The first thing to establish in being able to swim well is good body position and this starts with floating. As we are all aware, fat is buoyant and floats and muscle is heavier and therefore it sinks. So not surprisingly it is quite common for athletes and particularly triathletes who are lean with well developed leg muscles to have a problem with sinking hips and legs. One of our areas that floats the best is our chest due to the air in our lungs. In theory, if we push our air filled chest down into the water, the water will push back thereby lifting our hips and legs to the surface. Below are listed exercises and drills in progression to help with body position and balance. Make sure you are proficient in each one before moving on to the next.
1. Place your hands on the top of the pool wall or a bar if there is one, and bend your legs up to place your feet on the wall. Lie your head back on the water and gently push back with your legs while at the same time letting your hands go.
2. While floating on your back tuck your chin in slightly as if your holding an orange under your chin and lean back into the water with the back of your head and upper back.
3. Experiment with the amount of pressure you apply until your hips and legs are just under the surface of the water. Even accomplished swimmers can have problems keeping their legs floating whilst not moving for extended periods of time, but with practice you should be able to see improvements. Try to keep hips and legs up for at least 30 seconds.
4. The next step is to practice floating on your front. Now we need to concentrate on pushing our sternum down towards the bottom of the pool. Keep your arms relaxed by your sides.
Once you have successfully managed to float on your front and back we can introduce body roll and balance. Body roll is easier with good core strength as we need to engage the core.
Body Roll/Balance Practice:
1. Start floating on your back, make sure hips and legs are high in the water. Then turn your head, shoulder, torso and hip to the left until you roll onto your front. Make sure your head, shoulder, torso and hip roll together.
2. Once again make sure your hips and legs are up just below the surface of the water before you roll to the left again to end up on your back. Remember to roll your head at the same time as the shoulder, torso and hip in a smooth controlled action.
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 only this time try rolling to the right.
Kicking plays an important part.
For the following exercises we first need to make sure we have an effective kick. Many beginners make the mistake of only kicking from the knees, when in actual fact, the kicking action should originate from the hips. Our legs should remain close together and straight with a small amount of knee bend occurring while executing the kick. The kick known as a 'flutter kick,' should be small and fast. The feet and ankles should be relaxed, not at a 90 degree angle. If you point your toes you are likely going to cause cramping in your calves and tire your leg muscles out faster. Your kick should come to just under the surface of the water, making bubbles appear at the surface. The kicking action is down and up, not a circling action like running or cycling.
1. Practice kicking by holding the back of the kick board with fingers on top and thumbs underneath. Keep the elbows out straight and kick with face in the water, squeezing your arms against your ears. Practice with and without fins.
2. Practice kicking on your back by once again holding the back of the kickboard and with straight arms, hold the board over your knees. Your knees should stay under the water and shouldn't be hitting the kickboard.
3. Try kicking on your back by placing your arms around a noodle so you are in a slightly sitting up position. This way you can watch what your legs are doing. Are they straight with knees under the water? Are your feet making bubbles at the surface? Are your legs close together?
Start by using fins with the following drills.
Rolling to Breath with Kick:
1. Repeat the float and roll exercise only this time we add in kicking. Take a couple of breaths while on your back kicking, then roll onto your front breathing out into the water while still kicking. When you need another breath in, roll back onto your back and repeat. Only go short distances before taking a rest.
1. Start on your front, extending one arm out straight with the other arm by your side.
2. Ear should be against the extended arm, face is in the water exhaling, feet are kicking.
3. Roll the body to breathe so that your belly button is facing the side wall of the pool and your head is still against your extended arm. (roll head, shoulder, torso, hip simultaneously) Your eyes should be looking to the side of the pool with one side of your face still in the water. Make sure there is no head lift.
4. Take one breath in and roll back onto front to exhale again and repeat the process for 25m then change arms so you practice rolling to breathe on the opposite side.
Advanced Body Roll Drill:
1. This time both arms remain by your sides throughout the exercise. Remember to engage the core as you roll your torso to breathe. Swim only short distances before resting.
As you develop greater strength and balance, try the previous drills without fins.
Another important component to body position is streamlining.
The Streamline Position:
1. Place one hand flat on top of the other and extend your arms out straight behind your head. some coaches will tell you to squeeze your ears with your arms but my personal preference is to have ears in front of arms especially in dives and off the wall. The position you can achieve however will depend on your level of mobility in your shoulders and arms.
2. Legs should be straight and close together.
Streamline Practice: (Torpedoes)
1. Standing with your back close to the wall at the end of the pool, squat down underwater. Place your feet on the wall at the same time as placing your arms in the streamlined position.
2. Push hard off the wall with your feet, fully extending your legs and tightening your muscles. Blow out through your nose to prevent water going up your nasal passages as you push off. As you push off try not to come straight to the surface but rather travel underwater like a torpedo at least until the backstroke flags.
3. Glide. As soon as you come to the surface, stop. Take note of how far you have travelled. Repeat these many times and try to beat your distance travelled.
1. Take the same steps as before except this time try pushing off the wall on your side so that your belly button is facing the side wall of the pool. Don't forget straight streamlined arms and legs and glide.
2. Take note of your distance travelled. Repeat these many times and try to beat your distance travelled. How does the distance compare to pushing off on your front? How does it feel compared to torpedoes on your front?
1. You guessed it! Now we push off the wall in our streamlined position on our backs. Remember to blow the air out through your nose as you push and your head must be inline with your spine with your eyes looking up to the surface.
2. Glide then stop and once again take notice of distance travelled and try to go further with each attempt.
Torpedoes with kick:
1. Repeat your front, side and back torpedoes only this time add some kick before you surface. Use dolphin kick if you know how otherwise use flutter kick. Push, Glide, Kick and when you come to the surface Stop.
2. Surface after the flags but before the 15m mark. Try to get faster with each repeat.
After working through these drills and exercises you will not only be able to float better, have better balance, body roll and streamline capabilities but you have also practised breathing to both sides and given your core, legs and cardio a good workout.