Swim coaches talk a good deal about “balance” in the water, but they rarely talk about what swim balance is and how achieving it can help you. It is one of those vague terms like “metabolic efficiency” that everyone but few are able to define.
In the Tri Swim Coach dictionary, balance in the water refers to your body position, both vertically (down the center of your body) and horizontally (at the hips) when swimming.
Being unbalanced vertically leads to your lower body (primarily your legs) and your upper body swerving from side to side as you swim. It is similar to when you first balance on one foot: your upper and lower body sway from side to side until you achieve balance when you are able to remain perfectly still even when you move your arms. The same applies to the water.
Horizontal balance refers to how your lower body and upper body are positioned in the water relative to each other. If you are unbalanced, either your legs are sinking while your upper body remains level or your upper body (shoulders specifically) is sinking while your legs remain close to the surface.
As you can imagine, both situation causes drag, wasted energy, and inefficiency all of which results in, you guessed it, slower times.
So how can you become more balanced?
The first thing to do is to figure out which balance point you need to work on: vertically, horizontally, or both. The leading cause of vertical imbalance is crossing over. Let’s go back to the image of trying to balance on land. If you move your upper body wildly about, your lower body will compensate and also move to prevent you from falling. The same thing happens in the water.
The main culprit is having too narrow a stroke and entering and pulling through the water too close to your center of axis. To fix this, widen your stroke. Instead of entering at the 12 o’clock position try the 10 and 2 o’clock position. You can also imagine entering the water and pointing to the far right corner of the lane. A good drill to focus on this is catch up but with a kick board where you hold the board horizontally on the corners. A PVC pipe is also a good tool for this
Fixing horizontal balance can be a bit trickier. If your lower body is sinking then it is possible that you are raising your head instead of keepinging it neutral. If your upper body is sinking then you may be focusing too much on pushing your shoulders down, in which case imagine your ankles in line with your shoulders. and your head just sticking out of the water. The “dead man’s float” is excellent practice for finding that sweet spot where you are flat in the water.
Finding your balance is an on going process, but, like riding a bike, once you find it, you will never lose it again.
Coach Chris and Kev