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Swim without that (leg) sinking feeling

Swim without that (leg) sinking feeling

Leg sinking or feet dragging while swimming, an issue faced by those doing freestyle stroke, can bring down the pace and take the fun out of your time in the pool. Here is how you can overcome it
Leg sinking or feet dragging is a common problem faced by many who have not swam for a long time.
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K / Happiest Health

The call of the swimming pool is irresistible. So, you make that summer splash, taking baby stroke in the pool. Then it sinks in, pun intended. Your feet seem to weigh you down, making your laps hard, and disrupting your buoyancy, your meticulously honed stroke and breathing technique in disarray. Relax. You are not the first person whose swimming experience was weighed down by leg sinking or feet dragging. 

When the toes don’t come to the surface of the water when kicking, it is called leg sinking. It is particularly seen among those who do freestyle stroke. It mainly affects people who are starting to learn swimming late in their life, in adulthood, or those who are restarting after leading a sedentary lifestyle.

What causes leg sinking?

Factors range from age to weakness in core muscles and muscular stiffness as well as incorrect head position while doing freestyle stroke.

“If a person is swimming from an early age and continues swimming regularly, then the legs don’t sink as the foundation is strong which is essential,” says Mumbai-based swimming coach Ujwal Poojari. “It is mostly experienced by people who start to learn swimming in later stages of life, be it 20s, 30s or 40s. And one of the most important factors for this is the stiffness of the back, as the body stiffens as one ages. Heavy and stiff leg muscles also contribute to leg sinking.”

Muscle stiffening in the glutes and hamstrings is another cause. These muscles are engaged when a person kicks while swimming. “Core muscles play a major role in leg sinking. Swimming directly hits the core. So a good core is always helpful,” adds Poojari.

Drills to overcome leg sinking

Correcting the technique or honing it with drills help swimmers overcome leg dragging.

“The stiffness of the body gets sorted with swimming,” says Poojari. “The best way to overcome leg sinking is with kicking drills where an individual first takes a deep breath and then swims only by kicking while keeping the hands stretched out in the front.”

This drill sorts out not just the kicking technique and works the muscles involved but also corrects the head position, which is important in maintaining buoyancy. The ideal position of the head is when the chin is aligned with the chest and the eyes are focused downwards looking at the floor of the swimming pool.

Stretch your back after swimming 

Like other forms of exercise, a stretching routine after swimming is important. Stretching aids in loosening up the muscles that were worked during the swim. Static stretching routine or yoga stretches before and after swimming is recommended by coaches. 

Pre-swim stretching becomes paramount if the person lifts weights and is using the pool once or twice a week for cross training. In fact, experts recommend avid gym goers should hit the pool regularly as it is an ideal way to relax those stiff muscles.


  • Those who start learning swimming at an early age and continue to do so regularly do not experience leg sinking.
  • A stiff back, glutes and leg muscles cause leg sinking. It can be overcome by stretching and loosening these muscles through regular swimming practice along with static or yoga stretches before and after swimming.
  • Kicking drills help counter leg sinking or feet dragging as well. It is important to keep the head position right while swimming – the chin should be aligned to the chest with the eyes focused to the bottom of the pool.

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