January 24, 2018

Tri Swim Series, Part 4: Head Position

Why am I writing about head position this week? Seems you’d start at the head and work down, doesn’t it? Actually, I’m approaching this series based on my perception of what’s most important.

I started the series with body position. This is where everything starts and the power is really derived. Last week I talked about the importance of arm position – in my opinion the second most important element. This week I’ll talk about head position.

Improper head position is probably the most common problem I see with triathlon swimmers. And in nearly all cases, the head is too high. However, I have also seen it where the head position is actually too low.

So where should your head be? If you’re reading this sitting up straight in your chair you have the proper head position for freestyle swimming. That’s it! It’s your natural head position when you’re sitting or standing. We call this the “neutral” position.

Our natural tendency when swimming is to try to look where we’re going, particularly when we’re swimming in a pool with other people. We seem to want to see where we’re going so we don’t run into to someone or the end of the pool. It’s natural, but not effective in swimming freestyle.

The “neutral” head position is the fastest and it’s easy to spot from the pool deck. A good swimmer will have the top of the water slightly flowing over the top of their head. You won’t see their forehead and you won’t see their head dipped far below the surface of the water either.

The most important reason you want proper head position is to make sure your body remains flat in the water. As soon as you raise your head up your body will follow, which means your legs will drop down, thereby making you less hydrodynamic. As soon as your head goes into the neutral position your body will flatten out. Amazingly simple isn’t it.

And while it is a bit of a leap of faith that you won’t run into something, in time you’ll get used to swimming this way.

So what about breathing? Again it’s very simple. With your head in the neutral position, turn your head and look over your left or right shoulder. Don’t lift or drop your head, just turn it. That’s it! Again, how simple is that?

You can tell if you’re turning your head properly if when you do only one of your eyes comes out of the water and the other remains under water. Again, this takes some time to get used to because you may be lifting your entire face out of the water again, but one eye out is best.

And finally, what is your head supposed to be doing when it’s in the water? Does it shift from side to side or remain static? Again, very simple. When you’re not breathing your head should remain completely still with your eyes focused nearly straight down.

One of the better swimmers I know is Kevin Koskella, the TriSwimCoach guy. We video taped him and amazed at how still his head was when he wasn’t breathing. Perfectly positioned, and perfectly still. That’s when I started analyzing my head position and found that mine was constantly shifting while I swam.

These days when I swim I’m constantly thinking about my head position and the benefits I get from having a good one.

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