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Head Position

Think neck tall, chin back. This flattens your upper spine and keeps your head firmly connected to your core. Except when breathing, keep your head facing straight down at the bottom. To breathe, rotate just your face to the air.

See Natalie Couglin's Body Position Basics video, or watch Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen's head position on her Faster Freestyle clip.


Most Common Issue - Tilted Forward

Swimming with the head tilted forward is probably the most common postural problem in swimming, and it complicates every major aspect of the freestyle stroke:

  • Breathing - you need to lift your head too high (which will sink your back end), or lower your head first and then roll your face to the air (which takes too long)
  • Posture - it breaks the connection between your head and chest, and tends to arch your back
  • Rotation - you arch your spine, so you will rotate through the water like a banana (instead of like a torpedo)
  • Armstroke - because the shoulder girdle tilts forward, it is more difficult to get your arms out of the water, you will recover them closer to the surface (a problem in open water); you tend to drive your hands across your head on entry, and you will be more likely to cross your centerline during the pull
  • Kicking - it puts downward pressure on your hips, forcing you to kick harder to keep your hips afloat

Corrective Drills or Exercises

First perform the Side Balance and Extended Side Balance drills focusing strictly on head position: look straight down at the line on the bottom. Breathe by just rolling your face to the air. Use fins to maintain momentum.

Then return to freestyle swimming, at a realxed pace initially, to burn in the correct head position.

Triathletes and Open Water Swimmers Make sure that sighting does not disrupt your head position. You should practice sighting frequently at the pool during warm-up and cool down. Pick your head up to sight frequently, and then burn in the habit of getting your head all the way back down to a neutral position on your spine.

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