“Swimming is a sport of centimeters.” This is something my favorite swim coach likes to tell me over and over again, especially when I’m having trouble making a small adjustment to my stroke. This might seem like a depressing thing to focus on, but it’s really not. Think of the Olympics and the famous finish Michael Phelps had when he out-touched Milorad Cavic by only one one-hundredth of a second to win gold. One one-hundredth of a second. It takes ten times that long to blink to put things into perspective.
The small movements you work to correct over and over again, that sometimes make you want to pull your hair out in frustration, are the movements that will put you ahead that one one-hundredth of a second to beat out your competition. And in this case, the movement I want to talk about is keeping your ribs down and closed while you swim. What does that mean? The best way to understand it is to first think of the opposite, what you look like when you swim with your ribs open. Think of when you arch your back, and how it turns your torso into a "U" shape, or - and this one's my favorite - a banana in the water. Swimming like a banana through the water clearly would not be beneficial for your efficiency and power. This body position takes you out of streamline and, unlike a banana, causes your hips and legs to sink downward toward the bottom of the pool. Swimming with your hips and legs not at the surface of the water means you're causing unnecessary drag that you have to fight hard against to propel yourself forward through the water.
The position you want needs to be driven from your ribs, and is, in actuality, a very small movement. When people tell you to arch your back most people create an extreme exaggeration, forming that “U” shape with their bodies. Here, you want a slight crunch inwards, driven from your ribs, which will result in a flat back. Think of it like the position you make when you exhale. When you blow your air out, your ribs go down and move inwards. Not the exact opposite of an arched back, you don’t want a hunchback either. You want to straighten our your back with this downward movement of your ribs in order to prevent swimming like a banana.
What does this position do? It brings your hips and legs up to the surface of the water, AND helps to tilt your head into proper position at the same time. Try both of these movements standing up on land before trying them out in the pool. In the beginning, make them as exaggerated as you can. To make your banana, take in a really big breath and hold it. Now watch as your body turns into that “U” shape/banana. To feel the opposite, the position we’re looking for, exhale that really big breath and you’ll feel your body straighten back out, as well as the weight of your body falling back onto your heels. This will show you the extreme differences and help you find what we’re looking for in the water.
I know this probably sounds weird, but this minor change to your posture is one of the centimeters that’s going to help you get that much closer to your goal times. It’s going to improve your streamline, power, and efficiency by allowing you to move through the water with less effort and more smoothly than before. If you want to work on this more intensely make sure to take a look at our Foundational Breathing Method online course!