Are you a sinking swimmer?

I have published this second part a few days after the first part. From some comments received after posting the first part I want to clarify a few things:


First, Learn To Sink Evenly

I would define a ‘sinker’ as someone who, once they have established true balance (entire body line parallel to the surface) the neutral position of the head is below the surface of the water.  This means we need to find a way to bring that body line higher in the water so that the effort to get to each breath does not wreck the swimmer’s streamline and forward momentum.

Full body sinking is primarily a buoyancy problem. Leg/hip sinking is primarily a balance problem. As I half-jokingly say, if you are a true sinker, you still need to learn to sink in a balanced position. Balance is critical to the overall solution for a sinker. Anyone with legs hanging down will have far more trouble.

Consider a torpedo – they are heavy, and will sink to the bottom when static. But they are balanced. They will sink evenly (as far as I know about the old World War II kind). So, once propulsion is applied and water begins to flow over the fins, the torpedo experiences lift and it able to hold at a cruising depth.

In fresh water my legs will sink after about 4 or 5 seconds in superman position, without some gentle flutter of the feet. But I can swim at any tempo with my hips continually brushing the surface with no kick at all because my body is harnessing the principles I have spelled out in these six assignments. So I am taking what works for leg-sinkers an applying it at a much greater level of detail to a full-body sinker.

This approach is based on the precepts at the heart of the TI technique for every stroke type, in every swimming scenario:

  • First, we want to minimize all opposing natural forces as much as possible (those forces that oppose the swimmer’s forward movement and waste his energy on unnecessary actions).
  • Second, we want to harness any natural forces that can be used to our advantage.
  • Third, then we generate with our own bodies only what force is necessary to finish the job.

The TI technique is loyal to these precepts – not any particular look or style. That a particular look or style has emerged in the TI stroke from those principles is secondary, though many people mistakenly think that is what we try to accomplish with a swimmer – to make them look a certain way. No, a swimmer is built from the inside out, and that common outward appearance – in all kinds of human vessels – is the manifestation of genuine efficiency inside the body. These precepts in the mind of a skilled coach can provide, or be developed into an answer to any swimmer’s problem or need.


General Principles For Unique People

I am not claiming this approach can cure every sinker because I have not worked with every sinker. I am just sharing my strategy for helping those who struggle with this and the reasoning behind it.  I like the results I am getting so far. In this post, I have laid out what I feel are the general principles for the physics solution. When I am working with someone personally, I am intuitive and nuanced about how to apply these, reading subtle points in the swimmer’s body and I depend on the swimmer’s descriptions of what is happening inside his own body so we know what is working and what is not. We emphasize what needs to be emphasized for each person.

Since more insight from more ‘sinkers’ would help, I would be pleased to hear from those who try these and coaches who work with sinkers to expand my own understanding.


Here are the final 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. See Part 1 first.


Assignment 4 – Increase Stroke Frequency

Increase stroke frequency slightly to make velocity more steady. Do this, not by pulling faster but by simply speeding up the recovery a little. Keept the Catch/Hold about the same steady speed.

This may sound counter-productive to the previous point – but what we are trying to do is lower the amplitude of acceleration/deceleration curve. A static vessel with more mass, more density will have more inertia to over come to get it to move forward. If the swimmer allows his body to slow down too much on each stroke the body will sink slightly lower and more force is required to get the body going again.

Like a train moving down the tracks, a ‘heavy’ swimmer cannot afford to slow down as much as a ‘light’ one can – the start-up energy consequence is much higher.

This could be a challenge when first building the fundamental skills because it is necessary for you to learn to do slow movements with precision before you can do them quickly with precision. This will be a good reason to do short drill and stroke segments without breathing, allowing your body to remain deeper in the water during that work. Then you can move to whole stroke with faster tempo to test out that control.


Assignment 5 – Lower Pressure Of The Catch

To balance the effects of increased rate of arm rotation you need to lower the effort in some other way. So, in order to compensate for higher tempo I advise you to decrease the pressure on each catch, slightly.

The idea is to to trade one kind of work for another and keep heart rate about the same. This is easier said than done, but it is ultimately what you need to accomplish. At first, a change in the body or stroke, the practice of a new level of skill will raise the heart rate because the body and brain recruit far more resources to work on solving the problem than they will need to use later on once it is perfected and automated. But once the swimmer discovers and memorizes the new skills, it will gradually get easier and easier to do it. Heart rate will lower as a benefit of the improved skill.

The trade-off is this: a high-density swimmer at slow tempo is deeper in the water and slower because of inertia – he will require more effort to get up to air, and re-accelerate to keep moving forward on each stroke. At a slightly faster tempo, the swimmer will require less effort to get to air, and less acceleration per stroke. By trading the work of higher force per stroke with the work of higher tempo – in theory, he will be able to achieve a lower heart rate, while swimming slightly faster.


Assignment 6 – Minimize Work Against Vertical Forces

You must minimize all vertical force vectors you generate and/or transfer through your body.

This will require the examination of many fine details in the stroke cycle – and it will be an ongoing process of refinement. Swimming more easily will come from the accumulation of many small advantages, not a one time fix.

A high-density body will suffer the magnified effects of exerting any effort in the vertical direction, against water or against gravity. For every action there is an opposite reaction – any push upward will activate gravity to push harder downward. Any drive downward will pull the body mass downward below its already deep neutral line and take longer for water pressure to push that body back up to the neutral line. The high-density body must stay on that neutral line to make swimming as easy as possible.

This is one of the reasons why (I suspect) many high-density swimmers struggle to get to breath. Any movement that sends force downward into the water will carry the dense-body swimmer deeper, and farther away from easy breathing. And it takes too long to wait on water pressure to push back up and even the forces. The swimmer cannot afford to send any forces in the vertical direction.


Some specific instructions on body parts and stroke sections:


The entry and spear has to be directed forward to the target on a ‘ski-jump’ like path, not downward at a straight angle. Enter the water at 45 degrees but then as the spearing hand approaches ideal depth, level out and extend forward, not downward.


The hip drive pushes forward, sending force out through the shoulder, rather than downward toward the bottom of the pool.

The hips have to be leveled:

  • Thighs pointing straight behind the body, like when standing straight up at attention. If they are angled downward even slightly this means the hip may not be level and the core is not engaged properly. The thighs need to be in line with the rest of the body to keep an entirely straight and parallel (to the surface of the water) body line.
  • Flatten the lower back just slightly – as if taking a little of the curve out of it.
  • The belly button should pull inward – belly button to spine, they say.
Head Position

Carefully practice and imprint head position for breathing (at a LOW rotation angle) – learning to be more loyal to head position than to the breath itself… at first. Do shorter repeats where you can work between breathing so you deeply memorize what it feels like and how to form it. Keep your laser lead underwater and pointing down the lane. If it is pointing up at any angle into the sky, even the slightest tilt of the headwill shove the hips down farther, which is deadly to your overall ease in swimming.

Breath Timing

Carefully practice timing of breath – you cannot afford to take a late breath, as the body starts decelerating and sinking slightly. Breathe as early in the stroke as possible, and take just a quick sip of air – brief, partial air exchanges.

Compact Kick

The kick, even if a flutter kick instead of a 2-beat, needs to be compact as possible, and generated as if from the ankles alone (though this will engage the hips in a proper way). A slight, compact kick may also seem counter-intuitive since most sinkers kick desperately to try to push the body up – but all that kicking (directed by a land-mammal instinct) is probably doing as much harm as the good intended, unless it is formed exquisitely well.

It would be a great benefit to work on ankle flexibility also – higher density bodies tend to have more stiff ankles for the same reason runners tend to. Stiff ankles make it hard for the feet to get a ‘grip’ on the water in each press. Think of how a swim fin flexes to get it’s grip – that’s what we want our foot to feel like. 90 degree ankles actually pull you backward in the water no matter how hard you try to kick with them. Better not to kick with stiff ankles but learn to let the legs slide behind the body with minimal kick.

We want to minimize the liability of flailing legs – those that stick outside the body line envelope and act as massive drag-brakes – they might push you up but they kill forward momentum to do so. We want to eliminate their need to be used for lift as much as possible.


I really hope this helps someone out there who is working on this. I wish we could work together because not only do I have great compassion for those who are discouraged by this condition, I believe we can bring a great deal of ease to your swimming too.

Take some hope from these ideas and get back to work!

Back to Part 1


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