Have you ever lifted your head a little to take a look at your freestyle hand entry, extension forwards and catch? It's so simple it's amazing we don't do it more often:
You might never have tried this before but it can be very revealing about your stroke. First, check that you are not crossing the centre line in front of your head, a stroke fault known as a 'crossover'. Aim for a nice straight hand entry and extension forwards without crossing the centre line:
It's best to try this exercise whilst swimming with fins on to keep your body position high in the water, bring your head up so your goggles are just underneath the surface and you'll get a great view of the action right in front of you. You can also check that you're entering the water fingertips first, not thumb first:
A thumb first entry is very bad for your shoulders and harms your catch.
Also check you are not dropping your wrist and elbow as you extend forwards, if you've worked on lengthening out your stroke this often happens and introduces a dead-spot to your stroke:
Finally look for what happens when you start catching the water. Are you pressing downwards? Or using a much better technique by pressing the water backwards with a bent elbow? :
This is just an exercise and will probably feel quite strange to look this far forwards but believe it or not there's quite a few swimmers who need this head position when they swim. The legendary Ian Thorpe looked straight forwards with his goggles just beneath the surface:
Ian had such a powerful kick he would literally start kicking air without lifting his head to look straight forwards. To see his amazing kick in action, watch the last 10 seconds of this clip with Ian swimming at race speed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDpxZyUYvqU
You might not have an incredibly powerful kick like Thorpie but if you are naturally buoyant in your lower body you too may feel very unbalanced with a low head position. Try a mid-head position, looking at the bottom of the pool about 1½ meters in front of you.
Or if you have very sinky legs, which the Arnie Swim Type tends to suffer from, then it may be necessary to look straight down towards the bottom of the pool to bring your legs up.
When looking at swimmers in the pool, always remember that head position is very much 'horses for courses', experiment with yours to see what feels best for your stroke. If you can maintain your body position then a higher head position is advantageous for your swimming posture, coordination of your stroke and for open water navigation.