Downhill swimming is the holy grail.  In my search for swimming techniques I read that term hundreds of times.  I, on the other hand, mostly felt like I was swimming uphill, both ways.  There are a number of things that people have said you need to do to get that downhill feeling.  Almost all of them, however, are related to head position.

Keeping your head down is key, at least that’s what they say.  I have been working hard at keeping my head down, so hard in fact, that at times my whole body is underwater making it impossible to come up for air quickly.   That’s not going to work.  Well, near the end of my session last night, as always, (why do I always make breakthroughs at the end of the night) I got my first real experience with swimming downhill.

The sensation was incredible.  I would pull and push with one arm and my body would glide effortlessly as I started the recovery stroke.   It was magical.  Before I knew it I was at the end of the lane and heading back.  I couldn’t believe it.  So how did I accomplish this magical task?  Well it was a few things all coming together at once I think.  Most of these things I already had down, I added one new thing yesterday that sealed the deal.  Hopefully I can get that down so that it becomes the norm.  As it stands, I am not achieving it consistently.  So here are the things I have done to help me get to that great feeling:

  1. Breathing correctly, I previously wrote a post on breathing while swimming that illustrates the important points.  In summary, don’t lift your head, and turn as little as possible to ensure that you are staying streamlined.
  2. Head position.  Not too high, not too low, you want your head to be a straight extension of the spine and the water to be hitting you right on the crown of your head, not your forehead.  This keeps your body in one streamlined plane.
  3. Patient lead arm.  You don’t want to swim like a windmill.  You want the arm that is extended in front of you to wait until your recovery arm swings out in front of your face.  This will allow you to stay streamlined and glide as soon as possible, and for as long as possible.
  4. Arm extension.  This is the part that pulled it together for me.  I had been doing all of the above, at least to some extent, but this last one was the final key to getting that downhill feeling.  Timing here is everything.  As I pull with one hand, I simultaneously stretch the lead hand out in the water which forces my body to rotate a bit more.  It is really all one motion.  When I do this, the shoulder of my lead arm actually pushes in against my face.  If you sleep on your side that is kind of the same feeling you get.  This position makes a streamlined shape that leads from the tips of the fingers of your lead hand, over your head and then over your shoulder.

If you read carefully you will see a common theme emerge–ok, fine I highlighted it so you don’t have to read so carefully.  Downhill swimming has nothing to do with your body pointing down.  It has more to do with keeping your body as streamlined as possible to minimize friction in the water.  You take the shape of an arrow, or a rocket, and you glide through the water almost effortlessly.  That is where the money is!  OK fine, no money but at least the swimming will be fast and easy, that’s something right?