What Is The Correct Head Position In Freestyle Swimming?

Paul Newsome

The "Black Art" Of Finding The Right Head Position For You...

So, I've just got off the pool deck having finished another couple of video analysis sessions. I've been doing this for over 20 years now and still love each one as much as the first given the seemingly limitless potential to help someone improve.

Today, Mark rocked up for a session. I haven't seen Mark for quite some time and I was weirdly surprised that he seemed a lot taller than I recall. As both fully grown adults in their (ahem!) forties, this could only mean one thing - one of us must be shrinking because it's doubtful one of us had grown! 😂

After deciding the problem must reside with me, I noticed how I was looking up to Mark with my chin elevated somewhat.

Try this yourself...stand up now and tilt your eyes upwards as though you're talking to someone taller than yourself. Notice how your shoulders pull back and your chest extends forth, i.e. you're suddenly standing with better posture. In the pool, this might be the equivalent of looking further forwards - but is this a good idea for your body position? Well, that depends...
In the example above, Greg's legs are sinking for a multitude of factors, but one of them is certainly because of his head position being too far forwards. For Greg, as a classic Arnie "Swim Type", looking forward is not a great idea, just like for Charles below:
To date, Charles is still one of the video analysis sessions I regale above most others, certainly when it comes to the extreme potential for improvement when someone has very low sinking legs. Charles made a monumental improvement to his swimming. When I asked him in the follow-up session, why there was such a difference he recounted how I'd asked him to look a lot more down to the bottom of the pool. The results seem to show that it worked, but is this the case for everyone?

Check out this female elite ITU triathlete (thanks Coach Fen for this awesome shot!). The combination of salty water, a buoyant wetsuit and an already great body position in the water (the opposite of Greg's above), sees her feet kicking way out of the water and losing any propulsion that she might otherwise be getting from the effort she's putting in. She's a classic Kicktastic "Swim Type" and looking down for her is the single worst thing she could be doing for her stroke:
OK, so let's try the opposite now. Stand up and look down as though you were talking to someone a lot shorter than yourself, i.e. a child (or in Mark's case, me!).

Notice how your chin comes to your chest and your shoulders round and your back hunches - not exactly great posture. You can see this in the context of Tim's stroke below...he's getting his legs up ✅ but with such an extreme position its actually harming his posture and alignment ❌:
This was exactly Mark's scenario this morning. So whilst Mark wouldn't classify his swimming as being supremely quick, his body position was already much better than Charles or Greg in the examples above. Unfortunately though, his downward-looking head position was harming his posture, wrecking his alignment, allowing a severe cross-over to go unnoticed, his hips to sway and legs to scissor massively and thus create significant drag:
So, as similar a speed as Mark was to both Charles and Greg, he actually had a very different set of issues. As his legs weren't so low, we had the latitude to allow him to look a little further forwards and this allowed him, in turn, to help correct his cross-over and alignment, which reduced his hip sway and helped to control the scissoring of the legs.
Rather than having a list as long as his (long!) arms, Mark managed to refine that list to just focus on the thing that was causing everything else to come unstuck - his posture and alignment. Consequently, this simplified the process, and saw him go away with only a couple of drills to work on (namely the Javelin Drill with a forward head position).

Whether or not Mark goes on to make the same speed improvements that we saw with Charles rests in the balance for now, but certainly, it showed just how individual your head position is and that tweaking it to find the best spot for you is well worth investigating. No one position is right for everyone. Give it a whirl and let us know what you've found works best for you?

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