Home Programs Mastery Videos Stills Groups Athletes About

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, continue to drive your head forward and rotate just your face to the air.

For examples of good head position, see Natalie Coughlin's Body Position Basics video, or watch Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen's head position on her Faster Freestyle clip.

Most Common Issue - Tilted Forward

A lot of pretty good swimmers swim this way. With years of practice you can minimize the impact of a tilted head position, but the vast majority of those who swim this way will never be more than just pretty good. Look at the two "hull forms" above. If you could take your thumbs and push both of these "boats" in the water, which one do you think would move more smoothly, straighter and further?

Swimming with the head tilted forward is probably the most common technique problem in swimming, and it complicates every other 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 (your head becomes the loose cannon on deck) - and it arches your back (so you move through the water like a banana instead of like a torpedo)
  • Rotation - with an arched back, rotation of your core is slower and more restricted
  • Arm stroke - because the shoulder girdle tilts forward, it is more difficult to get your arms out of the water, which creates a host of problems: it is more stressful on your shoulders, you will recover your hands closer to the surface (a problem in open water); you will tend to drive your hands across your head on entry (rather than straight ahead, in the direction of travel), and you will be more likely to pull under your body and cross your centerline during the pull (which is like putting your paddle under your kayak - you can get some power that way, but then you have the problem of how to get it out)
  • Kicking - it puts downward pressure on your hips, forcing you to kick harder to keep your hips afloat

Corrective Drills or Exercises

Practice 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 swim freestyle at a very relaxed pace initially, to burn in the correct head position.

Triathletes and Open Water Swimmers It's easy to get your head out of alignment when swimming in open water, especially when conditions require frequent sighting. Make sure that sighting does not disrupt your head position. Practice sighting at the pool. Burn in the habit of getting your head all the way back down to a neutral position every time after sighting. Dave Scott (6-time Ironman world champion) recently posted a video on Active.Com. When he talks about triathlete swimming problems - head position is at the top of the list. See:
Dave Scott - How to Perfect Your Swimming Form

Copyright © 2011 Breakwater Sports