It sounds pretty basic, but floating can be hard. Even though it doesn’t create any forward motion by itself, it is very important when you want to improve your swimming!
The primary reason floating is important, is that it allows you to relax. The more relaxed you are, the better you float, which makes it easier to relax, etc. And that is just the beginning; easier breathing, higher level of endurance, and a more enjoyable experience are all benefits of being relaxed.
I am not the best passive floater myself (my legs sink to the bottom), so I have worked a lot on my body position in the water. Try the following exercise yourself, the next time you’re at the pool.
Kick on your side (hips vertical, the bottom arm stretched out in front of you, look straight down on the bottom, and an easy kick). Then try to lift the top arm as if making the recovery motion of swimming in slow motion. Stop when the elbow is approximately above your shoulder. What happened?
You will probably sink, which is quite normal. When you are floating, you are basically weightless, and then you lift several pounds worth of arm out of the water, creating a lot of downward pressure. However, how you sank is the key. If you are lacking core balance, you may sink to where your elbow is almost at the surface, with the hips dropping lower than your shoulders. If you are an Olympic level swimmer (or just have very good body position) you may only sink 1-2 inches, parallel to the surface.
The big difference between these two extremes, is the location of the center of gravity (let’s call it CG). The better swimmers have their CG up high in the chest, almost on the line between the shoulders, where beginners usually hide the CG somewhere in the belly region. The good news is, it is relatively easy to move your CG to a better place. Just apply a very slight pressure to your chest, and try the exercise again. Next, keep the pressure, while you also tightening the abs right below the rib cage. Did that help?
Working on a so-called basic exercise as this one, is of great importance if you want to take your swimming to the next level. Even if you are already a good swimmer, this will make you notice what a few adjustments can do to your stroke.
Let me know how it goes…