Q+A: Why do my legs always sink after I swim about 20 metres in the pool?

Q. Why do my legs always sink after I swim about 20 metres in the pool? What drills can I do to stop this?

A. Most triathletes in this country come from a non-swimming background and so many have a poor swim technique.

The most likely cause of the legs sinking is poor technique, although muscle density could also play a factor. Common problems are incorrect head position and pulling too early with the arms. The reason you sink after 20 metres and not straight away is probably because of the momentum from the push off the wall, which helps with your body position; as this momentum fades, technique must come to the fore. 

There are a number of drills you can incorporate into your swim training that will help your technique. Here are just three:

Single arm: This will focus your attention on what your arms are doing through the first phase of the stroke. If you start pulling the arm back the moment it enters the water your legs will drop. Most novice swimmers do this as they assume that by pulling back as fast and hard as they can, they will speed up.

Swimming is all about technique - the right angle of the forearm in the water and the correct timing of the stroke are vital. Your arm doesn't really start pulling backwards until the hand is pointing directly towards the floor. Swim down the pool using only one arm, keeping the other one straight in front of you. Rotate your body, but do not let the non-working shoulder rise out of the water.  I recommend 4x25m, changing arms each length.

Swimming with a pull buoy:
This will help you focus on your arms and keep your legs higher in the water. With regular practise your body will learn to be in a better position (providing you are pulling through the stroke at the correct point).  I recommend 2x100m.

Kick drills:
  Learning to swim just kicking will help your core muscles and improve your positioning and balance. After a few months of incorporating kick drills into your swim sessions you will notice that your kicking improves and so does your ability to keep your legs higher in the water.

Swim on one side with your arms by your sides. To make it easier you could have one arm stretched in front of you (like superman). You turn onto one side so that one shoulder is protruding from the water. Your kicking will be a scissors-like action from side to side. This is might take some getting used to but stick to it. I recommend 4x25m, changing sides each length.

Do these drills after you warm up; they will help you to think about correct body positioning throughout your swim.

Ralph Hydes

Ralph Hydes (www.ralph-hydes.com) is a running, duathlon and triathlon coach. He has helped many athletes reach international-level competition and has been the trainer to corporate teams for the London Triathlon since 2001. Ralph is a freelance coach, designing individual triathlon training programmes, providing one-to-one coaching and offering nutrition advice. His new DVD is Flexibility for Triathletes and Runners.