Proper head position while swimming freestyle is probably the most common thing that needs correction when I work with swimmers.
99% of swimmers look forward instead of straight down in a neutral head and neck position.
Can you imagine walking around looking up all day?
Your neck would hurt, and you would miss out on a lot right in front of you!
When you look forward in the water, your forehead breaks the surface of the water (creating drag), and then your hips and legs drop low, also creating drag.
Then when you turn your head to breathe, your mouth is underwater, so you lift your head even higher to get air, and guess what? More drag, more resistance as you swim through the water! NOT FUN!
This is one of the reasons head-up swimmers are slower in the water- too much resistance slowing them down.
But there is a good explanation: swimming with your head up is where most new swimmers start.
We are land mammals and need air to live, and being in water can cause stress in our brains, we could die if we don’t know what we are doing, so the fear is real!
In addition, your fight-or-flight hormones can get triggered simply by being in the water unless you have adequately trained and built your confidence so you feel safe in the water.
The brain will tell the body, “the air is up, so you must lift your head to breathe.” But, as mentioned above, this causes drag and makes slipping through the water in your streamline difficult.
We must reprogram the brain, so it feels safe to face down in the water. Teach yourself to roll on your side rather than lift your head to breathe (look for my other swim technique videos on how to breathe properly while swimming in the water).
The Paddle Lead Drill:
This video will help you gain awareness of the perfect place for your head while swimming. With this drill, you can perfect your head position for less drag and still get all the air you need.
- Start by kicking with fins on, arms by your side, and placing the paddle on the top of your head.
- Your forward movement will keep the paddle in place. Next, start face down, blow your bubbles, and flip onto your back to breathe, keeping the paddle in place.
- The next progression is to kick on your side with the paddle on your head. Start by looking straight down and blowing bubbles out of your nose, then turn your head to the side to breathe without lifting the head and losing the paddle.
- Turn the head so that one goggle and your mouth are clear of the water to breathe in, then look back down to the bottom of the pool and repeat the process. Be sure to practice both sides.
When you have mastered the above, add your arm movement and swim freestyle, still keeping the paddle in place, breathing, and stroking.
When the paddle stays in place the whole time, and you are not swallowing water, you know your head is in the correct position!
Finally, remove the fins and start the whole process over again.
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Erinne Guthrie has been a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach since 1999 and Chief Motivating Officer at Full Circle Coaching, LLC since 2010. She has been training, racing, and coaching triathletes since 1997. She is also a CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach Level 3, USMS Master’s Swim Coach, Motivational Speaker, Metabolic Efficiency Specialist, Mom, and much more.