I got an email from a beginner triathlete that went like this: “Can you help me with my triathlon swimming? When I get in the water I sink like a rock and can’t keep myself near the top of the water. Any tips?”
This is a pretty common problem for triathletes struggling with their swimming. It is an important problem to fix, too. The more of your body (low hips and legs) you have to pull through the water, the slower you go and the more energy you use during the swim. Slower and more tired getting out of the water is not a good combination.
If your hips are sinking then you aren’t level in the water and that causes problems. Here are 5 tips on how to teach yourself to swim level in the water during your next triathlon swim.
1. One common misconception is that you need to swim Lifeguard courses “on top” of the water. The first thing you need to understand is that your goal is not to be “on top” of the water – you can work so hard on pushing your body up that your stroke suffers. Your goal is to be level in the water, with mainly your arms and mouth (during your breathing) out of the water. Swim some without your swim cap so you can feel where the water line hits your head. You want more than half your head to be below the water line – higher than that and you are probably holding your upper body too high, which can cause your hips to drop.
2. Take a big breath. When your lungs are full of air they act like a life preserver and make it easier to keep your whole body higher and level in the water. Use this as your “ballast” that you push to raise your hips (see tip number 3 for more about this). Practice holding your breath during most of your stroke, exhaling quick at the end just as you begin your next big breath.
3. A big part of swimming is just getting comfortable. Practice floating on both your stomach and your back. Practice rolling from your stomach to your back and then back to your stomach. Concentrate on pressing your chest (if you are on your stomach) or your shoulder blades (on your back) into the water. You should notice that your hips pop up level with the rest of your body.
4. Concentrate on your balance during drills. Swim lengths of the pool doing stroke drills where you concentrate on your balance and pressing your chest into the water.
5. Improve your kicking form. Many beginner triathletes kick by bending their legs a lot at the knee – this can definitely cause your hips to sink in the water. You want to stay very long in water, so your kick needs to be from your hips, not your knees. Swim some drills wearing flippers and concentrate on keeping your knees somewhat straight (they can bend, but only slightly). Flippers will also improve flexibility in your ankles, which will further improve your swim stroke. I sometimes imagine that I’m wearing flippers while swimming to improve my kick technique.
If you use these tips during your triathlon swimming training you should see your swim times drop and you should have more energy on the bike when you get out of the water. See my 3 minute swim lesson at Coach-Janet.