This article was first written for Outdoor Swimmer magazine by Keri-anne Payne.
In this article, we are going to look at the most efficient body position. When we ask the question: “What’s the most efficient position for your body to be in the water?” we always get the same answer – “streamlined!” This is of course correct and we are ultimately aiming for our bodies to be in a straight line as close to the surface of the water as possible. Why? Because we will be causing less drag in the water.
When we coach body position we break it down into two parts – get the head right and the body will follow. So this month we will be focusing on head position.
There are a few things that stop us from being straight in the water and the biggest factor is usually legs sinking behind a swimmer. I’ve heard a lot of swimmers say that they have to kick their legs hard to bring their legs up behind them. But the problem with using your legs a lot is that they are the biggest muscle in the body and require more effort and oxygen to use them. For longer distance swims this isn’t a very efficient way to swim.
Our bodies are like see-saws and if the legs are low then the cause of that is actually our head position. You can see from the photos (right) the difference head position has on the rest of the body. Looking forward – the need to see where we are going – is another caveman instinct that we have to overcome. If you swim in a club or a busy public pool you will mainly want to see where the wall is or where the swimmer-in-front’s feet are.
The important things to remember when working on head position
1) Eyes to look directly down at the bottom of the pool or lake rather than forward
2) Neck in line with the body, not pushing the head down to the bottom.
This will bring your legs up higher behind you reducing your drag and increasing your propulsion in the water.
The best way to work on this is to break it down to focus on one skill at a time. Next time you go swimming try to swim about 8-10 strokes without breathing so you can focus on your eyes looking at the bottom of the pool. Try this a few times, after getting your breath back, and see how much easier it feels to swim through the water.
Once you have this feeling nailed we can then work on body position part two, which is all about maintaining that straight position while breathing.
If you spend your open water swims looking forward the same thing happens to your legs: they start to sink behind you. But if you are swimming with a wetsuit on then the neoprene artificially brings your legs up behind you, which gives your body a banana shape. This puts a huge amount of strain on your lower back and neck, causing a lot of discomfort. A telltale sign of a swimmer looking forward is the rub on the nack of their neck after using a wetsuit.
So ensure that if you are swimming in a pool or in the open water you are looking to the bottom.
Keri-anne Payne is a double open water world champion, triple Olympian and Olympic silver medallist in the 10k open water marathon at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. She created the Straight-Line Swimming methodology with her husband, triple Olympian David Carry. straightlineswimming.com
Read more on Outdoor Swimmer's website here.