How To Stop Your Legs From Sinking – Root Cause 4 – Problem 4

The  Ultimate Guide To Balance & Alignment In Freestyle Swimming

Fixing Your Sinking Leg Problems


Root Cause No 4: 

Over Rotation Problem 4: 

Pulling Through Too Early

We know that your center of gravity shifts up and down depending on what position your body is in. The further up your body the center of gravity moves, the better you will be able to stop your legs from sinking.

One way we can shift your center of gravity forward is by adjusting when you catch and pull through. The thinking goes something like this:

Your lungs are the center of buoyancy and the pivot point of your balance. By shifting more of your body weight forward in front of your lungs you can balance out your body and keep your hips up.

I’m 187cm (6ft2) tall.

But if I raise my hands up above my head I add an extra 70cm+ to my total height and have a lot more weight distributed forward ahead of my lungs.

If you pull through too early you spend a lot of time with very little weight distributed ahead of your lungs. With less weight shifted forward your center of gravity moves down towards your hips. And as a result your legs sink.

Why it Happens 

There are two primary reasons I see swimmers pulling through too early.

{1} The need to push down to support your body 

If you feel out of balance or like your sinking the temptation will be to go to your arms for support. When you begin to push down with your arms you get the lift up which helps you feel like you’re no longer sinking. But that push down also starts the pull through very early in relation to the recovering arm.  Your pulling arm drops deep into the water. Disappears past your shoulder before the recovering hand enters.

{2} You Lack Confidence in Your Breath  

You’re pushing down to lift your head up higher for the breath. You lift your head because you lack the confidence to keep your mouth close to the surface of the water. The higher you feel you need to lift your head, the deeper you push down.

How To Fix It

{1} Catch Up Drill 

 A lot of coaches rely on the Catch Up Drill to help teach you how to keep your weight distributed forward for longer.


If you are not familiar with Catch Up, here’s how you do it:

It is regular freestyle, with a pause out in front. You  must wait for the recovering hand to touch the extended hand before it can pull through. Only once your hands touch can you pull through for your next stroke.

Waiting for your hands to touch keeps more body weight shifted forward ahead of your lungs.  The touch gives you a physical cue to keep exchanging one arm for the other out in front of your head.

The catch up drill can teach you a great lesson in staying extended and not pulling through too early. But it’s not a great way to swim freestyle.

Waiting for your hands to touch out in front disrupts the continuity of your stroke. It halts forward momentum. While your lead arm waits for the recovering arm to enter and touch you STOP moving forward. This means you have to re-generate your speed from scratch with every pull.

When  you swim Catch up freestyle you stop/start/stop/start which isn’t economical. And every time you stop, you’ll feel your hips sink.

{1} Front Quadrant Freestyle 

Front Quadrant Freestyle takes the benefits of the Catch Up Drill without killing your momentum.

Most distance swimmers use a Front Quadrant stroke as it is very efficient. Swimmers like San Yang, Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett are the poster child for this stroke.

But. There is a but… Front quadrant swimming doesn’t work for everyone. And isn’t always right for open water. I’ll talk about that more in a second.

No matter how you swim, you need to keep the concepts of front quadrant swimming in mind. This is what keeps your weight distributed forward ahead of your lungs, helping keep your hips up.

To swim Front Quadrant Freestyle; wait until the recovering arm has passed the line of your head before you start your pull.

You could say that Front Quadrant Freestyle is 3/4 Catch Up Stroke. You start to pull through when the recovering elbow is inline with your ear. Instead of waiting for your hands to touch before you pull back.

If filmed from above we want to see some part of you hand extended out in front of your head at any time in the stroke cycle. You must make sure the lead hand stays extended out front during the recovery of the other arm.

If  the lead arm disappears past the head before the recovering arm enters the water, you have a problem. Your shoulder will be dropping too low. You’ll be pushing down too much. Your hips will sink and it will slow you down.

3/4 Is A Rough Guide

You can adjust the length of time you keep the lead arm extended based on:

  • Your body type
  • The distance you’re swimming
  • Your speed
  • The water/weather conditions.
  • Long distance / Slow speed / Flat calm water = More Extension
  • Short distance / High Speed / Rough Water = Less Extension


In the pool, you have the opportunity to be more patient with that lead arm. You can keep it extended and ride your line as long as it doesn’t kill your momentum.