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Activating those lower back muscles in swimming
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Curious if others have struggled with a similar problem and found a solution.

When I swim, my upper half down to my hips/butt are near the surface of the water, the legs however are on a different axis and slant significantly downward. Friends say lift the legs but I don't know "how." I can't bring my legs up in superman pose on dry land so I think it's a core/lower back issue but I'm struggling to figure out a solution. On land, I can strengthen my lower back and practice lifting the legs (stomach side flutter kicks) but I don't know how to engage the muscles once in the water.


Anyone else successfully found a way to bring their legs up for a more streamlined position? What are the secrets to keeping the lower core engaged to raise the legs? Alternatively, any drills to know that I'm doing a better job at maintaining a streamline position?
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Re: Activating those lower back muscles in swimming [CheeseheadinDC] [ In reply to ]
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I've been playing around with this myself. I do a 300 warm up with a pullbuoy. Then, a time or two lately, I swapped it out for a pullbuoy that has been cut down a bit so it has prob 2/3rd the buoyancy, and do another 300. The fact that I'm using a pull buoy means it's much easier to "concentrate on only 1 problem", something I've found hugely helpful. The fact that it's a reduced buoyancy PB means that, compared to the previous 300, my hips and legs want to sink so I have to use back/glute/hamstrings to keep them up. Transitioning from the "more buoyancy" immed to the "less buoyancy" helps me feel the problem. Swap between the two each lap if need be.

I'm not using much of a kick. It's a small amplitude thing with the objective of having my toes flutter at the surface while I try hard to reduce drag by keeping my legs pretty close together and my toes very pointed. The reason I'm not using much of a kick is that there's something wrong with it such that it messes with my rotation and causes my O2 needs to go up a lot. A couple months ago I spent a couple weeks trying to fix my kick timing but it turned out to be a lot easier to instead just reduce the amplitude of the kick. In order to make the low amplitude kick work, I had to emphasize using back/glutes/hamstrings to keep my hips and feet up, instead of keeping them up thru kicking. So I think I'm in a similar place to what you described.

"If only he had used his genius for niceness, instead of Evil." M. Smart
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Re: Activating those lower back muscles in swimming [RangerGress] [ In reply to ]
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This video was hugely helpful to me both for understanding the concept of why my legs were sinking and what I needed to do to correct it.
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Re: Activating those lower back muscles in swimming [CheeseheadinDC] [ In reply to ]
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Think about pressing your chest down, and learn how to kick. Try doing some kicking face down - both with and without a board.

Proud member of Fishtwitch and the ST Grammar Police
disclaimer: I am a PhD, not a medical doctor. The closest I get to surgery is topology.
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Re: Activating those lower back muscles in swimming [BCtriguy1] [ In reply to ]
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Beat me to it! I was on YouTube trying to find this very funny and informative video. The leg lifting drills at the end are worthwhile time in the water, understanding that mastery is not going to come immediately.

Wag More, Bark Less
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Re: Activating those lower back muscles in swimming [SallyShortyPnts] [ In reply to ]
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Absolutely! I find it's not really a need to work out those muscles, as much as just learning how to engage them properly. 10 minutes of practice before swimming a few times works wonders, as does laying down on the ground, face down, and trying to lift your legs slightly for a few seconds at a time.

Once you get it, it sure makes kicking easier too.
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Re: Activating those lower back muscles in swimming [Dr. Tigerchik] [ In reply to ]
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Do you have any recommended drills to learn to kick--and by that I mean to tell the difference between kicking properly and "just kicking"? Right now I'm just doing 25s to hopefully focus on form. I've found kicking without a board a little easier. With one, my quads burn as though I've never worked out a day in my life. Without a board and taking purposeful kicks, my speed is a just a little slower than when I use one trying to go all out, or what I think that feels like.
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Re: Activating those lower back muscles in swimming [BCtriguy1] [ In reply to ]
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Thanks for the video--it was quite informative. I agree my issue is figuring out how to engage the muscles necessary to lift the legs. When I dabbled (very briefly) in yoga, I always struggled with the superman pose. It was like the message from my brain never reached my legs to lift. Generally with strength deficiencies, one can do the movement at least ever so slightly. My leg lifts are non-existent. People have said in the past to imagine holding a coin between the glutes as a way to engage but that just never worked for me. When I push off the wall to swim, I can make sure I arch my back some and I think that lifts my legs but then they drop after a while. I wonder if I created a 30 day challenge of leg lifts that would lead to some improvement, or least help me figure out how to engage the correct muscles.
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Re: Activating those lower back muscles in swimming [CheeseheadinDC] [ In reply to ]
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Go back to yoga and practice your super mans.

General weakness in your posterior chain (back side) is why your legs sink. You can get away with quad-dominance in biking and running, but not so much with swimming. All three sports will improve, as will lessening the likelihood of injury from muscle imbalances;-)

Wag More, Bark Less
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Re: Activating those lower back muscles in swimming [CheeseheadinDC] [ In reply to ]
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Learning to do a tight flutter kick instead of my previous biketastic, can-can kick made a huge difference in my body position.
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Re: Activating those lower back muscles in swimming [CheeseheadinDC] [ In reply to ]
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there's not a lot of knee bend at all. You should feel it in your hip flexors. Look at some videos of good swimmers, and watch their kick.

Proud member of Fishtwitch and the ST Grammar Police
disclaimer: I am a PhD, not a medical doctor. The closest I get to surgery is topology.
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Re: Activating those lower back muscles in swimming [BCtriguy1] [ In reply to ]
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Nice video. Thanks for that.

"If only he had used his genius for niceness, instead of Evil." M. Smart
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Re: Activating those lower back muscles in swimming [SallyShortyPnts] [ In reply to ]
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I have been thinking about sinking legs and activating the right muscles to pull my legs to the surface.

I think Supermans (lower back) are probably right for most, but I have settled on Bridges (glute). Maybe the answer is both and swimming more...
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Re: Activating those lower back muscles in swimming [SBRinSD] [ In reply to ]
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SBRinSD wrote:
I have been thinking about sinking legs and activating the right muscles to pull my legs to the surface.

I think Supermans (lower back) are probably right for most, but I have settled on Bridges (glute). Maybe the answer is both and swimming more...

Bridges are a great exercise as well, both the plank bridge, and particularly the articulated bridge. My only concern is for people to avoid popping up from their quads instead of using their glutes and hamstrings (my poor form for years on this movement)

Wag More, Bark Less
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Re: Activating those lower back muscles in swimming [SallyShortyPnts] [ In reply to ]
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Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I tried the bridges today--I am not good at those! Especially the plank bridge. I will continue to practice those and super mans/flutter kicks to help improve the lower back...sounds like a good 30 day challenge.

I went to the pool as well and a good swimmer/co-worker struggled to explain how to engage the muscles but mentioned it's like horizontal walking. And if done properly, the butt should rock (a little). Again easier explained than put into practice. I don't have a problem of bending my knees too much-in fact, they are pretty straight. <- a result of trying to fix bicycle kicking legs when I first learned to swim.

My 100 yard repeat time is around 1:40 but I'd like to bring it down closer to 1:30. My pulling is about 5-7 seconds faster than regular swimming so that's partially why I'm trying to focus on kicking. That and I get absolutely crushed in kick sets when swimming with a group.

Since I don't have any races for a while, this is a good time to focus on technique. I'll give an update in a month or two to note any changes.
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