In the swimming world, you often hear top coaches refer to the concept of “swimming downhill”. But what does this mean? Technically, swimming downhill refers to placing your body and core in an ideal position to reduce drag in the water. In plain speak it means getting your hips up and your head down.
The idea behind swimming downhill is that you should use your body, and especially your head, to maintain a high hip position in the water. The position of your hips is directly connected to your head position almost like a see-saw. The average swimmer has their hips far too low in the water when they swim, with their head up and eyes looking forward. Even while I was swimming in college, my teammates and I had to make a constant effort to work on body balance. Ultimately, if you can get your hips up a little higher in the water, your swimming efficiency will improve.
So why do so many swimmers still struggle with keeping their hips on the surface of the water and their head in the proper position? Although, it’s one of the easiest habits to fix, correct head and hip position is one of the first things you forget about, especially when you’re tired. Ironically, head position is that much more important when you are tired! This is exactly when your body needs all the help it can get.
Let’s walk through one simple “balance drill” that can be done to get the feeling for how your body reacts to your head’s position in the water:
Start out by relaxing your body in a floating position with your arms at your side, kicking lightly. I highly recommend using a center-mount swimmer’s snorkel so that you do not have to worry about breathing during this drill. If you are a novice swimmer who might have trouble staying afloat on top of the water, I would also recommend using a pair of fins (Z2 or floating fins) to generate some extra propulsion.
Begin floating with your eyes and head pointed forward, towards the other end of the pool; you will notice that your hips are quite low in the water. Slowly move your head until your eyes and face point directly below you at the line on the bottom of the pool. At this point, you should feel your hips and legs rising up towards the surface. If you’re really good at it, you might even feel some air on the back of your legs. You can experiment burying your head further if you would like, but return to the position of alignment with your eyes pointed directly towards the bottom. Submerging your head too much causes additional drag.
If you perform this drill a couple of times a week you will quickly begin to understand how your hips and head float in the water, helping you increase your body awareness. With the correct body position you can begin to “swim downhill” with less drag and more speed.