Help For Sinkers

This is a re-post of a response I gave on the TI Coach Forums. I thought it may be helpful to some of you who have a friend or personally experience problems with planing too low in the water while swimming- making breathing and stroking much more difficult.

Without giving the previous coaches story for context I’ll provide just my response from which I think you can still get the important concepts.

[In response to “Sinker/Tight Swimmer”]

Hey Coach  D,

I won’t claim to know how to solve your swimmers problem but it’s a problem I enjoy exploring. I’ve taken on the attitude that I appreciate it when a swimmer provides me a new problem to solve. I feel confident in the core TI solutions to common problems, so I don’t feel so uncomfortable anymore admitting to my student that they have presented me with a new challenge outside that common list- I actually appreciate it. Perhaps they appreciate the humility too. There is a risk of their impatience, but I figure that if a TI coach can’t figure it out there is less chance a traditional coach will. So I invite the swimmer into the laboratory, dig away at the physics and the psychology of it, and do some experiments to understand the aspects of the problem and develop some new tricks.

I just happen to have one a month ago as you describe yours. However, he could swim and had some TI experience so we could address some things with his TI understanding.

Perhaps you have thought of some of these things already but here are the things that come to mind regarding this kind of swimmer:

– Body density. The neutral plane (that depth at which a human will be resting perfectly between gravity pushing down, and water buoyancy pushing up) will be a little different for each person. He may very well have an inconveniently deep neutral plane.

I encourage people who claim to be sinkers, “Hey if you are going to sink, at least learn to sink evenly!”

– Velocity adds lift (when done right). It works something like an airplane wing gaining lift from high pressure air flowing under the wing plane, low pressure over the top. When the streamlined body is sliding forward and force is directed ahead and the intricacies of the lead arm are extending in an arc to the target, a beautiful amount of lift is created, a higher pressure surge of water flowing under the body which keeps a skillful swimmer consistently at the surface of the water.

I’ve been working on this with various swimmers these last couple months- examining in detail precisely how and in what direction they are transfering forces through the body. In a low-density swimmer (like women) there is a nice little bobbing that occurs that may not be recognized as poorly directed force. There should be no ‘bob’ but rather a surge forward at each spear to target.

In high-density swimmers (sinkers, and many men), any slight force directed downward during the rotation will carry the whole body down. The consequences are experienced immediately and it creates an unsustainable situation.

The hip/core body rotation has to become like a corkscrew- a vertical force (gravity pushing on hips and parts of the body above the neutral plane) needs to be transferred 90 degrees into a horizontal force – ‘precession’ it is called I believe. It is a skill that may be too easily ignored by those less density-challenged. But in a high-density swimmer it is literally a boat-sinking problem.

– Manage the Ballast- for a sinker, breath control will be not only for oxygen but also for controlling buoyancy. If a submarine lets out too much pressure from the ballast tanks, it will sink. So a sinker needs to ration the exhale much, much more than a low-density swimmer. They need that air to add buoyancy to the body, though their body demands the release of CO2. Then they can practice ‘blowing the tanks’ at the last half-second during the turn to breath, and take a full inhale.

So a sinker may consider taking breath more often (every 3rd stroke) as a habit so that they can enjoy the exchange of air more often. The scream in the lungs, as I understand it from apne divers, is initially the body’s desperation to release CO2 more than to get fresh O2. So if he can trickle just the slightest stream from the nose until the breath then blow it all at the last second, he might have a better pattern for air and for holding buoyancy.

Last thought for the moment- I had a couple non-swimmer boys in a group lesson last summer. They couldn’t keep themselves on the surface for even a couple seconds when we were trying to float, but then when I was having the kids dive down for things on the bottom (2m deep pool) they couldn’t get their bodies to go down! So I pondered and pondered the physics of this in my brain trying to figure out what was going.

My tentative conclusion that I have tested since: When floating we must build a platform which the water wants to carry. Water wants to carry a body that has a firm core, and relaxed appendages. When propeling, we must create a vessel that can transfer forces through the body in the most direct manner.

These boys were just the opposite- they were tense in the appendages and noodles in the core- forces could not transfer through their bodies! For both floating and diving, through games and playful activities I had to get them to feel how to transfer forces through their body (for diving), or how to hold them in tension (for floating). These are skills that many kids seem to learn instinctively at play in the water, but these two must have missed that.

One (rarely used) strategy I have for overly tense adults is to help them literally play in the water- just so they take the conscious mind off the body and onto some other objective and let the child-like learning features of the subconscious take over and build the skills they need. Kinda strange to be playing diving and Marko-Polo games with some big ol guy in the pool, eh?

The firm core is made up of both head alignment and hip alignment- the hips rotate in and out which affects the curve of the lower spine, which in turn creates a more supportive platform for water to lift on, or less of one.

On the back float position, rotate hips forward (belly button up) to create a ‘rainbow’ arch, as I tell the kids, then let the arms and legs relax as if we were trying to rest on top of very, very thin ice. This hip-rotated-out position forces the thighs to form into the plane of the whole body- hips-rotated-back allows the thighs to angle forward and it breaks the frame of the spine, then they sink.

In the superman position, the thought of laying the torso on thin, thin ice, while keeping the appendages relaxed may help. I would be inclined to experiment to have my sinker practice Superman Glide position without trying to stay on the surface, but simply to plane (or sink if he will) under the water in balanced position- just to practice the balance part, when floating is not possible yet. It will still require him to activate core muscles he may not know he has.

Ok. Enough thoughts for now. I enjoy the topic of extraordinarilly challenged swimmers.

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3 responses to “Help For Sinkers

  1. Pingback: In At The Deep End | Heartsease·

  2. “Last thought for the moment- I had a couple non-swimmer boys in a group lesson last summer. They couldn’t keep themselves on the surface for even a couple seconds when we were trying to float, but then when I was having the kids dive down for things on the bottom (2m deep pool) they couldn’t get their bodies to go down! So I pondered and pondered the physics of this in my brain trying to figure out what was going.

    My tentative conclusion that I have tested since: When floating we must build a platform which the water wants to carry. Water wants to carry a body that has a firm core, and relaxed appendages. When propeling, we must create a vessel that can transfer forces through the body in the most direct manner.”

    If the kids couldn’t get their bodies to go down, it is because they are less dense than water, period. That’s physics. They would need to actively swim down, or to release air, to dive. When the couldn’t keep themselves on the surface, probably you mean that they couldn’t keep their mouth or their nose above the surface, or that they could not lie on the water because they couldn’t achieve balance (center of gravity and center of buoyancy being too far apart from each other).
    W.r.t. buoyancy, water cares about the volume and the weight of the body (so, about the density of the body, not about its shape or whether it’s “relaxed”.

    • Hi Beber. Referring to my reply in Remedy For Sinkers Part 1, I noted that there is a difference between water density and water pressure. In static state all we have is density. In motion we can work with differences in water pressure. That is another skill set we aim need to develop.

      Incidentally, those two boys were screwing around one day outside of class and had to be pulled off the bottom of the pool by the lifeguards because they couldn’t get their bodies to go up or stay up when they wanted to. Fortunately, they were still kicking when they were spotted.

      What I observed was that when I had them (in the lesson) lay down in passive prone position (head weightless in the water, face submerged looking down), they could not keep their body at the surface – they would not relax and let their body just lay there even for 2 or 3 seconds without wiggling and tension and jerking the arms. They ‘broke the frame’ which would have allowed them to stay parallel and close to the surface and this caused the hips and legs to sink which triggered ‘Help, I’m sinking!’ in the survival section of the brain and then it was a downward spiral of sink-inducing motion. That body tension reaction needed to be worked on first, but in that setting I couldn’t give one-on-one lessons (in shallow water), which would have been so much more effective. The first assumption we make is that they are too dense. Maybe so, maybe not. They were in prone position, but they were holding tension all over their body, unlike the other kids who, some with similar body type, could do so. Then, in pushing down into the water, just to touch the bottom of the pool (2m deep) they couldn’t get their bodies to go below their feet, and the water would push them right back to the surface – exact opposite. There was much more going on here than mere body density, and that is mainly what I am pointing out FOR SOME PEOPLE. The inner (physical) state of the body affects how it interacts with the water, both with density but more importantly with pressure and flow of water, which is ultimately what we deal with in swimming motion. Density differences are a static fact, but more useful variables come into the equation when we set the body in motion and that is what I feel we need to put ‘sinkers’ in touch with.

      I am proposing – not that there are NO sinkers – but that I suspect many who think they are sinkers are not necessarily stuck in that condition once they tap into some body skills which allow them to interact with the water better.

      And in relation to learning to keep the body parallel to the surface (regardless of density) at wherever the neutral line is positioned below the surface, it is all about creating useful tension in the core, while keeping appendages shaped but relaxed. If by chance you have been to alive TI freestyle workshop or series of lessons then you will know what I mean by this. It is counter-intuitive but I demonstrate it in every lesson, and I practice it in every swim.

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