There is so much we can work on when mastering Freestyle. One aspect of the stroke that causes a lot of swimmers trouble is a proper head position. Some swimmers tilt their heads up too high. Some lift their heads slightly when they breathe. Some swimmers move their heads from side to side, never really finding that perfect alignment position. If any of my old coaches are reading the previous statement, they are all nodding along as I used to be extremely guilty of that one.
Having a steady head position in swimming can benefit you in so many ways. The first is breathing. If you maintain a comfortable aligned position with your head you will be helping yourself breathe out when your face is in the water, which keeps your neck muscles loose. The next is a better body alignment which will make your body more streamlined as you slice through the water. Finally and related to the last point, it will help you keep your lower half up near the surface of the pool so that you are utilize a stronger kick. This will help you also reduce frontal drag by creating a bow wave over the head.
As Nitro Swimming coach Greg Davis notes in an article published on USA Swimming:
What this statement from coach Davis tells us is that you can still point your eyes forward to see where the wall or lane is but you don't necessarily need to position your head up higher. Though I find this to be confusing to young or novice swimmers, I believe it is good advice for more advanced swimmers. For younger or novice swimmers, I believe using the eyes to guide the head alignment works better for finding the right position. Looking at a slight 25 to 35 degree forward angle to the bottom of the pool seems to work best. So how do you work on keeping a stable head position? There are several technical approaches to helping you find that perfect head position.
One of the greatest advances in swimming that has helped a countless number of athletes work on their head position is the use of a snorkel. I'm not talking about the kind you go scuba diving with around Maui with. I mean a snorkel that fits to the top of your head and has the snorkel position right in front of the face. The angle of the snorkel helps position the head into the proper alignment and helps you balance out your stroke and body rotation.
Using a snorkel, like the MP Snorkel, can help you find the right rhythm, the right extension and the right rotation. This particular snorkel will make sure the head is in the absolute stable position and moving forward. I've tried several different snorkels but have found this one to be the best.
Another slightly more awkward drill, but extremely efficient, is called Head Games. You will need a hand paddle for this drill. Yes a hand paddle. As you push off, place the hand paddle on your forehead. The goal is to keep the paddle in place. It is even possible to do a flip turn if keep your head extremely steady. This drill helps you build awareness into your stroke and how you move in the water.
Moving away from equipment based options, there are several drills to try. An easy one to start with single arm Freestyle. This drill works your kick, head position, your catch and even your breathing. To do this drill properly, start by swimming Freestyle, only a single arm version. Keep the other arm down by your side. Then initiate a recovery and pull through with one arm. Make sure that you are keeping your head stable. Finally, make sure that you reach your full extension on each stroke.
Another great drill is skating catch-up Freestyle. To do this drill, position your arms straight out in front of your shoulders and do the traditional catch-up drill without touching hands. If your head is stable when you add the body rotation and over-water recovery, then you’ll be able to coordinate a great head position into your stroke.
The final drill I like to use is called Moose drill. First think of this drill like really long doggy paddle. Point your nose directly down at the bottom of the pool. Take full strokes while recovering below the surface (underneath the body as in a breaststroke pullout). Breathe to the side like you would during full stroke Freestyle. Focus on maintaining a stable head position without the complexity of an over-water recovery.
Through the use of these drills and by focusing your efforts on creating a comfortable but stable head position, you'll swim faster because you’ll be able to swim more balanced Freestyle. A head moving excessively certainly is an issue that doesn’t allow you to remain as straight or as high in the water as you might like. Keep your head low and stable will help you break down other barriers in your swimming like breathing and rotation. If you have any questions about learning how to maintain a stable head position, leave us a comment below.