Swimming Events Guide 2024
Top Tips,  Training and Technique

Hips don’t lie: body position and rotation tips

Guest coach Keri-anne Payne looks at body position and rotation

This month we add both breathing and head position together to ensure you are always maintaining a streamlined position. If you had a go at working on your head position (see Efficient Body Position in the June 2019 issue) then you may have found it tricky to get a proper breath in. If so, this is because you are most probably not rotating enough.
We are at our slowest when swimming as we take a breath because our body is changing position and causing more drag in the water. We therefore want to make sure this change of position has the least amount of impact on our stroke.

One of the most common comments I get when someone watches me or any elite athlete swim is: “Wow, you’re almost on your side when you take a breath!?” Yes, and this is because we are always aiming to maintain that nice, efficient head position when breathing. If there is not enough rotation when breathing, you’ll have to lift your head to get the oxygen in which, if you saw last month’s article, makes your legs sink behind you.

How do we efficiently rotate?

Rotation is a full-body movement and needs to be established from the hips not the shoulders or neck as many swimmers do. Shoulder injuries are the most common injury in a swimmer that doesn’t rotate because they are putting their shoulders under so much pressure to clear the water. If you look at the picture of me breathing you can see how much on my side I am when I swim. You’ll also notice how relaxed my upper body is and how my neck is still in line with my spine.

This position allows me to keep my head flat when I breathe and my arm can clear the water easily. You do not need to be flexible in your shoulders to swim front crawl, you need to be able to move your hips. Try standing shoulder width apart and rotate your upper body, keeping your hips still and facing forward. You’ll notice you can’t really move around that far and it starts to feel pretty uncomfortable. Now try that again but this time rotate your hips, what do you notice? It should feel much easier to move with no restriction in your neck or back and your shoulders and neck have followed your hips around.

Rotation helps us for more than just keeping our head flat when we breathe, it also adds extra length to each and every stroke that we take. This means a swimmer has to take fewer strokes per length, making them a much more efficient swimmer.

Rotation will feel like you have slowed your stroke rate down, which you have, but what you are now doing is maintaining a more streamlined position and reducing your overall drag – making you faster in the water without more effort. Often swimmers that are very flat utilise a much higher stroke rate to propel them through the water – essentially they are just speeding up their inefficient stroke and making swimming so much harder than it needs to be. Speed of arm in the water does not equal speed of swimming.

Try this next time you swim

Next time you go swimming try swimming about 8-10 strokes without breathing, just working on your hip rotation to see how it feels. Once this feels a bit more natural (it won’t at the start) then add this rotation into your normal stroke with a slightly bigger angle of rotation when you breathe.

Good Body Position Hips

Rotate from the hips for a streamlined position

Bad Body Position Hips

Poor head position and lack of rotation puts pressure on the shoulders and drops the legs

Images: @swimcube. Swimmer: Darren Thoirs from Welland Valley Tri Club

Keri-anne Payne is a double open water world champion, triple Olympian and Olympic silver medallist in the 10k open water marathon at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. She created the Straight-Line Swimming methodology with her husband, triple Olympian David Carry.


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