Heads Up Or Down In London This Weekend?

Many swimmers (and coaches) believe everyone should look straight down when they swim with most of their head in the water:

The idea of this is that it helps bring the legs up high in the water reducing drag but if you have a great body position from good stroke technique, or if you have a good buoyancy distribution for swimming (as most women do), then this is terrible advice. It offers no advantages and runs the risk of bringing you too high at the rear so you start to feel awkward and unbalanced in the water. You might also start to kick into clean air:

Marina's been brought too high at the rear by having her head too low
this is a common problem for female swimmers.

As you can imagine, don a wetsuit and this situation gets much much worse, which is why many female swimmers strongly dislike swimming in their wetsuit. Every swimmer would be far better served if coaches adopted an individual approach to head position - choosing the best head position for their swimmers needs from the full spectrum available:

The irony is that very few elite pool or open water swimmers look straight down when they swim:

Ian Thorpe using position 4

Michael Phelps using position 3

London 2012: Keri-Anne Payne (top) and Gold Medallist Eva Risztov using positions 2-3

Whilst you're enjoying watching the Triathlon Grand Finals in London this weekend (they will be webcast here and on live BBC TV in the UK) take a look at the elite athletes in action in the water. You won't see the Brownlee brothers or Javier Gomez with their heads buried, they have a mid-range position which leaves them nicely balanced and allows them to see forwards a little underwater to try and pick up that all important draft.

For more information on head position in freestyle (and whether you should use a low head if you have sinky legs) see Choosing The Right Head Position For You.

Swim Smooth!


Jonas said...

I fully agree with the article. Looking completely down is nonsense because you don't know where you are going. I see swimmers in the pool using that head position and bumping into other swimmers ! It is a very egocentric position, as if the world were turning around you. In open water that head position is useless.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification. This is one of those things that's been driving me nuts for years while swimming U.S. Masters. Admittedly, my kick is weak and my hips don't always rotate the way I want them when swimming crawl. Still, it never felt as if pushing my head to the bottom of the pool did anything but make me feel awkward.

Jonas said...

Another important element here is to choose a head position which is comfortable to the swimmer. Having the most forward looking position is not good for some people because it puts too much stress on the neck (the neck and head are not aligned with the rest of the body). It is important to do exercises for the neck to strengthen it and it is essential to do neck stretching exercises as well.
For finding a comfortable and efficient head position (head angle) I recommend the Finis Freestyle Snorkel, which you can by on the swim smooth website. I tried and is really fantastic, also for keeping your head relaxed and straight.

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