Sinking while swimming is one of the most common problems that hold swimmers back from improving or simply learning to swim well.
Minor adjustments to body position and swimming technique can minimise or prevent sinking when swimming. The biggest contributor to sinking is the head position, which can cause your legs to sink while swimming freestyle.
Perhaps you are a new swimmer looking for a solution or a seasoned veteran who needs a reminder to get their swim stroke faster and back on track.
In this article, I will cover,
- Why do I sink when I swim freestyle?
- Why do I sink when I swim breaststroke?
- 7 exercises to stop sinking when swimming
Why Do I Sink When I Swim Freestyle?
In order to swim front crawl (also known as freestyle), one of the biggest issues swimmers face is sinking legs.
If your legs sink as you swim, they will cause drag, and as a result, swimming will feel very difficult and slow.
The number one issue that contributes to sinking while swimming front crawl (aka freestyle), is poor head position.
Our human heads are heavy, with the average human head weighing approximately 5kg (11lbs). So managing our head position is fundamental to a good balance in the water. [source]
We want to maintain a neutral head position as we swim, where our head is deep enough into the water that our legs “pop up”.
How Do I Stop My Legs From Sinking In Freestyle?
Imagine our body like a seesaw, with the pivot point being our hips. If you push your head down into the water, your legs will come up and prevent sinking and leg drag.
On the opposite side, if your head is too high in the water, your legs will fall and create drag you swim, which may make you feel you are sinking.
I remember the very first time I learned this and applied it in the pool. Overnight, my freestyle went from a splashing mess with sinking legs to a smooth glide.
There are drills and exercises which you can do to fix this sinking issue, which I have shared at the bottom of this blog. These are the drills I used to transform my sinking freestyle.
Why Do I Sink When I Swim Breaststroke?
The breaststroke is the preferred swim stroke for many swimmers. As you can start swimming without too much attention to detail, it is often the stroke that many of us start with and stick with.
It is very easy to forget that the breaststroke is a very technical stroke, and again, minor adjustments can make the world of difference.
Common reasons you may sink when doing the breaststroke include:
1. Being Too High In The Water
If you have ever watched an Olympic breaststroke race, the swimmers look like they are almost jumping out of the water. One of my favourite breaststroke swimmers is Cody Miller, and you can see the top half of his chest as he pops up for a breath.
Looking at this, many assume that we need to come up high and vertical in the water, but for us mortals who are not Olympians, this is not a good approach.
What goes up must come down, and unless you have the technique and speed of an Olympian, you will sink deep into the water after your high breath.
It can be better to stay closer to the surface of the water to prevent too much undulation and sinking in the water, which will create drag.
2. Remember To Glide
There is a gliding stage in the breaststroke that often gets overlooked by many swimmers. Ensuring you maximise the glide phase will help you regain a streamlined position while swimming breaststroke and help you get your balance in the water.
Typically, the breaststroke comprises a “pull, kick, glide” movement.
If you can maintain a neutral head position during the glide phase, where your head is deep enough to act as a counterweight that will cause your legs to pop up, then you can get into a streamlined position, gain excellent balance and be in a great position to start the next pull stroke.
7 Exercises To Stop Sinking When Swimming
The following exercises and drills helped me immensely when I was learning to swim.
Sinking is one of the biggest challenges facing new swimmers, and experimenting with body position in the water can dramatically improve how well you swim.
I appreciate it’s hard to read something and then try to remember it when you are at the pool, so I have made these exercises as simple as possible to remember.
1. Head Position
Start with your head. This is the most effective way to counteract sinking as you swim, particularly sinking legs.
- In the shallow end, push off from the wall.
- Stay in a streamlined position with your legs stretched out straight behind you and arms out straight above your head.
- Press your head and upper body down and into the water. You should feel some resistance.
When you press your head and upper body down into the water, your legs will naturally pop up to the surface of the water. You should feel that you are now gliding and just moving with the momentum you gained from pushing off the wall.
Experiment with your head position until you find a position where you can see a couple of meters in front of you and can still easily maintain high legs in the water.
Alternatively, you can keep your eyes on the bottom of the pool to start. However, I have found that in the real world, and progressing to swimming lanes, your head will pop up as you look ahead to see other lane swimmers.
Therefore, experimenting with a head position where you can see a couple of meters in front of you and a position where your head is submerged just enough to give you natural momentum and balance in the water is the best option.
You’ll need some experimentation to find your sweet spot.
2. Hip Rotation
Hip rotation is very important while swimming. Our hips are the engine of our swim stroke.
If you roll your body as you swim, you will “corkscrew” through the water. This is fundamental to swimming fast and preventing drag and sinking.
Hip rotation can be tricky at first, as it requires core muscles and excellent balance. Here is a great exercise to try:
- As you swim freestyle, roll your body until your hips and shoulders are less than perpendicular to the water. It will feel as though you are swimming on your side.
- When you reach this “side swimming” position, try to hold it for a few seconds longer so you feel the balance required to maintain this position.
The above exercise will help you become more aware of the amount of balance required in swimming, help you swim faster, and also stop you from sinking by using the rotation of the body to propel you forward.
Having the wrong position as you breathe is a fundamental contributor to sinking.
Some swimmers lift their heads too high when they breathe, which will cause the legs to sink.
- When turning your head to breathe, focus your eyes directly on the pool wall opposite.
- Your eyes should not be looking at the ceiling.
- You should only turn your head enough to see the opposite side wall and then take a breath.
Experimenting with your head rotation while breathing and thinking about where your eyes are looking as you breathe will help you maintain your neutral head position and stop your legs from sinking.
4. Extend & Reach
This is one of my favourite drills to prevent sinking and promote a streamlined position in the water.
It also feels very nice in the water and helps you glide effortlessly through the water.
- As you swim front crawl, with your arm stretched out in front of you, leave it there and imagine that you stretching and reaching for the far end of the pool.
This “reaching for the far end of the pool” move will naturally cause your body to roll and will put your body into a streamlined position.
Long and straight bodies move faster through the water, so if you extend your reach in the pool, you will glide through the water and not sink.
5. Anchor Your Hands
This is a really great tip I picked up while learning to swim with the Total Immersion Swimming Method.
The idea of anchoring your hands will stop your legs from sinking. Basically, you should have one hand out in front of you as you swim freestyle until the other hand is in position to take the next stroke.
In other words, there is always an arm stretched out in front of you. You do not pull with your left arm until your right arm is in position to catch and vice versa.
- Take a stroke and glide with your left arm stretched out in front of you.
- Take a stroke with your right arm, but ensure that your left arm remains in position.
- Extend your right arm in front of you so it is alongside your left.
- Now pull with your left arm.
By doing this, you will always have an arm in front of you as you swim, which acts as a counterbalance to keep your legs high.
If you pull with one hand before the other is in position to catch, you will be in a position where both of your arms could be too far back, tipping your balance so that your legs will sink.
The remedy for sinking in water is a good balance.
If you have ever tried gliding on your side in the water, you will know how difficult it can be to maintain a good balance in the water. One reason elite swimmers have fantastic core muscles is because of the amount of core strength needed to maintain a good water balance.
Try this exercise to understand how balance works in the water:
- Kick-off from the pool wall in the streamlined position.
- Leave your left arm stretched out in front of you and place your right arm down by your side.
- Gently kick and try to swim on your left side, while turning your head to breathe when needed.
- Try this on the right side as well.
Holding this position can be very difficult.
You must have a good head position to maintain momentum and turning on your side can sometimes feel you are about to fall over.
If you can maintain a good balance in the water, you will not sink as you swim.
7. Pull Buoy
Pull buoys are a great training aid to help prevent sinking legs.
Pully buoys are floats that are placed between the legs. This prevents you from kicking as you swim. However, it helps to keep your legs and hips high in the water.
- Place the pull buoy between your legs.
- Do not kick.
- Swim front crawl as normal.
By using a pull buoy, you will get a feeling of what a good body position in the water feels like.
If you sink as you swim, then you are not alone. It is something all new swimmers face and is something that more experienced swimmers have to be mindful of.
Managing our head position is fundamental to a good balance in the water. If we can maintain a neutral head position as we swim, where our head is deep enough into the water that our legs “pop up”, then we can get into a streamlined position and be in a great position to start the next pull stroke.
There are many drills and exercises you can try to stop yourself from sinking as you swim, but I recommend you start with your head position. If you can get your head position right in the water, it will dramatically improve your swimming.