Conflicting Instructions On Head Position In The Water: Can Both Coaches Be Right Or Is It All In The Eyeballs?


Hi folks,

Mr Smooth is a great source of information on swimming technique, in this case for head position. From:

Mr. Smooth is a great source of information on swimming technique, in this case for head position.

Head position is critical for most sports, being at the ‘crown of your posture,’ and your head is heavy! I have received conflicting instructions on head position from different swim coaches over the years, but this conflict was glaring recently.

Coach #1: Whilst swimming with Rick Fee, who is coaching me in the local pool, he said, “Kevin, you are swimming looking at the bottom of the pool, with the crown of your head causing increased resistance to the water, while your face is more streamlined, so look forward more to raise your head a little.” I tried this out, and it not only reduced drag but it was much easier for me to breath without getting water down the back of my throat.

Coach #2: Whilst at the Chez Olliethis weekend, one of the coaches, a talented athlete and coach, known variously as Matthew, Matt or Rose, said, “Kevin, look at the bottom of the pool to bring your head down, which will raise your hips and reduce drag.

Ummmhh! I love to think about things, so I explored this question, and I finally came to the conclusion that, in my case at least, it is all about my eyes, which influence muscle recruitment patterns when I tip my head back. Here is a short video, where I attempt to explain my thoughts on head up versus head down whilst swimming.

Coach #1 is correct, in that lifting your head a little will take advantage of streamlining by the face, but this assumes that you do not allow this movement to depress your hips due to engagement of shoulder, back or core muscles, rather than making the movement almost entirely from the neck.

Coach #2 is correct, in that the tendency to lower the hips, thus increasing drag, will be reduced by keeping the head down, and the face directed to the bottom of the pool, but it comes at the price of increasing drag from the crown of your head as it ploughs through the water.

The answer appears to lie in understanding your biomechanics, and especially the critical role played by eye movement as you adjust your head position. Archimedes Principle would also indicate that lifting your head should push down on the front of your body, which would raise your hips via the fulcrum of air in your chest. I clearly need to work on keeping my hips high, so I’ll explore this eyeball thing a little more next time I hit the water.

Any thoughts on this analysis would be much appreciated.

-k @FitOldDog

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Important Note: These posts do not provide medical advice. You should always consult your physician before undertaking or significantly modifying an exercise program.

Copyright © 2010 Kevin T. Morgan aka FitOldDog, Old Dogs in Training, LLC.

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  1. Pauline Watson says:

    Interesting, as I was actually playing around with head position while swimming before this blog.
    Maybe those of us who have buoyancy at our hips so they don’t sink can benefit from a higher head position?

    • Hi Pauline,
      It’s true, generally men have a bigger challenge than women with rear end buoyancy, whereas women have to work harder to develop upper body strength, not that strength is really what great swimming is all about – technique and conditioning are the true keys. Balance in the water is the starting point for technique, I think, which is why I recommend TI, and then drop it after 6 months and find the best coach you can.
      Take a look at the video and floating head down, which will allow you to explore head position for which there are two issues, one related to angle and the other to straightness of your spine. You can raise your head by ‘looking towards the sky (without the looking part), or by bringing your cervical spine in line with your thoracic spine. The latter really does help tip your body forward without pushing down the hips.
      Hope that is clear enough?
      -k aka @FitOldDog
      PS I’ll look for that blog post later, as I have to take Nick to school right now. Later!

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Disclaimer: this publication does not provide medical advice. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.