I think it is due to breathing issue and getting chest down.

what would cause lateral epicondylitis?

Anonymous said...

Great tip. This has been one of my issues, which is dramatically reduced by using a buoy.

Anonymous said...

Never knew about the turn your palm into your thigh and always wondered how far back I should finish the stroke.

So already 2 things I'm doing wrong. I'll have to focus on these my next swim.

Shorty said...

Awesum blog and has shown up a bad error of mine. Perfect advice.

Unknown said...

Great article, thanks. After a video session with Paul a few years back that has helped my stroke immensely and given me massive confidence for open water swimming and a few half IM triathlons, I’ve since wondered if there is a plot of data showing typical/or ideal pressures on the water through the stroke? Then I’ve wondered if by “smooth” this means it should be fairly flat from catch to exit? I’m a heavier set swimmer (tho more Overglider than Arnie) so rely on my arms massively and find I can put more “oomph” in at the catch, less in the middle and another peak of pressure past the hip. Is this less efficient than a steady rate of pressure through the length of the stroke or does analysis of different people suggest it doesn’t really matter? Any ideas anyone?

Anonymous said...

The myth of core stability by a Eyal Lederman should be read by everybody, before they make any comment on core stability. Core stability seems to be a massive industry fuelled by Pilates, and as usual with money at the root. Most people who swim regularly or do regular exercise have a pretty good core in my opinion and don't need to do any extra training on it. People who sit at a desk all day and have a beer belly or some kind of obesity problem, may have a core stability issue , but they have plenty of other issues as well which are far more important.

Anonymous said...

Think the heavy leg thing is not borne out I have big legs from cycling but still have a good body position the core seems very important here. BTW who's telling the women about being fatter?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous and core stability....

Most people in the Western world DO sit all day....and core stability IS a problem. And it is a central issue in their health. We are talking about people in very good condition, but who sit all day, me being one of them.

For me switching to a standing desk helped, and it helped my swimming.

Cyndy@swimsmooth said...

Hi David- yes the Finis paddles will definitely help you develop a better catch and alleviate this problem too- you will really feel it when you get it wrong wearing paddles! Generally we believe people have unique buoyancy, regardless of sex or body fat levels.

Silk- As we said above there are many reasons why a swimmer may have low lying legs including holding their breath, pressing down at the front of the stroke, poor kicking technique and lifting the head to breathe, core stability may very well be contributory.

Terry, Paul, Anonymouses, Shorty- Happy to help!

LaDeane- some Olympians will perhaps also be suffering from elbow pain!

Patricia- There's a few great articles online which can go into more depth than we can here! It's well worth seeing your doctor or physio to help you out.

Luke- Look up the research from Huub Toussant e.g. https://ojs.ub.uni-konstanz.de/cpa/article/viewFile/613/538

Anonymouses- Great core stability will help in daily life and exercise activities, and exercises will help to develop it, whatever form it takes IMO

Beverly said...

I wonder about the comment that people who have more fat are better at floating. I've always been a poor floater and would like to read more about this. Would this also be related to core strength rather than amount of fat or perhaps even bone density or weight of skeleton related to flesh ... (if this makes sense?)

Cyndy@swimsmooth said...

Hi Beverly,

It would make sense that people who are more 'dense' i.e. higher proportion of muscle mass to fat mass would be less floaty, however in our experience we find it is completely unique to the individual. What is definitely true is generally people with quite lean muscly legs find it hard to keep them on the surface without an effective light flutter kick - hence 'sinky leg syndrome' and an increase in wetsuit thickness in the legs such as the Huub Archimedes and aXenas can really help this.

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