How To Stop Your Legs  From Sinking

The  Ultimate Guide To Balance & Alignment In Freestyle Swimming

Fixing Your Sinking Leg Problems

Root Cause 13: 

Poor Ankle Flexibility

If you can’t extend your ankles so the top of your foot is an extension of your  shin, your feet are acting like anchors behind you, pulling your legs down. 


In a perfect world, your ankle should open up more than 90°. 

Bad Ankles – acting like anchors and stopping you moving forward!

Ok Ankles – not acting like anchors but not helping your move forward

Great Ankles – helping you reduce drag and move forward!

If you can’t get to 90°, moving your legs is actually going to slow you down! You can put all the energy and effort into kicking more. Kicking harder. Kicking faster. It won’t do you any good.  In fact it will make you slower! 

Common Causes 

Ankle flexibility is one of the biggest reasons the kick is such a major issue for triathletes. Especially for runners and cyclists transition into swimming and triathlon. 

Running and cycling promotes stiff, strong and supportive ankles. But in the water we want supple flexible ankles. 

As a triathlete you will need to find a balance between suppleness and support. Suppleness for the water and support for the road. 

I wouldn’t wish floppy ankles like mine on anyone. They cause a lot of issues when I run. But to kick well you need enough range of motion in your ankles to kick water downwards. The downward whip kick is what lifts your legs up, balancing out your lower body. 

How To Fix It 

You can take an active and or passive approach to your ankle flexibility. You’ll see faster changes with the active approach. But if you are time crunched the passive approach will work as long as you are consistent and patient. 

{1} Stretch & Mobilize 

Add in a focus on your ankles and shins to your stretching routine.  There are two stretches and some soft tissue work you can do to help. 

{a} Adjusted Warrior Pose

This is a variation on the Warrior Pose you might see in a yoga class. In the Warrior Pose you lean backwards, planting your back heel into the floor behind you. To work your ankle flexibility, your going to plant the top of your back foot and push down while you lean forward. 

The goal is to have the top of your foot form an extension of your shin bone. Stay in the position for 30 seconds. Release and swop your legs. 

{b} Sit On Your Ankles

This is a more advanced and aggressive stretch. Please be careful when going through this progression. 

  • Sit down on the mat with your knees bent under your body and your toes pointed backwards behind you. 
  • Place a pillow under ankles at first. Don’t lower all your body weight onto your shins and ankles. 
  • As you get more comfortable with the stretch try to lift your knees off the ground. Use your hands to support you. 
  • Hold the position for 30 seconds. As you get more comfortable increase it slowly to a minute. 

Stage 1: Ankles on a Pillow 


Stage 2: Ankles Flate No Pillow


Stage 3: Ankles Up  

{3} Roll Your Calves & Shins 

  • Grab your roller! Position the roller on the outside of your shin. We’re working on loosening up the tibialis anterior muscle (aka the soft outside part of your shin!) 
  • Rock your leg side to side on the roller. Start at the bottom near your foot and slowly move up towards your knee. It should take you 1-2 minutes to work your way up. 
  • Once you’ve done both legs, spend another 1-2 minute pointing your toes and then relaxing your foot. Again work the roller from the bottom of your shin up towards your knee. Stop and work any particularly tender spots. 

{4} Kick with Fins 

The passive approach to working on your ankle flexibility comes through wearing fins. The long blades on your fins force your ankles to flex and extend as you kick up and down. 

Swim some of your warmups and cooldowns with fins on. Do some of your drills with fins. Practice vertical kicking with fins. As you do, your flexibility will improve over time. 

*Notice I said some of your warm ups, drills, and cool downs. Don’t do everything with your fins. They’re a tool, not a crutch. 

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