How to Fix Sinking Legs When Swimming Freestyle

Head Position or Core Strength Can Help Fix This Swimming Problem

A man swimming freestyle

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Ever feel like your legs are sinking when you swim freestyle? Do you have to kick a lot to keep your legs from dragging on the bottom of the pool when you are swimming freestyle (if you swim with a runner's kick, then the problem may be compounded)? Sinking legs when swimming freestyle is usually due to one of two things (or due to both things) — looking the wrong way or a weak core.

Looking up or Forward

If you're swimming with your head too high, try to always look straight down, with the very top of your head pointing where you want to go. Get a feel for the right position by standing as straight as you can — think very good posture with your eyes looking forward. Imagine a line going from the sky, through the top of your head, down your spine and down your legs to the ground. You want to establish that same line in the water and swim forward along it.

Your body can act just like a playground see-saw or teeter-totter (that is, if you have a strong core, but that's the second issue — weak core and you bend in the middle, like a broken see-saw). One end goes too low, the other tends to go to high; if your head is high in the water, your feet will tend to go low, unless you kick a lot to keep them up. Your upper body will tend to stay high in the water because the air in your lungs helps that part of the body float like a balloon, and because you work to keep your head close enough to the surface of the water to get air when you need to take a breath.

Sometimes swimmers have to kick a lot to keep their body up and aligned. There's nothing wrong with kicking, but you will save a lot of energy if you can use your kick more for forward movement, body balance, and to anchor the lower body so you can get more power out of your pull instead of relying on your kick.

Practice looking straight down when swimming and looking to the side when you breathe. Pay close attention to what you see while you swim to help get your head in alignment with the rest of your body. Think good swimming posture and straight line head to feet. There are swim drills that can help with this, like the head point swimming drill. If you are seeing your destination while swimming, then you are looking up too much. If you see the bottom of the pool, then the lane next to you, then the lane on the other side of you, you are swinging your head back and forth while you swim instead of keeping it still and aligned.

Swimmer Cannot Maintain Good Swimming Posture

Weak core muscles. You may need to get stronger in the core section of your body, your belly, back, and sides. If you are not strong in the middle of your body, you can't hold your legs up, you fold around your belly, and the legs sink. Any exercises you can do to strengthen your midsection — all the way around, not just abs — should help.

Which Is It?

Try to figure out if it is one, the other, or both head position and core strength. Once you know what to work on, you can get better at holding a good posture, legs up in the water, eyes looking down, top of your head leading the way while you swim.

Updated by Dr. John Mullen.