Before you spend time on strength work or fancy drills, the most important thing any swimmer can do to increase their speed is get level in the water.
Written By: Ian Murray
Before you put one more ounce of effort into creating propulsion in your swim with hard kicking, a dramatic catch or a stronger pull, invest yourself entirely in reducing drag. You’ll get more speed with less effort.
The greatest technique challenge that new swimmers have to overcome is body drag. Body drag occurs when the top parts of the body (head, lead arm, shoulders) are positioned high in the water, and the hips and feet are progressively deeper. In this “swimming uphill” position, there is drag at the chest, stomach, hips, thighs, knees, shins and feet. Water is so thick that elite swimmers shave their entire bodies to reduce the drag generated by tiny hairs, so imagine the resistance created by the whole body plowing through the water.
To solve this critical issue, it helps to understand that the body functions in the water like a seesaw works on a playground: When one end goes down, the other end goes up. You have three tools to help you get level in the water.
• Head: When you look forward while swimming, your head rises above the surface of the water, causing the hips and legs to sink. If your head is lowered into the water, then the hips and feet rise towards the surface. Rather than having the water line at your eyebrows, forehead or hair line, drop your head so that the water line connects with the crown of the head.
• Lead arm: Once the arm enters the water and reaches forward to complete extension, the fingers should not be above, on, or even just below the water’s surface. They should be deep-perhaps three to five inches below the surface of the water.
• Pressure: Thanks to the lungs, the chest cavity holds a lot of air. When the upper part of the chest is pressed down into the water, the lower part rises. Maintain this pressure on the upper chest as you roll from side to side. Think about leaning first on your armpit and then across both collarbones and onto the other armpit.
Different body types require different adjustments. A body with more adipose tissue (fat) around the hips and thighs will naturally float level with greater ease than a very lean body with dense muscle and bone. Both body types (and everyone in between) can be level in the water, but some may ride deeper in the water than others. Depth does not matter-it’s being level that is critical to minimizing drag. Generally, the leaner and more muscular you are, the more you will need to rely on head depth, lead arm depth and pressure to get level. Regardless of your body type, as you become more comfortable in the water, you can slightly reduce your reliance on these factors as all three tools work together to keep you level.
Ian Murray is a USAT Level III coach and the co-producer, writer and host of the DVD series found at TriathlonTrainingSeries.com