One of the biggest sources of frustration for beginner swimmers and coincidentally the most common form error next to crossing over is sinking legs. It has been a while since we have addressed this and since we have received so many questions like “why do i sink when i swim”, “why my legs sink when i try to float or swim backstroke” and more, we thought we would revisit the topic.
In an ideal swim stroke like those seen in YouTube videos of the Olympics and Collegiate Nationals, swimmers’ bodies are parallel to the surface of the water; their butts skim the surface and their ankles come slightly out of the water as they kick, propelling them forward like fins.
On the other hand, a swimmer with sinking legs looks like they are swimming uphill. Starting at the hips, their whole lower body drags underneath the water and in extreme cases practically scrape the bottom of the pool. With such form, drag and thus effort and energy increases which in turn causes problems with breathing and pulling.
The causes of sinking legs are multifaceted including
- Lifting the head up to breath instead of to the side which causes the shoulders to move up and the hips to move down
- Holding the breath which inflates the upper body and causes the lower body to sink.
- Severe ankle inflexibility with toes pointed to the bottom of the pool instead of the wall.
- Kicking from the knees
- Looking forward which will raise your head instead of down
- Straight arm catch rather than a vertical forearm catch.
Obviously, with so many causes it is hard to have just one solution, so instead here is a simple progression to improve all of these causes and improve your entire stroke.
- The first step is to align your body properly in the water and more importantly know what this feels like so that you have the ability to feel when you slip out of alignment when swimming. This is often the hardest but most critical part. You should first start with drills like balance point and dead man’s float. Do not move on until you have mastered the basic float. Play around with where your shoulders lie in the water and where your head is and see how that affects your hips and lower legs. Also be sure to point your ankles and keep breathing.
- After you have mastered the float and know what it feels like to balance, add in kicking from one side to the other then progress to drills like 6/3/6 (6 kicks left, 3 strokes, 6 kicks right). When performing these kicking drills also focus on your ankles pointing and ROTATING to breath. Eyes should be on the bottom of the pool not the end of the lane. It is at this point that you may need to supplement with deep end vertical kicking to increase ankle flexibility and kicking efficiency.
- With your newly found balance in the water and your proper breathing technique, progress to the catch up and ¾ catch up drill to perfect that high elbow/vertical forearm catch all the while breathing to the side and maintaining balance in the water.
You might be tempted to use a pull buoy or Lava pants to help with the situation but be aware that this is a serious Band-aid and not the solution. Use them sparingly for the main set of workouts as you do the above progress but not in place of it.