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by Cokie Lepinski

February 20, 2015

Establishing the Line

Tips to help your swimmers get those hips up!

As coaches, we know the importance of minimizing resistance in swimming. But translating to your swimmers the many details that go into that simple statement is not always so simple! For example, establishing a clean, horizontal line in the water. The horizontal line is a foundation for all four strokes, yet we see many of our swimmers with feet positioned very deeply in the water and hips that fall below the water line. You wince as you watch them swim, knowing how much energy they're expending as they swim uphill, lap after lap.

This should be such an easy thing to fix, right? Coaches will say things such as “press your T”, “float your legs”, or “swim downhill” (and many more). For many swimmers (often those with good proprioceptive skills), that is enough of a cue to make the necessary change.

But what to do when those verbal cues don’t work? Sometimes a physical tool bails me out of a situation where I’m just not connecting or am otherwise unable to help make the changes that will create efficiency in the water. 

With this thought in mind, I headed to the pool for my own workout. I experimented with a few pool aids to see if there was something I could come up with to help. First, I started with a kickboard and placed it lengthwise and even crosswise under my torso. That works for simple kicking work (and it’s great for butterfly work), yet I was not quite satisfied. The surface area of the kickboard was too big for my taste. I grabbed my pull buoy and placed it lengthwise at the top of my chest, positioned below the soft tissue area of my neck. I kicked down the pool trying various positions with arms at my side or with arms up in a superman or “11” position. The pull buoy is just small enough and buoyant enough to work like a charm! I did dolphin kick, flutter kick, breaststroke kick, and even some full breaststroke with the buoy.

As I cruised along, I paid attention to playing with my head position and what I could feel in my hips and feet. I discovered two verbal cues that might aid your success rates if you try this pull buoy trick.

  • Face down with buoy. Swimmers kick face down with the buoy in place as described and place the back of their hands on their, ahem, rear ends. They should be able to feel the air on their hands. Now have them move their hands to the water (but still at their sides). Can they feel the air on their derrieres? If not, instruct them to press the buoy just a little deeper into the water. Their hips should pop right up!
  • Unicorn horn. The second tip is for those who want to bury their heads to get their hips up. My thought here is to tell them to envision that they have nice, long unicorn horns coming out the tops of their heads. They must keep the horns right at the surface of the water—not pointing down or angled down. It must point directly at the end of the pool.

While this pull buoy tip is primarily an idea to improve body position, challenge yourself to see what more you can do with it. Will it work if the swimmers are on their backs and the buoys are placed under their shoulder blades? Can they manage face- down sculling drills with the pull buoy in place? Be curious and try different things. You just might strike gold!

What have you experimented with in your practices? Streamlines for Coaches is a terrific place for all of us to share these tips and tricks that we’ve had success with in our own groups of swimmers.