Float or Sink

I am kidding with the title. I just wanted to get your attention. In this article, I will talk about floating and staying afloat, not sinking, unless you do it gracefully.

For some it is not as easy as it looks. I did not have that problem because I have always had fat in my body. And no, I do not want to get on your sensitive side, and of course, I do not want to offend you, I am keeping it real and talking about the facts. Fat helps us float! Ok, no, I am not saying it is good to eat pizza, hamburgers, fries, etc. I am just saying that our natural body fat does help us in some way float, but that is not the whole story.

For example, if you are beginning in the sport, fat can help, but what you really want is the strength of your body to do the work and keep you over the surface of the water. There are swimmers which have very low levels of body fat and again I am not trying to offend, it is human nature and they are the 10% of all teams. These girls as you may know, have trouble floating.

As a coach what I always try to teach swimmers to find the right balance of body strength and extension.

Biomechanics of Floating 

We need to balance out the center of gravity
with the center of flotation. We should feel like
we put all of our weighttowards the top of our
head, in front or back layout. Then we need to
close the gap between ribs and hips, lining them
up and segmenting the hold from the breathing.
If there isn’t any air in the lungs, believe me,
you will also sink.


Tips to help you float:
  1. Have the swimmer lay down in the water on their back looking at the ceiling. Ask them to put their legs together and point their toes. Sometimes with just this reference and in their first try, their legs would be over the water, because they activate them. Of course, this is not always the case.
  2. By holding jugs in each hand it can help swimmers concentrate on their body line and muscles that need to be activated in order to balance the center of flotation/buoyancy and the center of gravity.
  3. Have swimmers try a layout position without jugs. Make sure they can do stationary scull. If not teach them. Usually it helps them at least keep their hip dry. But what you ultimately would like is to have them do a layout position with their body strength.                                        
  4. I would have them place their feet on the wall and at this point I would help the swimmers learn to activate their legs muscles by the coach trying to separate the swimmers legs which causes the swimmer to squeeze to keep them together, poke their quadriceps to wake up that extension and I would ask them to squeeze their butts through to create a board with their body.
  5. To exercise the sensation for the swimmer to obtain a full back layout position with everything dry, they will place the feet on deck and then slide out slowly, keeping everything tight and dry. Once the legs are starting to sink, the exercise is stopped and started again. Usually, when done consistently, this exercise never fails, because it programs the body to activate the muscles needed to keep everything dry.
  6. If this doesn’t work, try a pull-boy in between the ankles during a layout, between the feet, and then off.
  7. If this doesn’t work, I would ultimately get in the water with them while they do a back layout and I would look for ways to activate the muscles that they need too to stay dry.

Muscles that need activation to keep the layouts dry:

Core – to align ribs and hip, especially hip rotation
Shoulder blades – towards the bum to keep your presentation
Quadriceps – for knee and leg extension over the water

 Sensation in the body:

In a back layout – like you are pushing your nape(back of neck) to the bottom of the pool or you are doing a double chin hahaha (that’s always fun) and your instep out of the water.

In a front layout – Like you are pushing your chest towards the bottom of the pool and your heels out of the water with your bum tight of course.

What is your best tip to help swimmers float?

Author Avatar: Leilani Torres

Your SynchroSwimCoach,

Leilani Torres




  1. Dr R. Joy Ricci on March 30, 2019 at 7:57 PM

    Dear Coach,
    My 7-year-old grandson is a natural for floating. He can fold his arms and keep feet together in a float on his back. He can also do a log roll. As an ex-school synchro coach I am amazed! His father played water polo for national under 20s and university Australian teams a few years ago.

    Am I right in thinking that this rapport with water in a boy is rare?

    All the best,

    • Vanessa Keenan on August 7, 2019 at 8:14 AM

      That’s impressive for a child of any age. Floating is such a tricky thing to teach. Thats great for your grandson.

  2. Alana on January 31, 2021 at 8:40 PM

    Dear Coach,

    Any advice as to how a sinker can keep their legs up when sculling above the head? I have heavy legs that are like an anchor in the water. For stationary scull I scull deeper, stronger and closer to the feet than a floater would, but can’t figure out a workaround for, say, dolphin scull.

    • Vanessa Keenan on February 1, 2023 at 5:21 PM

      Sometimes taking a big breath into the belly helps. Make sure the eyes are looking at the ceiling and not towards the toes. I like to have the kids put something with weight on their feet so they do sink more and then when they have no weight it is easy. Not too heavy.

  3. Georjeanne on October 29, 2022 at 12:33 PM

    How do you help someone sink? We are a 60+ year synchro team in a shallow pool. We “perform” once a year for our community. We do our skills from handstands. We have a new member who can’t get to the pool bottom.

    • Vanessa Keenan on February 1, 2023 at 5:19 PM

      Maybe she could try to pike out. As she sinks she does a submerged double position. Or maybe you change the choreography and allow tucking from a handstand.

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