How to stop your legs from sinking in the swim

Stopping your legs from sinking when swimming and keeping your body level in the water results in more speed and endurance. Andrew Sheaff explains how to easily correct this common swim problem…

Rearview of a young male competitor swimming freestyle in a pool, kicking underwater

For anyone that’s new to triathlon swimming, one of the most common problems you’ll see in novice swimmers is sinking legs.


You’ll see individuals swim with their legs well beneath the surface. In the attempt to compensate, you’ll typically see these same individuals kicking furiously.

Because it’s a lot of work to do so, this usually results in triathletes that are always out of breath.

If you’re struggling with these skills, it probably seems like a mystery as to how you can fix the problem. The only thing that makes sense is kicking hard, and that clearly doesn’t work! Give these solutions below a shot.

If you’re used to working on freestyle technique to fix freestyle problems, these might seem strange. Keep an open mind and you may be surprised at the results.

Solution #1: Find your lungs

The first and most important step in improving your position in the water is learning to find your lungs and feel the flotation they provide you. My favourite exercise for doing so is the Ball Float.

It does a great job of helping you feel exactly what you need to feel, and it can be done by anyone, anywhere. It’s impossible to mess it up!

Just take a deep breath and let your body settle. Don’t worry about how you rest in the water, just feel the support.  Then, you’re going to swim a lap and try to feel that same support holding you up in the water. Repeat. That alone may do the trick.

Solution #2: Add a twist

If solution #1 doesn’t solve the problem, you’ll need our second solution, the Ball Float to X Float.

It’s just like the ball float with an added twist. You’re going to extend your arms and legs, aiming to stay afloat. The key to focus on is maintaining tension in the lower back and the back of legs. This tension will serve to hold your legs up.

Now, depending on your body shape, you may not float right at the surface. No problem, just focus on the tension you’re trying to create in the back of the body, then aim to create that tension when you swim.

If you get the hang of this exercise pretty quickly, you can form an ‘I’ for an added challenge and more tension.

How to put this in practice

Putting this into practice is pretty simple. You’ll practice a float, then swim a lap. Keep repeating that until you can start to feel that your legs are riding higher in the water and you’re feeling compelled to kick a lot less. How long will it take?

It might happen right away, or it might take some time. If you’re worried that this is going to disrupt your scheduled training, remember that sinking legs and over-kicking make swimming slow and exhausting.

You’ll get much more speed and endurance by fixing this skill. Further, you’ll still be swimming a bit, just taking short breaks to work on your floating skills. It’s worth the wait and it’s worth the work!


Top image credit: Getty Images