How to stop wiggling in your swim

Are you a wiggler? Chances are, as a triathlete, you do indeed wiggle in the water. So how can you stop it and create a more streamlined, and therefore faster, swim? Andrew Sheaff has the solutions…

Triathletes in wetsuits underwater

Many triathletes find that they wiggle through the water, with the hips going one way and the shoulders going the other. It can be quite frustrating as your body doesn’t seem to do what you want it to do.


You may have tried to ‘keep your core tight’ or performed land-based core exercises to strengthen those muscles in hopes of creating some stability. As you probably found, that approach doesn’t necessarily work because it doesn’t address the real problem.

Knowing where to put your head

One of the major challenges triathletes face, especially when they don’t have a great swimming background, is learning how to breathe effectively. It’s a skill that’s quite different to any that you learn on land.

Instinctively, most triathletes will lift the head and pull the head to the side to breathe. When that happens, the shoulders follow the head, and now the shoulders are swinging out of alignment.

Because you’re suspended in water, the hips are going to shoot out in the opposite direction. Then when you swing the head back, everything is happening in reverse. All of a sudden, you’re wiggling.

Fix the breath

The first solution is to fix the breath. Doing so will dramatically reduce the amount of wiggle you create because your head is staying straight, and the body will follow.

A great option is the combination of a ball float and the stroke and roll, see video below. This combination really helps you learn to find balance in the water and effectively roll for air, rather than simply lifting the head to breathe.

Once you’ve made some progress with that skill, add in ‘paddle cap freestyle’, see video below, to make sure the breath is tight and fast.

Watch the recoveries

While fixing the breathing solves a lot of problems, wiggling can also be caused by really low and wide arm recoveries. Remember that you’re floating in water. When the arm swings really low, it’s going to push your shoulders to the other side.

And as we saw with the breathing, that’s going to send the hips in the other direction. If the other arm recovers low, back you go in the other direction, wiggling again.

These low recoveries often happen due to insufficient rotation. Rotation is critical for allowing the arms to get higher over the water. To solve that issue, use over-under freestyle, see video below.

It will help you get the sensation of creating adequate rotation, as well as how to time the arm recovery correctly. When you get adequate rotation and recover the arm at the right time, it’s much easier to swim straight.

Remove the problem

Rather than adding something to solve a problem, it’s often much easier to remove what’s causing the problem in the first place. If you’re wiggling through the water, rather than adding core strength exercises and working to activate your core, simply remove the movements that are causing the wiggle in the first place!


Top image: Getty Images