How to Avoid Sinking Legs in Swimming

Why the Answer to Your Sinking Legs is Your Arms

©iStockphoto.com/Elhenyo

Dealing with sinking legs is one of the most common challenges I hear from swimmers. Their prevailing theories for this typically revolve around:

  • I’m a sinker.
  • I’m a weak kicker.
  • I’m not going fast enough.

In almost all cases, these aren’t the root of the problem.

Let’s think about a seesaw for a moment. If the persons on both ends weigh exactly the same, then the seesaw experience is nice and balanced, right? But a lot of times, this isn’t the case. So what are your options?

  • Add more weight to the lighter person, but keeping both of them in the same spot.
  • Move the heavier person closer to the fulcrum so the lighter person has more leverage.
  • Have the heavier person kick gently every time it’s his or her time to come up.

Now think of your body as a seesaw. Your body is the plank. The challenge is, you’re not quite sure where your fulcrum is.

But that’s not a problem. We can just experiment!

Your legs for the most part are always extended back. But your arms typically aren’t. The way most of us are taught to swim is to “reach and pull”.

The problem with this is your “reaching” arm never stays out there for any significant period of time. The only reason it’s reaching is to set itself up immediately for the big pull.

So what does this do? Your legs are extended, but your arms are always in motion and mostly in some position less than full extension.

So, let’s assume for the moment that your arms are generally less dense or lighter than your legs. And you have your legs playing the part of that heavier person in the seesaw.

So now by swimming via “reach and pull” your arms are essentially the equivalent of that lighter person sitting closer to the fulcrum. The opposite of what you want!

So how do you solve this? Pretty simple actually.

Keep Your Lead Arm Out Longer

Ideally, hold the lead arm extended up to the time that the elbow of your entering arm crosses the water surface. The Total Immersion drills that are useful for this are Skating and Swing Skate.

Other programs call it “overlaps”. They let the lead arm hold a small water toy. As the other arm enters, the objective is for the lead arm to pass the toy to the entering arm as it takes the extended lead position. While doing this, the lead arm stays put and waits for the entering arm to meet it.

Conceptually this addresses the same thing. The only problem is that it encourages your arms to come to the center. We definitely don’t want that.

We want our arms to be on wide tracks. The Skating and Swing Skate drills promote the same thing, but emphasizes wide tracks.

In the beginning this is going to feel really weird. You’ll feel like being in a Superman pose with both arms out. Trust me, you’re not.

Have someone take topside video of you swimming. Any simple point and shoot will do. You might be surprised at how impatient your arms are.

As you get more comfortable with the timing, try to experiment with minimizing your kicks. Quiet them down a bit.

Or maybe even take the opposite approach. If the arm timing is not quite clicking, try reducing your kicks first. Doing so might actually help with your arm timing.

There are other ways to address the sinking legs problem. Focusing on hanging your head is another good one. But for now, take it one at a time. You’ll have more than enough opportunities to try other approaches. That’s the fun part!

As always, let us know how things work out for you via the comments below.

Comments

  1. katy says

    i would like to know how to keep from sinking not how to keep my legs from sinking please:)

  2. Silky Swimmer says

    Hi Katy, the key is trying to get some weight up front to counter the weight of your legs. To do this, try to have your lead arm stay out front a tad longer before pulling it back. Hope this helps.

  3. Jason Kilborn says

    I have this problem, and I just bought the 10-step self-coaching workshop. When I do Superman Glide, my legs sink like rocks after 3-4 seconds, and my arms are as far above my head (on wide tracks) as I could possibly reach. On Superman Flutter, my fluttering legs end up 2-3 feet below water, off the pool bottom but still clearly and deeply underwater. On the video, Terry seems to float for a long time–this is NOT my experience. I’m only 5’5″ and weigh about 145, with relatively thick legs from years of biking. Is my small stature and low adipose volume to blame? Help!

  4. Keetu says

    Hi,

    My legs start to sink in few strides and i realize my lower back starts aching. Also i have been told that my normal posture is little incorrect, that is my lumbar region is more curved than normal(sway back).
    All this brings me to the conclusion that i have weak core muscles.
    So what should i do to correct it. Won’t i be able to swim until i strengthen my core muscles?
    Please help. Thanks in advance.

  5. Silky Swimmer says

    Hi Jason,

    Don’t worry too much about how long or short you glide before your feet touch bottom. The point is here is to increase your feel for where you are in the water and what your body is doing. This should get your mind in the right place before starting your session.

    While body type does play a factor, it should not prevent you from swimming in good balance.

    Hope this helps. Let me know if I can answer more questions.

    SS

  6. Silky Swimmer says

    Hi Keetu,

    Sure, your core muscles play a part in swimming. But they do in walking, standing, running etc as well. My guess is that it is more a technique/balance thing. Sinking legs has a lot to do with stroke timing and ensuring that you have some weight up front to counter the weight of the legs.

    That said, if you do feel you have some posture issues, perhaps best to consult a medical professional as well.

    Hope this helps.

    SS

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