Swim, Don’t Sink
Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Dr. Kacy Seynders PT, DPT is a runner and triathlete and belongs to the Atlanta Triathlon club. We are very excited that she will be joining our team at Precision in September to share her knowledge and expertise in triathlon. Keep an eye out for her up coming blogs. In mid- August we will begin accepting appointments for Dr. Seynders.
A common frustration among triathletes during the swim is that their legs sink
while they swim. It’s easy to blame miles of running and cycling and larger leg
muscles for this phenomenon, but the truth is that buoyancy is a learned skill.
Learning to maintain a horizontal position in the water will make you a smoother,
more efficient swimmer and decrease your risk of shoulder injury.
So leave that pull buoy on the deck: it might be contributing to your “sinking”
problem and/or shoulder pain! Let’s go over some factors related to body position
in the water and how to correct them through exercise and drills.
The kick: Many triathletes avoid kicking “to save their legs” for the bike and run.
While it is true that the majority of propulsion in swimming is generated from the
arms and torso, under-kicking can hinder proper body rotation and balance in the
water, as well as place more demand on the shoulders. You are really missing out on
some extra speed if you don’t have an efficient kick. The kick should be rhythmic
and symmetrical, with as little vertical excursion of the legs as possible. To
maximize efficiency, the knees should remain relatively straight and within the
plane of the body. Avoid “scissoring,” or extra side-to-side movement.
Some drills to help master this skill include kicking on your side and on your
stomach with the arms extended (without a kickboard). Focus on your balance in
the water and keeping your body as horizontal as you can. Kicking with a kickboard
can help improve kicking efficiency and endurance and will not challenge the
balance and coordination of a proper kick.
Head position: The position of our head drives the movement of the rest of our
body. In swimming, we reference the “head-hips relationship,” where the head and
hips will go in the opposite direction. If you swim with your neck extended and head
too high in the water, the hips will drop and create more drag in the water. The neck
should remain in a “neutral” (neither flexed nor extended, and in line with the rest
of your spine) position, with the gaze downward or slightly forward.
You can practice this with the “balance kick” position referenced above, while
kicking on your stomach without a kickboard. Think about actively pushing your
head into the water, and you should notice that your hips rise automatically.
Breathing: The lungs are your natural pull buoys! Learning to utilize your
diaphragm and circumferentially expand your rib cage is a secret weapon for all
three sports, but we’ll just talk about swimming here. When we get proper descent
of the diaphragm and expansion of the lungs, we take in more air and transfer force
more effectively from the upper and lower extremities.
Give this a try: Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands
on the sides of your rib cage, with your thumb wrapped around the back of the ribs
and fingers fanned out toward the front. Take a deep breath in, and try to really fill
up that space between your hands. You should feel the backside of your ribs pushing
against the floor as well, indicated backward expansion of the ribcage. Once you get
good at this, you can progress to breathing this way as you complete other exercises
and go about your day. This can be challenging to do in the gravity-lessened
environment of the pool and will become easier as you practice - and luckily there
are plenty of opportunities to practice!
Body rotation: The amount and control of body rotation dictates how well you can
engage the correct, power-producing muscles of the upper back and shoulder girdle.
If your body remains too flat in the water, you are more likely to start the pull
portion of your stroke with your shoulder in an impingement position, which not
only forces you to utilize smaller, less powerful muscles but also places you at risk
for shoulder injury. Body rotation is also important for efficient breathing, allowing
you to get a breath without turning your head and throwing off your balance.
Again, kicking on your side can help you get comfortable with this rotation, as well
as swimming with a 6-3-6 pattern of six kicks on your side, three strokes and then
six kicks on the other side. Single arm drill progressions are beneficial for this too,
and can help reveal if you have weaknesses or imbalances between sides. Start with
your non-working arm straight out in front of your body, and then progress to
keeping it hugged at your side, against your body, as you pull with the other arm.
In summary, learning to kick properly leads to a better position in the water,
improved forward propulsion and decreased risk for shoulder injury. Have I
convinced you to kick at least a little more? If you have any questions about
anything mentioned in this article, leave a comment below!
Keep going: you got this!
Dr. Kacy Seynders PT, DPT
Kacy Seynders PT, DPT is a runner and triathlete and belongs to the Atlanta Triathlon club. As an athlete herself, Kacy has a unique understanding of the endurance athlete lifestyle and the impact that injury can have on that lifestyle. She brings this empathy and passion to every patient in her care, utilizing a comprehensive and holistic approach to improve the way they move so that they can keep doing what they love. We are very excited that she will be joining our team at Precision in September to share her knowledge and expertise in treating runners and triathletes. Keep an eye out for her up coming blogs. In mid- August we will begin accepting appointments for Dr. Seynders.