Winter usually is a good time to focus on technique and strength drills.  To do drills, you have to have an opportunity to swim slowly and focus on how your actions and the water impact how you move through the water.  However, in these strange times, those that are able to get in the water now are usually in cold water.  And, we know that cold water doesn’t lend itself to swimming slowly or focusing on anything beyond achieving your goal for the day, be that a splash, a bit of a swim, or some cake.  So, I’ll avoid discussions of drills right now and try to focus on something that some of you have brought up as a concern.

Before I get to that point, I want to note something that might be obvious but helps make a point:

Our swimming proficiency is not just a result of how strong our arms and shoulders are.  Swimming is a dynamic activity and our stroke is the result of our constantly shifting body position to propel our body through the water.  It is imperative that many body parts contribute.
– Coach Brian

Another main point that I want to point out here is the following:

Our goal when swimming is to develop forward propulsion to drive our body through the water while minimizing the amount of drag that is created by our body.  Any activity that doesn’t provide forward propulsion or increases the natural drag of our body is working against achieving this goal.

So, why do my legs sink when I swim?

Please realize that sinking legs don’t decrease forward propulsion but they can increase drag.  In addition, sinking legs are likely a symptom of something else in a swimmer’s technique.  And, therefore, with some thought and drills, this symptom can be addressed with effort.

Are you sure they are sinking?

It’s not likely that your legs are hitting the bottom of a pool nor that you have video analysis of your swimming to help you see your body position.  Looking under your body to see if your feet are sinking will change your body position so drastically that it will not offer any valuable information.

It’s also unlikely that you have a pool or swimming area that is shallow enough to allow you to swim normally and feel if your feet are sinking.  (This would likely be a about ½ meter deep water for most of us.)

So, how do you know if your legs are sinking?  The impact of sinking legs is increased drag.  So, if you can feel water applying pressure on the front of your feet, calves or thighs, it’s likely that there is drag being caused by that body area.  Any adjustments that we discuss below should reduce this sensation of drag without impacting your ability to propel your body through the water.

Why We Kick

Let’s consider how kicking is used while swimming.  The usefulness of kicking and how it impacts the swimming stroke depends on the type of swimming we are doing, namely:  Sprinting or Mid- to Long-Distance swimming.

When sprinting, swimmers need a propulsive kick which will require flexible ankles, the ability to point your toes, and a coordinated change in the position of your hips, knees, and ankles to maximize propulsion.  This also, most importantly, requires a lot of energy.  If you consider it, sprinting requires very aggressive movement of (for most of us) the largest muscles in your body.  This will burn a lot of energy.  Most of us swimming in open water are not sprinting.  So, I only bring this up to offset this from the kicking that you’re likely trying to apply.

The kick used in longer-distance swimming does provide some amount of forward propulsion.  However, the main purposes of the kick are to reduce drag and improve body position for other portions of the stroke.  With that in mind, how you impact your body position through your kick can differ based on the circumstances of your swimming.  For example, if you are wearing a wetsuit, your body will float differently.  Some wetsuits actually have differing widths of polypropylene specifically to help with body position.  In addition, the floatation of your body will differ depending on the salinity of the water, and this can impact your body position.  So, be aware of this so that you focus on body position when you feel it is most appropriate.  (In other words, focus on your body position when you can practice in circumstances that are closely associated with your preferred environment.)

Okay, enough disclaimers and explanations, let’s really approach the subject.


With some thought, and looking around for other opinions and thoughts of others, I’ve assembled list of a few possible reasons that a swimmer’s legs might sink:

  • Muscle density / Floating Position
  • Head position
  • Core (abdominal or dorsal muscle action)
  • Kicking technique
  • Ankle position / flexibility
  • Arm action at entry
  • Lack of kicking

If your legs sink, it may be due to one or a combination of these areas.  Being aware of the cause of your body position can help you understand how you can address this issue.

Muscle Density

It’d be easy to just think that your legs sink just because of your body style.  Seb has a really ingenious way to figure this out.

Try floating on your back in a relaxed, prone position with your head and eyes looking straight up to the sky or even partially above your head.  As you slowly exhale air, notice whether your legs sink.  Many people will feel their legs sink slightly.  Severe cases will see their legs sink until they are vertical in the water.  Be sure you’re not lifting your head up to ‘see’ your feet sink.  (This will virtually guarantee that they will.)

Now try floating on your stomach in a prone position while your body is relaxed and you are slowly exhaling.  Feel how your body floats or sinks in the water.

The floatation of your body should be the same whether you are on your stomach or your back.  If it is not, there may be some other reaction to the water impacting your ability to float.  For example, ensure that your back and abdomen are relaxed and that you are not lifting your head.

Being aware of how your body floats will help you understand what effort you will need to exert in order to compensate for your natural body position to decrease drag while swimming.

Head Position

Every action that you complete in the water has an impact on your body position.  Some of these impacts can be hidden by other actions in your stroke, but this simple fact is always true.  Lift up your arm and, if you don’t do something to offset this impact, the rest of your body will sink.  Lift up your head, all things equal, your feet will sink.

But coach has told me to look forward while I’m swimming!

There is a difference between looking forward and lifting your head.  You can try this while sitting down and reading this.  If you have any mobility issues which impact your neck, please be careful when trying this.

To look ‘forward’ while swimming:

  • Stand facing a wall at arm’s length from the wall.
  • Reach your arms to the wall, palms on the wall.
  • While keeping your palms on the wall, and without moving your hips, pivot your neck and look up at the ceiling above you.

You can’t see the entire ceiling, but you can see that it is there.  This is looking forward.  You would do this to see under the water in front of you.  Doing this will likely not impact your body position at all.

To look ‘up’ while swimming:

  • Stand facing a wall at arm’s length from the wall.
  • Reach your arms to the wall, palms on the wall.
  • While keeping your palms on the wall, shift your hips forward, pivot your neck and look up at the ceiling above you.

You can now see the full ceiling above you.  An action like this will allow you to sight above the water.  But, the shifting of your hips means that your feet would sink.  You’ll have to use another action to compensate for this.  (We’ll talk about that another time.)

I need to sight when swimming!

How can you keep your feet from sinking when looking forward?  We’ll talk about this when we talk about arm action and the use of core muscles to help position the body.  Leave it to say that there are many different techniques to help you offset this action.

I don’t think that I’m raising my head to look forward

Looking forward isn’t the point when most swimmers lift their head.  In fact, the lifting of your head is probably so imperceptible that you might not realize you’re doing it.  Most people lift their head when they are ‘turning their head to breathe.’  Now, we come to a point that I’ve learned from a good friend.  With a decent body rotation, you have to turn your head not to breathe.

Looking down, you can see that the head is centered and the swimmer is looking down.

Rotate to the side and, if you don’t turn your head, you’re almost able to breathe.

You actually have to turn your head more to look down at the bottom of the pool/sea (possibly 60 o), than you do to breathe (possibly only
10 o).  So, with a good rotation, breathing, even in choppy water, can be a lot easier.  That means less swallowed water and more room for cake when you’re done with your swim!

What should you focus on when breathing?

  • Turning your head directly to the side enough to clear the water.
    The amount you need to move your head will depend on the condition of the water.
  • Focusing your eyes where you want your face to be directed.
    Look directly to the side. Looking a little forward will cause your head to raise up.  Looking towards your shoulder will cause you to tuck your chin.

The next time you’re swimming, try to feel how you are moving your neck to breathe.

Summary, So Far…

In this discussion, I’ve attempted to give you thoughts about two reasons why your feet might sink while swimming.  I’ll discuss the others in my next post.

Thank you for reading these musings of a fellow swimmer.  Please note that these are my musings based on what I’ve learned from coaches and my own personal experiments.  Be careful to consider your own abilities when swimming.  Be inquisitive.

If you have any thoughts (positive or negative) about this information, please let me know.  If there are topics you’d like to have discussed here, please send me a message or comment on this post.