One of the most common issues I see with Masters swimmers and Triathletes, especially in those that didn’t swim competitively as teens, is body position. It’s not much of a problem in the junior swimmers I coach. This is due to a combination of them being more buoyant, swimming at a higher standard, and of course they are still only children or teens so they have been swimming for most of their lives.
Body position is one of the first things we assess when deciding who joins our junior club, it’s also the first thing I look at when a triathlete or Masters swimmer asks me to take a look at their swimming. It’s something most people miss as they spend their time focusing on propulsion, or in some cases breathing. This is unfortunate as when propulsion is increased a swimmers resistance increases at a higher rate. So this lack of focus on something that helps reduce resistance simply makes things worse when swimmers try to muscle their way to speed.
So with all that in mind these are the things I recommend swimmers try to think about when in the water to improve their body position:
Using your head is one of the easiest ways to get your hips up. From experience it’s usually used when first teaching someone how to swim. More often than not it is also the only instruction for manipulating body position that most swimmers get unless they join a club or look into Total Immersion.
While keeping your head low will get your hips up, there is the risk that a swimmer will go too far the other way and drive their head down too much. This can even lead to a swimmer driving their head and arm down deep after each breath. Driving the head down on each stroke cycle creates an uneven stroke and will create resistance as the water goes over the head. Conversely if a swimmer is “looking forward” underwater with their eyes barely under the surface their head will be too high and their hips will drop.
So as far as I’m concerned, the best position for your head is to be “neutral” or looking a little bit ahead on the ground. Usually I tell people to look a meter or so ahead of them on the floor below them, this stops them looking straight down and tucking their chin in too much.
I’ll always be thankful for the day my old coach discovered Total Immersion “Fishlike swimming” back in the 90s. The concept of pressing down on my chest to raise my hips made a huge impact on my swimming. I was suddenly more aware of my body position and how to manipulate it quickly and easily. The concept is simple, your chest is full of air and if you push it down then your hips will come up. Now the same danger exists with this advice as it does with the head. You don’t want to push several cm/inches underwater. You also don’t want to just press down and stop rolling your body as you swim.
I think the best way to describe it is that it’s like standing to attention and puffing your chest out. Everyone’s body is different so it is something everyone needs to try and experiment to find out what works best for them. A quick drill for this is to do freestyle kick with your arms by your side and focus on pressing down just enough to get your hips to the surface while keeping your head in the correct position.
The core is very important to swimming, when used correctly it ties strokes together. It also helps maintain a swimmers body position. It’s difficult to describe how tense you need to keep it, you don’t want to be locked up, but you also don’t want to be loose and floppy. An example or test I use is to get someone to stand against a flat surface making sure their heels, shoulders and head are all touching the surface (you can even push your chest out a little). Then they take a small step away from the surface and try to hold that exact position. They should even be able to step back and have all points still touch the surface.
Once you have figured out how to manipulate your body position and learn to swim with a high one you’ll notice a big difference in your swimming.