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Learning How To Swim As An Adult - Kicking & Buoyancy - Floating Face Down

Help My Legs Sink When I Float Face Down!

If you have been following this blog regularly you will have noticed a comment that came in from a swimmer who was having problems with a few things. I thought that the concerns were worth a little more than a passing reply so I decided to put them in a separate post.

The questions were roughly in two parts. Below is the first of the questions that came in:

I have a couple of questions and would like to know if you have any suggestions since I would like to put in more productive hours at the pool. I will try to be as succinct as possible:

Floating face down: my legs sink as I try to float and I am on an incline on the pool; doesn't matter if I just go face down or kick off. I am told it's just because I am all muscle (5' 8" 145lb), but somehow I cannot fathom no buoyancy in legs at all. I would like to be able to get a feel of this and would appreciate any suggestions on this and if any drills could improve this. Does this have any effect on kicking?

I will go into more specific detail but first, in case you haven’t read them let me direct you to the series I have on Learn to Swim 101-Floating and make sure you follow the links.

Floating: One Of The Most Important Skills

Floating is, in my opinion, one of the most important skills that a swimmer can learn. Apart from helping to keep you safe in the water a good float is the basis of all streamline in any stroke. Streamline is the thing that helps us move through the water efficiently and with ease.

However, I have had it said to me by many a good instructor that some people can’t get the hang of floating but that doesn’t stop them from being a good swimmer.

The problem is that I have never had a student that I couldn’t teach how to float so I am unable to verify this. Never the less it is worth noting that it does seem to be possible to be a relatively good swimmer and not be able to float. That is my only reason for mentioning it.

Whilst it is true that muscle density and bone density causes a person to be less buoyant in the legs, floating is not about total body buoyancy. It’s about moving the centre of buoyancy about, just like moving the centre of gravity on a stick, to find the balancing point. (This doesn’t apply to people who are overweight and just simply use those terms to excuse their weight because fat is much more buoyant than muscle and overweight people will float better than those not)

Thus if you are trying to float on your back (back float swimming) changing the centre of buoyancy is about changing your body shape in the water to maximize the effect of those parts of your body that are most buoyant.   But for some people, there is more to it than just doing this and passively waiting for your body to float.

For some people, it’s about getting your stomach muscles to un-tense or to tense in exactly the right amounts. It’s also about getting your buttocks to push towards the surface so that your hips are lifted.  And it’s about getting your legs to straighten or arch just the right amount.

For most people, this is just about more practice but for some, it is necessary to know and feel the dynamics in order to obtain the required body position.

Once you have mastered floating on your back, you then need to take time to remember the feeling. With the feeling in mind, it’s time to move on to your front and float. Now Copy the feeling.

Step by Step

Ok so let's go through this step-by-step.
  1. Lay on your back in the shallow water. You can do this in deeper water it’s just harder.
  2. Raise both your hands above your head or under your head if you prefer.
  3. If you are in a bow with your bottom pointing to the floor of the pool and your stomach is like a cup, then you need to relax your stomach muscles till you have an arch in your back with your hips at the surface of the water.
  4. If your feet are too close to or even on the bottom of the pool and your bottom is not, then you need to tense your stomach muscles till you are in a nice little arch with your hips still on the surface but your feet are not on the bottom of the pool.
  5. If that is not sufficient to lift your legs try straightening your legs and tightening your buttocks and forcing your hips and legs to the surface.
It all about finding the right combination for you that lifts you into the correct position.

Now you need to roll over and copy that same position on your front except this time you want your legs and head on the surface and your hips under the water. But it is the same position or body shape if you like.

Image of a female swimmer in the torpedo position learning how to swim as an adult through kicking & buoyancy and floating face down
Find Your Correct Body Shape To Float

Of course, the best solution is to seek out a trained swimming instructor to help you identify the problem.

Does This Have Any Effect On Kicking?
Yes! If you have an efficient kick then you probably do not need to worry about floating, as you kick will bring your feet to the surface. But the converse is also true, in that if you have an effective front float you do not have to worry about an effective kick.

The fact that you are concerned about the float may suggest that you do not have an efficient kick. If this is the case you will need to work on that as kicking does more than helping you float. I'll deal with what is an efficient kick next time.

By the way, you can now get my step by step guide from this link called: "Back Float Swimming for Adults"


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