Are you a sinking swimmer?

I am going to share a little of my secret strategy, out of compassion for my swimming comrades who consider themselves ‘sinkers’ – I know a few many and a few less women who fit this category. I don’t know the overall percentage of sinkers there are among swimmers – those who haven’t given up yet – but I do know some can struggle with discouragement. Please don’t give up – it’s a physics problem, not a personal one. And we can really help you.

I have been fascinated by the physics problem encountered by sinkers and I want to describe my current  approach to solving it. I can explain the approach but you still have to get in the water and insert this set of solutions inside your own body.


The Physics

The solutions are found by working with the physics of the situation.

First of all, I doubt there are any total sinkers – those that will actually sink to the bottom. Increasing water pressure with depth will eventually overcome body density. But at what depth??? A higher density person will find his neutral line a bit deeper in the water than others – but it will feel like a big difference. This will put his head too deep to easily take a breath while resting on that neutral line. So we need to resolve that for sure. The challenge is – any lift of the head above neutral line pushes the hips deeper which is also deadly for the sinker. So either this needs to be solved or a careful compromise needs to be reached between the two competing interests.


The Strategy

I aim to accomplish two things with this strategy:

  1. Get the swimmer’s body firm and aligned on that neutral line with no pushing up or downward.
  2. Set up natural lift so the swimmer’ body line rises a bit from the flow of water under his body.

His neutral line at normal velocity can be slightly higher than his neutral line while static… if he sets things up to make it easier to maintain forward-momentum and easier to breathe.

It is possible, depending on the degree of sinking that these two steps alone are still not enough to get the swimmer to air easily. Some people are REALLY LOW in the water. As I will explain in the next post, we aim to eliminate as much struggle against natural forces as possible in these assignments and then look for ways to add carefully placed propulsive efforts to create more lift while protecting the streamline and momentum of the swimmer.

Does this intrigue you?


Six Assignments

Here are the first 3 of 6 assignments you may work on, in order. These will not likely be quick-fixes, but will build increasingly subtle skills of sensitivity and body control that you will develop from your deep practice of them.


Assignment 1 – Lower Rotation Angle

You need to present more surface area for water pressure to push up on. A body turned on it’s side will concentrate more mass in a smaller area and push the body deeper.

And to strengthen the case, rotation past 45 degrees will waste time and energy in the stroke cycle and increase instability (by waves, being knocked by other swimmers, by your own recovery arm, etc). With practice a swimmer can generate as much force in a 30 degree rotation or less as in a 45 degree one. A martial arts principle: learn to make it smaller; concentrate more force in a smaller range of movement.

Setting and protecting ideal rotation angle is priority over recovery swing – for the swing must serve the rotation, not the rotation serve the swing. Many swimmers rotate too far, pulling elbow too high or back over the body in order to bring the arm out of the water – this is a major problem. Shift priorities and improve rotation, then learn to form a recovery at a low – though not completely flat – rotation angle.


Assignment 2 – Form A Bigger Catch

What you want is to form a better pressure zone (we call this the ‘pilates ball’ of water molecules) with the Catch and Hold to allow you to slide forward more powerfully.

A more skillfully formed Catch creates a stronger ‘grip’, a larger pressure zone of water under the body, and allows the swimmer to transfer more force into forward motion. Don’t pop that ball with too much force (in relation to your other arm extending forward to the target), or too abruptly – apply pressure as evenly as possible.

The flatter body angle will create a larger wing-like surface, if you will, for this pressure zone of water to flow under – with the acceleration of each Catch moment the swimmer can gain a little natural lift without having to push down on the water with arms or legs.


Assignment 3 – Form A Straighter Frame

With fully engaged core, you’ll learn to slide the body over that pressure zone.

The front half of the body is directly connected to the arms transferring force, and rides on top of the buoyancy point – the front doesn’t want to sink. But the back half is behind the buoyancy pivot point and wants to sink without some way of transferring forces through the frame of the body (this is what is covered in TI fundamentals). Instead of using the kick to push the legs and hips upward (an enormous, unnecessary waste of your energy), form then feel that ‘pilates ball’ of water and slide on top of it.

In order to do that it is critical that the swimmer has his core engaged and the body/spine line from tip of head to tail (as if that tail is extended to between knees and ankles) is straight – creating that torpedo like frame. If the core is collapsed the hips will tilt, the legs will drop in the water and plow through that pilates ball rather than up and over it.

Defining Core Engagement

Let me define what this ‘core’ engagement is: it is a firm aligned body from ribs to knees. It is not merely the tightening of some muscles behind the belly button. When your swimming core is engaged, your thighs do not bend at the hips, they stay straight, aligned behind the torso, just as when you are standing tall on your ‘tippy toes’. The train of muscles from under the ribs through the inside of the pelvis and down into the thighs create this core for the swimmer. It is engaged by lengthening the body (as if being stretched out like elastic-woman), not by pulling inward (as if doing a sit-up).

And that is the way I would describe the difference in core control – a swimmer who creates the firm torpedo frame (core properly engaged from ribs to knees) seems to slide lightly up and over the water versus a swimmer with an under-inflated torpedo (a squishy frame with thighs bent) who seems to plows heavily through it.

Next… Part 2.



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