One of the most common problems people face in swimming, especially those who are new to the sport, is poor leg positioning in the water.
Lowering of the feet and legs causes additional drag, which in turn affects the energy used to move through the water.
This problem can often be attributed to one or more of the following reasons:
1) Lifting the head to breathe
Lifting the head is probably the most common reason for the feet dropping. Swimmers may do this for a number of reasons - sighting, anxiety, weak breathing skills, lack of flexibility in the shoulders and neck, to name a few. Identify why your head is too high and you can tackle the cause and get that head lowered and this will raise the legs.
2) Pressing down with hands and fingers
This is caused by poor technique on the pull cycle including using and maintaining the correct hand and finger position as well as pressing downwards on the start of the pull, as opposed to backwards.
Fingers need to point slightly downwards from the knuckles and should be relaxed. Many people ask whether the fingers should be tight together or spread apart. Top level swimmers will have the fingers slighty apart, which will in fact increase the power of the pull through the water, but this is a fine motor skill honed over years of practise, so if in doubt, keep the fingers lightly together, but relaxed.
Here we see the swimmers hand and finger poistion is incorrectly setup for the pull cycle. The result will be that the energy is lost on the pull and the legs will drop.
In this video we can see how having flat palms results in a downwards pull, which then results in loss of power and dropped legs.
3) Balance problems
When one thinks of swimming, 'balance' may not spring to mind as an important factor in perfecting one's stroke. However good balance plays a key role in all of the strokes and in fact imperfections in other areas can often be attributed to poor balance, for example a bad kick in one leg or arms spread too wide, these can be attributed to the body's over compensation for lack of balance. The result is that the legs tend to over compensate too and drop down a a result.
4) Poor posture, flexibility and 'connection'
Lack of flexibility in the shoulders, for example, or the back, will result in poor body posture, which will affect the 'axis' of the body in the water. In addition, there may be poor 'connection' / coordination between what the head is doing and the arms and rest of the body. These will all have adverse affects on the position of the legs in the water.
5) Looking forward too much
The head needs to be kept low as mentioned above. The natural reaction is to look forward to see where you are swimming. This will raise the head though and this urge should be resisted. The head should be lowered and the eyes should focus on an imaginary point at a 45 degree angle. We often liken this to imagining you are in a pool, focus on the point at the end of the pool where the wall joins the pool floor.
6) Kicking from the knees
Kicking should be from the hip and utilise the powerful thigh and glute muscles. The knees should be relaxed and allow bending to achieve a relaxed, whip action on each kick. Heels should just break the surface of the water. Ankles need to be supple and the feet should have the ballerina type positioning. Ankle flexibility can often be a problem for athletes from other disciplines like running and needs to be worked at over time.
Many swimmers kick from the knees, which has the effect of adding 'dead weight' in the form of the top half of the legs and this adds to the drag in the water. In turn, the result will be that the lower legs drop.
Here we can see a swimmer is not using their legs, but is subconsciously over compensating for a lack of balance and kicking from the knee, by doing a mini breastroke type kick on the freestyle stroke. This lack of balance is likely caused by shoulder flexibility and hand positioning on the pull cycle and is a good example of how a problem in one area is causing issues in others.
It may be you need to address a number of different issues in order to fix the leg positioning. The key to fixing this particular problem for example, might be repeated kick drills to build up strength in the legs and 'muscle memory' so that the correct kicking technique slowly becomes second nature; along with improvements in balance, flexibility and arm technique.
Hopefully this blog demonstrates a few reasons why your legs may be dragging in the water, but also how all parts of the stroke and the body are connected.
Poor leg positioning may in fact be the end result of a string of events that need to be fixed.