Press your "buoy" to improve your freestyle.

How to Push Down the Upper Body in Freestyle Swimming

by Lindsey Robinson Sanchez

The freestyle is one of the first strokes a swimmer learns, but doing it right can take time and practice. You can improve your freestyle by pushing your upper body deeper into the water -- a technique called "pressing the buoy." Any time you push a buoyant object, such as a ball (or your body) into the water, the force of the water presses back. When you push your upper body into the water, you can use that resistance like a lever to lift your hips and legs out of the water, preventing drag. A few upper body exercises will strengthen your chest and back to improve your form.

Pressing the Buoy

Position yourself face down in the water, close to the pool wall. Hold on to the pool wall for support, if necessary. It's easier to feel how the water affects your body if you begin in a static position. You may notice that your feet and legs will sink under the water. This causes drag when you're swimming. Pushing your upper body will counteract this issue.

Take a full breath and push down with your chest into the water, focusing on your sternum. Tighten your shoulder blades to help push your upper body into the water two to three inches. You should feel the resistance of the water against your chest.

Shift your weight slightly until your hips bob toward the surface while your chest remains low in the water. In this sense, you're using your body as a lever and your chest is the fulcrum that helps lift your legs to the surface of the water. Practice until you've mastered this balancing skill in a stationary position.

Push off and begin a freestyle stroke at a slow to moderate pace. Be sure to keep your head low, as though you're looking at the bottom of the pool. Lifting your head will cause your upper body to rise, which will push your lower body further into the water.

Use your body weight to push your body down from the sternum and shoulders as you stroke. Allow your hips, butt and legs to rise to the surface. This movement has the added benefit of making you feel like you're "swimming downhill," since you're shifting your center of gravity toward the front of your body instead of the back.

Release the pressure on your chest for several strokes and notice how your legs begin to sink slightly. You should be able to feel the difference in drag on your legs. Lift your head slightly and you should notice a deeper drag. Practice pushing and releasing your upper body to feel the drag and adjust your weight.

Upper Body Exercises

Position yourself face down on your mat and place your hands slightly greater than shoulder width to perform push-ups. Lift yourself on your hands so that your arms are straight and your body forms a straight line over your mat from your shoulders to your feet. Exhale and lower yourself until your elbows are at a 90 degree angle. Straighten your elbows and repeat for one to three sets of 10. This will build muscle in your chest and shoulders which will help you push your upper body into the water.

Lie on your stomach to perform the superman exercise. Place your arms straight in front of you and your legs straight behind you. Tighten your core and lift your left arm and right leg off the mat and into the air at the same time. Focus on the pressure and tension in your upper back as you lift. Switch to your right arm and left leg. Repeat the sequence for one to three sets of 10. To finish, lift both arms and legs off the mat, keeping the muscles tight in your back, for as long as you can up to one minute. This exercise helps strengthen your entire back and shoulders.

Stand with a medium weight in each hand, knees slightly bent, to perform standing bent-over rows. Bend forward at the waist and let your arms hang in front of you with your palms facing in. Bend your elbows to lift your weights to your chest. Keep your arms close to your sides so that you can feel a squeeze in your triceps and shoulders. Your upper arms should be parallel or slightly higher than your back, and you should also feel your chest open and your chest muscles strain slightly. Return to start and perform one to three sets of 10.

Items you will need

  • Exercise mat
  • 2 medium dumbbells


  • Use weights that are heavy enough to fatigue you as you exercise. You want to be able to complete your sets, but you shouldn't be able to do many extra repetitions afterward.


  • Always consult your doctor before beginning a fitness regime.
  • Use the buddy system while swimming to prevent accidental water injuries, including drowning. Swimming alone can be very dangerous.

About the Author

Lindsey Robinson Sanchez, from Bessemer, Ala., has written for the "Troy Messenger," "The Alabama Baptist" and "The Gainesville Times," where her work was featured on the AP wire. She has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Florida. She writes style, beauty, fitness, travel and culture.

Photo Credits

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