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The Triathlete Blueprint Newsletter #56- Head Position Hacks for a Faster Swim

Read time: 3min.

By Coach Yan Busset

Have you ever wondered why your freestyle swim feels off despite your best efforts? 

The problem might come from your head position. Imagine your head as the rudder of a boat: its position can significantly affect your overall body alignment in the water. Many swimmers make the common mistake of lifting their heads when breathing, which causes their feet to drop, creating drag and slowing them down. By mastering the right head position, you can improve your swimming efficiency and enjoy smoother, faster swims.

To ensure your head is in the correct position, it's crucial to avoid lifting it too high. When you lift your head to breathe, your feet tend to sink, disrupting your streamlined position. Instead of lifting your head, focus on turning it to the side and tucking it slightly. As you breathe, aim to look at your shoulder. Key checkpoints for maintaining the right head position include keeping one goggle underwater and ensuring your ear touches the arm extended in front of you. This helps keep your head profile low and aligned.

When swimming normally, avoid looking directly down at a ninety-degree angle. Instead, look just couple of meters ahead. 

Many swimmers develop the bad habit of looking straight ahead due to crowded lanes, but this can lead to an improper body position. By looking a bit ahead, you maintain a level head with the waterline hitting your forehead.

In open water, head position becomes even more critical. You need to lift your head to sight and ensure you're swimming straight. Practice a technique known as "crocodile sighting," where you lift your head just enough to see ahead without disrupting your body position. Familiarize yourself with landmarks along your course to reduce the need for frequent sighting, helping you maintain a streamlined position.

Practical Drills:

  1. Kicking with Both Arms on the Side: This drill helps you understand your head position better because your head leads the way. Kick with both arms on your side and your head down. This simple drill can help you practice and reinforce the correct head position.

  2. Using a Frontal Snorkel: The frontal snorkel allows you to maintain a proper head-down position without the distraction of side breathing. This can help you feel what the right head position should be like.

I have personally worked on improving my head position, even though I already had a fairly ok one. When I made a concerted effort to tuck my head and breathe while looking at my shoulder, I saw significant improvements—2seconds off for 50m!

Test it by yourself, start with a baseline pace and keep a constant frequency. here is a simple test protocol to isolate the impact of head position on your swimming:

  1. Baseline Interval: Swim a 50-meter interval at a consistent pace with your normal head position. Record the time and note your perceived effort and stroke frequency.

  2. Head Position Variation 2: Swim a 50-meter interval with your head turned and tucked as described earlier, aiming to keep one goggle underwater and your ear touching the extended arm. Record the time, perceived effort, and stroke frequency.

  3. Repeat: Repeat each variation two more times to ensure consistency and reliability in your results.

  4. Compare Results: Analyze the times, perceived effort, and stroke frequencies for each interval. The goal is to keep the pace and frequency consistent across all trials to isolate the effect of head position.

Mastering your head position in freestyle swimming can drastically improve your efficiency and speed in the water. Remember, your head is the rudder of your swim, control it well, and you'll glide through the water with ease. Share your experiences and tips on maintaining proper head position in the comments below, and let's help each other become better swimmers.


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