body position in swimming

Body Position in Swimming & Its Effect on Strokes

Swimming with good body position is one of the most important elements for proper stroke technique and faster times in the water. Mastering body position allows swimmers to improve their balance and alignment. It also optimizes propulsion, enhances buoyancy, and reduces drag. Each stroke requires slightly different positioning. A streamlined and horizontal body position in the water is ideal. In this article, we will provide an overview of proper body positioning for swimming. We will also break down the optimal positioning for each stroke and provide drills for swimmers to improve their body alignment. Focusing on good form and body position sets up swimmers for efficient movement through the water.

Ideal Body Position

Ideal Body Position:

The body should be streamlined, balanced, and horizontal when swimming efficiently. This reduces drag and allows the swimmer to move through the water more efficiently.

The ideal body position involves:

  • A long, straight body line from head to toe. The body should be stretched out, not hunched or scrunched.
  • The head is neutral, looking down without straining the neck. Eyes should be focused on the direction of travel.
  • Shoulders rolled forward and down, with one ear almost touching the shoulder on each stroke. This creates a streamlined profile.
  • Hips, legs, ankles, and feet aligned. The lower body should not drag behind. Pointing the toes can help optimize body alignment.
  • A flat back without any sagging or arching. Engaging the core helps keep the back straight.
  • A relaxed body that isn’t stiff. Tension creates drag.

Maintaining balance and control is also crucial. The body should rotate in unison without undue side-to-side movement. Subtle adjustments preserve an efficient shape and trajectory through the water. With an ideal horizontal body position, less effort is required to move forward.

Body Position by Stroke

Body Position by Stroke:

Proper body position is essential for each swimming stroke. Here’s a look at the ideal body position for the main competitive strokes:


The freestyle body position involves lying flat on the stomach and keeping the head in line with the trunk. The head should be relaxed and facing down with the eyes looking at the bottom of the pool. The back should be flat, not arched or hunched. Hips and legs should lie on the surface. Ideally, the whole body should be as horizontal, balanced, and streamlined as possible.


For backstroke, the swimmer lies flat on the back. The upper body sits upright while the hips and legs float on the water. Keep the head still and in line with the body’s midline, eyes looking upwards. Avoid arching the back or bending at the waist. Keep the chest and abdomen up while the lower body lies flat on the surface. 


The breaststroke body position requires more of an upright torso than the flat profile of freestyle and backstroke. Keep the head neutral between a forward and vertical position. The torso should lean slightly forward from the hips—the back rounds slightly in this hunched forward position. The legs extend horizontally, ready to perform the kick. 


Butterfly stroke involves lying prone on the stomach like freestyle. The torso undulates more with the stroke. So, the upper and lower back gently round up and down. The head stays aligned, looking down with the eyes on the bottom of the pool. The hips rise slightly out of the water during the upward body wave. The legs stay together, extended, and streamlined behind the body.

How body Position affects buoyancy

How Body Position Affects Buoyancy:

An optimal swimming body position is essential for maximizing buoyancy and efficiency in the water. The most hydrodynamic position involves alignment of the hips, shoulders, and head, which reduces form drag.

Full body streamlining with arms extended above the head increases buoyancy by reducing the cross-sectional surface area exposed to the water. A high elbow recovery with fingers entering the water first when pulling improves buoyancy.

Rotating the body sideways when breathing enables one side of the torso to remain streamlined in the water for increased buoyancy. Meanwhile, the other side lifts above the surface to breathe. Keeping hips high with a flat back and straight alignment from head to toe optimizes buoyancy.

Kicking from the hips with toes pointed behind the feet further minimizes drag. An efficient kick originates from hip rotation rather than the knees. This enables the swimmer to maintain a straight, hydrodynamic body position for maximum buoyancy.

Proper buoyancy technique is essential for all swimming strokes. Focusing on streamlined body alignment, high elbow recovery, hips up, and core engagement allows swimmers to maximize their inherent buoyancy in the water.



An efficient body position is crucial for generating propulsion in swimming. The goal is to position the body to maximize propulsive force from the arms and legs while minimizing drag.

When swimming freestyle and backstroke, a streamlined position aligns the body in a long and straight line. This enables a swimmer to glide smoothly through the water. Rotating the torso along the longitudinal axis engages the core and lats to generate force and momentum with each stroke. The hips and legs should be aligned, and flutter kicking from the hips allows the legs and feet to act as propellers. Pointing the toes can further streamline the legs.

For breaststroke and butterfly, a horizontal body line is important. In butterfly, keeping the chest and hips near the surface enables the core to undulate for propulsion on the butterfly kick. The timing of the dolphin kick is also synchronized with the arm stroke to maximize efficiency.

In breaststroke, a higher hip position and head alignment create a flat platform for the propulsive whip-kick. An improper body position with the hips sinking low makes generating force off the legs difficult.

Proper alignment in all strokes enables a swimmer to transfer power from the core and legs to the arms to pull through the water. The right body position puts all the engine components in the optimal position to generate propulsion.

Reducing Drag

Reducing Drag:

An efficient body position is crucial for reducing drag in the water. Drag refers to the resistance that pushes against a swimmer’s forward motion. Minimizing drag allows a swimmer to move through the water faster and more efficiently.

The most hydrodynamic position is horizontal, with the body stretched long from head to toe. Having good alignment and posture is key. The hips and legs should be at the surface, with the head, torso, and thighs in a straight line. This presents the smallest possible profile area for the water to push against.

To reduce form drag, swimmers should avoid sinking legs and crossing over with arm strokes. They should also refrain from allowing their heads to pop up. Any deviation from the optimal horizontal streamline adds drag and slows the swimmer down. Pointing the toes can also help minimize drag.

Surface drag can be minimized by remaining high in the water. A bit of the back and back of the head should be exposed. If the swimmer sinks too deep, more surface area contacts the water, creating greater friction. Using effective kicking, body rotation, and buoyancy aids will help keep the upper body elevated.

Proper body alignment, roll, and rotation are also essential for reducing drag during strokes. For example, freestyle and backstroke involve rotating the body sideways to breathe. So keep the head, hips, and legs in line as you turn. Do not allow parts of the body to lag behind the others.

With some focus on body position and drag reduction, swimmers can enhance their efficiency, speed, and endurance in the water. A hydrodynamic alignment allows you to glide through the water with less resistance, slowing you down.

Body Rotation

Body Rotation:

Proper body rotation is critical for an efficient swimming stroke. This refers to the rolling motion of the body from side to side. It enables swimmers to rotate their torso and hips perpendicular to the water’s surface during the stroke cycle.

Body rotation serves several key purposes:

  • The swimmer can engage the lats and core with each stroke to generate propulsion. Without rotating, it would be difficult to reach an optimal stroke length.
  • Rotation reduces frontal drag as the wider torso presents less resistance moving through the water on its side than head-on.
  • It facilitates body undulation from the hips through the shoulders, transmitting force to the water.
  • The hips rotating independently from the shoulders enables more personalized body dynamics for an individual swimmer.
  • Rolling from the core anchors the stroke and connects the energy generated from the hips and torso to the pull of the arms and hands.

Proper rotation originates in the core abdominal muscles and lower back rather than just the shoulders. Engaging the entire core enables the efficient transfer of energy into propulsion. The key is finding the optimal degree of rotation for your body type and stroke mechanics through focused drills. Mastering body roll is essential for building an efficient stroke foundation.

Arm Positions

Arm Positions:

The position of the arms is critical for good body position and stroke technique in swimming. High elbow catch and full arm extension are key elements to focus on.

High Elbow Catch:

On the pull and catch phase, you want your elbow higher than your hand and wrist. This enables you to “catch” more water and pull it backwards powerfully. When your elbow drops too low, you slip your hand through the water rather than truly grabbing it. Keeping the elbow elevated puts your forearm and hand at a better angle to apply force in the water.

To improve your high elbow catch:

  1. Focus on dropping your elbow into the water first when starting your pull.
  2. Bend at the elbow to keep it pointed upwards as your hand and wrist catch back.
  3. Avoid straightening the arm too soon.
  4. Swim with a high elbow position rather than reaching forward flat.

Full Arm Extension:

Getting full extension means locking your arm out straight at the end of each stroke. This enables you to maximize your reach and pull your body forward effectively.

When swimmers fail to extend their arms fully, they end up with a short stroke that reduces their propulsion. Make sure to rotate your body to lengthen your reach. Stretch your fingertips forward and finish with your triceps muscles contracted. Start your recovery with your arm muscles engaged at full length. Condition your shoulder flexibility to achieve complete arm extension comfortably.

With good high elbow catch and full arm extension, you will transfer power from your big pulling muscles to the water for improved body position and faster swimming. Work on ingraining these proper arm motions through deliberate practice.

Leg Position

Leg Position:

The position of your legs is critical for an effective swimming stroke. You want your legs and feet to remain streamlined and not create extra drag in the water.

When kicking, you should initiate the movement from the hips. Your knees and ankles should remain loose but not overly bent. Kicking from the hips allows you to engage your core and large leg muscles to generate power. It also reduces strain on your knees and ankles.

Point your toes when kicking. Pointed toes extend the legs and feet to create a more hydrodynamic position in the water. Flexed or curled toes break the streamlined shape of the legs and feet. It creates turbulence.

You can practice pointing your toes while kicking by wearing fins during drilling. The fins will create drag if your toes are not pointed. This gives immediate feedback. Kick sets focusing on initiating motion from the hips are also helpful. Concentrate on pressing the instep down to point the toes.

Proper leg form reduces drag so you can move efficiently through the water. Make sure to kick from the hips and point your toes.

Drills for body position

Drills for Body Position:

Proper body position starts with awareness. There are several drills swimmers can do to improve body position and alignment in the water.

Sculling Drills:

Sculling drills help swimmers learn to properly align their body and find the right balance point between sinking and floating. Common sculling drills include:

Fist sculling: Swimmers make fists with both hands and scull, moving forearms in a windshield-wiper motion while keeping the body flat and streamlined.

Head-lead sculling: Sculling with one arm extended above the head. Teaches swimmers to find alignment and balance with hips up and legs extended.

Side sculling: Sculling while lying on one side. Develops awareness of lateral body position.

Vertical sculling: Treading water using only the arms in a sculling motion while keeping the body vertical.

Kicking Drills:

Kicking drills isolate the leg kick to focus on body position. Helpful kicking drills include:

Kick on side: Kicking on one side keeps hips up and body aligned. You can use a kickboard for support.

Vertical kicking: Kicking upwards while vertical in the water to maintain proper hip and head position.

Scissor kicking: Alternating leg kicks while on the back or front to focus on rolling the body.

Balance Drills:

Balance drills improve proprioception in the water. Examples include:

Streamline balance: Holding a streamlined position on the stomach or back and focusing on steadiness.

One-arm swimming: Swimming with one arm helps awareness of rolling from side to side.

Head up swimming: Lifting the head when breathing challenges balance.

Consistency in body position starts with awareness. Mastering sculling, kicking, and balance drills gives swimmers the foundation for good alignment and technique in all strokes.

body position in swimming

FAQs on Body Position in Swimming:

FAQ 1: Why is body position crucial in swimming, and how does it impact strokes?

Answer: Body position is fundamental in swimming as it directly influences a swimmer’s hydrodynamics. Maintaining a streamlined body reduces drag in the water. It allows for more efficient movement. The correct body position also optimizes the engagement of muscles. This enhances stroke effectiveness. Poor alignment can lead to increased resistance, fatigue, and suboptimal propulsion. This affects overall performance.

FAQ 2: How can swimmers improve their body position in the water?

Answer: Swimmers can enhance their body position by focusing on core strength, body awareness, and proper technique. Core-strengthening exercises, like planks and flutter kicks, help maintain a horizontal position. Developing strong body awareness through drills and consistent practice aids in recognizing and correcting body misalignments. Seeking feedback from coaches and incorporating drills specifically targeted body position improvement can significantly contribute to refining swimming techniques.

FAQ 3: Does body position impact all swimming strokes equally?

Answer: While the importance of body position is universal in swimming, its impact may vary across strokes. Maintaining a horizontal position is crucial for streamlined movement in freestyle and backstroke. Breaststroke demands an effective undulating motion. It emphasizes proper body alignment during the glide phase. With its unique simultaneous arm movements, the Butterfly requires a balanced body position for efficient propulsion. Understanding each stroke’s nuances and adapting according to body position is essential for mastering the full spectrum of swimming techniques.

Video on Body Position in Swimming:

Final Words on Body Position in Swimming:

In conclusion, the significance of body position in swimming cannot be overstated. It is the cornerstone for efficient strokes and streamlined movement through the water. A proper body position enhances hydrodynamics, minimizes drag, and optimizes propulsion. These ultimately lead to improved speed and endurance. The right body alignment is the key to unlocking one’s full aquatic potential to master the freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, or butterfly. As swimmers hone their techniques and embrace the nuances of body positioning, they enhance performance. Additionally, they reduce the risk of injuries. In the vast expanse of the water, mastering body position becomes the compass guiding swimmers toward excellence.

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