The most basic drill I have my athletes practice is one of the most difficult skills for some swimmers to master: Floating. Floating without a buoy. Floating without any kicking to help you balance or keep you at the surface. Floating on your back. Floating on your stomach.
Why must swimmers learn this skill? Because if you can float at the water’s surface without buoys or kicking, you’re doing it right.
The first thing the swimmer should learn is how to find their “T.” Amy told me that if I drew a line down the center of my head and neck and another line from shoulder to shoulder, the place they intersect is my “T.”
Finding your “T” is important because it is the key to proper body positioning and balance in the water. Many people have a difficult time floating without kicking or using buoys because their legs would rather sink than stay at the water’s surface. It is normal for a more musclebound swimmer to have a more difficult time learning to float than non musclebound swimmer. In my experience, I have seen more male athletes struggle with learning to float than female athletes and I think this has more to do with biological differences than lack of effort.
To correct sinking legs and hips, all the athlete has to do is press on their “T.” It is a very subtle motion, but putting pressure on your “T” (front quadrant) will correct the body position by bringing the swimmer’s legs and hips (lower quadrant) to the surface.
Swimmer’s who can’t float without kicking or using buoys will feel like they are swimming uphill. Swimming uphill will cause a lot of drag, forcing the athlete to work harder to go slower.
Swimmer’s who learn how to press on their “T” will feel like they are swimming downhill, which is how a swimmer should feel in the water. A swimmer who feels like they are swimming downhill will have less drag, which means they are using less energy and swimming faster.
I think that every swimmer should work on floating from time to time. Finding the swimmer’s “T” requires the same skills whether the athlete is on their front or back. When a swimmer is new to the water, I have them practice finding their “T” on their back first because they have unrestricted access to air.
It is worth spending 10 minutes at the beginning of every practice to work on proper body positioning for any athlete who feels like their lower quadrant sinks when they’re floating or swimming. Not every swimmer will be able to master this skill, but all athletes will benefit from playing around with their body position in the water. I encourage swimmers to practice floating in a streamline position, but they can also do it with their arms straight in front of them or glued to their side.
If the athlete has a training partner they can trust, they can ask them to place one hand on their “T” and the other hand below their quads (stomach floating) or hamstrings (back floating) while they practice finding their proper body position. The swimmer practicing floating should try and push downward on the hand under their “T” while the training partner simultaneously removes pressure from the hand supporting their legs. Next, the floating swimmer should try to maintain their body position as their training partner removes their other hand.
In my opinion, it is not floating unless you can hold your entire body at the water’s surface for an extended period of time without kicking. I should also note that it will be easier for the swimmer to learn how to float in salt water versus fresh water.