Not Able To Float

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"I have attended three classes and however much I try, I am not able to float. My Legs just don't come up and float.  I was told to relax them.  I tried. Still not working!..  Is it because I am thin and short? My friend who joined with me easily glides through water now.  She is much taller and healthier than me and very easily floats.  I have no idea what to do! help?"

Mark's answer:

Learning how to float is not the be all and end all of learning to swim.  In fact it is probably the least most important part to learn when learning how to swim.

The simple fact is that some people float and some do not, and clearly you do not float - but don't let that put you off.  Staying near the water surface as you swim through the water is achievable by anyone. 

Why am I not able to float?

Your ability to float is determined by your body composition and as you have already stated you are, in your words, ‘thin and short’.  This type of body composition is usually not able to float.

More specifically your buoyancy is directly related to you relative density.  The diagram below shows our relative density compared to freshwater, which has a relative density of 1 gram per cubic centimetre. 

The average male has a density of 0.98g/cm3 and the average female 0.97g/cm3.  We can deduce therefore that most human beings will float to a certain degree, with a small amount of the body staying above the water surface. 

Why am I not able to float?

Generally speaking people that are muscular, lean or thin will tend to sink.  Those that have a wider surface area or a larger body fat percentage will usually remain afloat for longer.  That said, everybody’s legs sink eventually due to their weight.

There is no point trying to ‘learn’ how to float because your body is simply not built to.  That's the fault of your relative density.   However don’t let this put you off of learning how to swim. 

The most important aspects of swimming are:

  • learning how to submerge
  • learning to hold your breath and breathe out in the water
  • how to relax
  • how to glide

Then it’s a case of using your arms and legs to move along through the water.  Before you know it you will be remaining afloat at the surface of the water whilst you swim.  Job done!

It is the power and momentum that is generated from your arm pulls and leg kicks that bring about your movement through the water and therefore your ability to remain at the water surface.

So, stop trying to float in a static position and get on with using your arms and legs to learn a swimming stroke!  Before you know it you will be a happy and confident swimmer.

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Which swimming stroke to learn first?

Beginners learning to swim breaststroke will find floating easier than those learning to swim front crawl.

This is because the arm and leg movements of breaststroke are wider and therefore cover a larger surface area of water, making it easier to remain there.  The body position for breaststroke is angled so that the leg kick can occur slightly deeper under the water, favouring those of us that tend to sink.

Front crawl however is a more streamlined stroke and therefore has a longer and more narrow shape. This makes it more difficult, especially for the legs, to stay up near the surface as they kick. 

A relaxed and flowing front crawl leg kick is essential to keep the legs up near the surface. A faster, harder and more forceful kick will almost certainly result in the legs sinking quicker.

Need some support with learning to stay afloat?

My book 'How To Float' will teach you some simple tricks and practical exercises that will bring you back up to the surface and help to keep you there...


Perfect and fine-tune the art of relaxing in the water, gliding effortlessly through the water and being in control of how and when to breathe. 

Download this instantly to your mobile, tablet or computer and get down to the business of staying up! 

Alternatively, click through and buy from Amazon.

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