I'm looking to your advice/expertise to solve a severe issue I'm having - I'm VERY negatively buoyant. It's so bad that if I exhale I will sink like a rock - I've literally sat down at the bottom of a 14 ft. pool numerous times. Even with two air filled lungs and spreading out like a snow angel doesn't work as I still find myself 6-8 ft. below the surface of the water, even in the ocean. Not even thicker diameter pool noodles can keep me up - I find myself about 1-2 ft. below the surface still.
So, whenever I do swim (which isn't often) I find myself spending a vast majority of my energy/effort just keeping my head above water and not drowning, which isn't ideal. Is it because I'm very slender? I'm a little over 6'2" and weigh 170 lbs.
Having said all that, I've been told to get the most buoyant wetsuit possible to solve this issue, but I'm unsure if this will be effective given the severity of my particular case. What can I do?
So a couple of thoughts immediately pop to mind: how often is “isn’t often”? Once a week, twice a week, once a month? If you’re not getting in the water at least three times a week, I would go there and if you’re at three times a week, I would make a push for four. Comfort in the water is a very underrated skill and is one you can really only gain with frequency.
With comfort in the water also comes a better body position and a more relaxed position. Even spread out snow angel style, if every muscle fiber is freaking out because your brain is going “Oh no, I’m swimming!”, you’ll sink. Also look to your head position; are you keeping your eyes on the bottom of the pool and nose pointed at a perpendicular angle with it and the wall as you breathe? Or are you pulling up and forward? Do you jerk your head up to breathe, or are you trying to be smooth from breathing to blowing out and back again?
Working with a pull buoy (or two if necessary) to teach your body proper positioning works as well. Having a pair of fins made with non-water logging, EVA foam will also help buoyancy, but also provide propulsion to again, help you learn on a muscular level how it should feel. I would mix the toys in, some in the beginning, some in the middle some in the end, allow some days to have more use than others (but keep it under 50% of your workout to avoid dependency). Using these aides in combination with regular frequency in the water will help build the muscle memory your body needs to swim at its best spot.
As to the wetsuit, I would recommend getting one with a higher level of buoyancy in it, but also be sure that it is still race legal. USAT requires wetsuits to be 5mm or less in thickness. Wetsuits made after 2013 should follow this rule, but if you purchase an older or used wetsuit, it is a good thing to double check on.
Beyond training frequency and equipment options, you might want to consider a shift in body composition. Have you noticed any excess fatigue when increasing your training load or injuries (minor or major) that linger longer than fellow athletes? How’s the power feel on the bike? Has it plateaued or decreased recently? While I can’t guarantee that adding a few pounds would help these issues along with your buoyancy problem, it’s definitely something to consider.
Negative buoyancy can be combated with a combination of technique building and equipment use. But it will take time and frequency, so don’t let frustration get the best of you in the first few weeks of trying something new.
Leigh Dodd is a coach for D3 Multisport and an assistant coach for the University of Colorado Triathlon team, which recently garnered its sixth National Championship. She started racing in 2008 and coaching in 2011, and loves training in Colorado, despite the wobbly weather and wind.