Swimisodes – Freestyle Head Position

Many freestylers swim with their heads too high. In a crowded swimming pool, swimmers often look forward, hoping to avoid a collision with one of their teammates. These defensive swimming techniques create a bad habit that slows them down. In this Swimisodes, world record holder and Olympic champ Roland Schoeman and Lexie Kelly show how head elevation slows their swimming techniques while Japanese champion, Junya Koga, swims freestyle the way we teach at The Race Club almost effortlessly with his head in the correct swimming technique.

39 Responses to Swimisodes – Freestyle Head Position

  1. Luis

    Hi Gary, another great video. I understand that we can reduce with a proper head position the drag forces. My question is, if we don´t have that ball wave, how can we breath without the ball wave? If that is the case maybe we put a lot of rotation in the body and that will have a cost in the freestyle stroke.
    Thank you so much for your knowledge and contribution to improve the swimming.

  2. Gary Hall Sr.

    Good question Luis. The breath in freestyle should be backward and to the side. By turning the head for the breath, there will always be a bow wave created. The key, particularly in open water swimming, is to take the breath behind the bow wave. Great OW swimmers, like Diana Nyad, use this technique, even in rough water, to avoid swallowing water. Nathan Adrian is one of the best ever at getting the quick posterior breath in.

  3. Elena N

    Hello Gary. It is fundamental skill. But recently coach R. Ludemann, category 4 coach told me that this is “BS” and for sprints he “wants to see googles almost out of the water”.
    I tried to film few of my swimmers and all of them reported stronger pull.
    Thank you for your input. :)

    • Gary Hall Sr.

      Hi Elena. Your swimmers should feel a stronger pull with the head looking forward, as it is a position of greater power. Unfortunately, it is also a position of greater frontal drag and in the sport of swimming, frontal drag trumps power. Just watch the elite sprinters under water.

  4. Tim Allen

    Great Video…..I like your inertia explanation in Free and Back. Breast and Fly also comply with a law of inertia which is called “action-reaction” Its sir Issiac Newtons third law of motion stating for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. this law of inertia covers breastroke and Butterfly inertia characteristics. http://csep10.phys.utk.edu/astr161/lect/history/newton3laws.html

    :) TA

    • Gary Hall Sr.

      The immutable law of inertia is Newton’s first law of motion, which he actually borrowed (stole) from Galileo, the discoverer. However, fly and breast do not comply well with the law as the body speed varies greatly during each stroke cycle, unlike free and backstroke.

  5. Brandon Jones

    As a Head Age Group Coach, I really like this drill for the younger swimmers. However, I often see age groupers who attempt this head position to have elevated hips (bottom) much like a peak. What are the differences in drag with the wave hitting the forehead compared to the drag of the head below the wave? Thanks!

  6. Lukas Siska

    Hi Gary,

    Love the videos! Im a triathlete who was a former swimmer. As my body adapted to triathlon, my freestyle stroke did as will. Recently I l feel like Im loosing water in the catch phase of my left arm when I breath to the right. Is this a matter of head position? I used to rely heavily on my kick in freestyle, but now that my legs are in a constant state of fatigue I dont feel like Im getting enough drive from the bottom to initiate a good catch especial from the left arm when I breath to the right. Ive been playing around with body position, but not quite sure what to focus on to grab max water when breathing to the right, any suggestions would be much appreciated! Thanks and have a good one

  7. Gary Hall Sr.

    There is less frontal drag under the water than on the surface. We often describe the hybrid freestyle (like Phelps or Ledecky use) as ‘over the wave…under the wave’ after each breath, the head needs to be submerged at this fastest point in the stroke cycle. If you have ever body surfed, you always dive under the wave to get out to the break. Submarines are faster underwater (by far) than on the surface.

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  9. Otavio

    Hello Gary! I have a quick question about how a shoulder driven freestyle catch should be… I have a very odd freestyle, I recently picked up the straight arm freestyle, but sometimes I like trying something new in having one arm straight and the other arm slightly bent, I feel the pull force, except! I’m confused on how my underwater pull phase should be like as well as the timing, I also saw a video with Mike Bottom about not releasing my shoulder/Traps. Hope to hear back from you.

  10. Gary Hall Sr.

    Octavio, you are in good company with one straight arm and one bent arm recovery on freestyle. Cesar Cielo, Lotte Friis, just to name two…but there are many others that do the same. If that is comfortable for you, then use it. Regarding underwater pull, I am convinced on all races longer than the 50, the pull should be with high elbow underwater. In the 50, the deeper pull creates more propulsive power, but also more frontal drag. Some sprinters opt for the power over the lesser drag. In the longer events, frontal drag trumps power every time.

    • Otavio

      Thank you Gary! I’m still a bit confused how fast my pull and the correct form should be done, as well as keeping my shoulder up more like traps muscle high. Do you have an email I may reach you in for a lesson or even during a camp? I feel like I understand all the concepts, but my catch is where I need work, how wide, or narrow for a 50 and then 100 freestyle. Is there an email I can reach you by to possibly schedule a trip to the Race club in Islandmorada.

  11. Gary Hall Sr.

    You can schedule by contacting info@theraceclub.com. My daughter, Amy, does all of my scheduling and will set you up. Look forward to seeing you in Islammorada or in LA.

  12. otavio

    Hello Gary, would you be able to talk more on the effects of staying above water and keeping the shoulder blades connected ( Shoulder driven ) to get that hydro glide look? Sort of like Vlad Morozov and even Anthony Ervin! Also I look forward to get your coaching during the summer time if possible! Thank you

    • Gary Hall Sr.

      Both Anthony and Vlad have extremely high stroke rates…140-150 per minute in the 50. They also have a lot of downward force from the hands at the beginning of the pull, plus their kick to help lift them high in the water. The shoulder driven technique simply means that most of the body rotation is occurring at the shoulders rather than the hips, due to the fast stroke rate. They also both use a moderate high (Ervin) or high (Morozov) octane recovery…meaning almost straight arm and straight arm.

  13. Paul C. Ho

    Hi Gary,
    Janet Evens would lift up her head above the water before she took her breath. I told my swimmer not to model that. But, how can Janet Evens be the champion if that is not the right way to swim? There must be something right about her swim. What was it?

  14. Gary Hall Sr.

    Janet did a lot of things right…the most important was working harder than everyone else in the pool. Her straight arm over the top technique is very difficult to sustain at the 100 stroke rate that she managed for 1500 meters…almost unparalleled. Although I would not advocate lifting the head before the breath, the most important thing she did with it was to tuck it down after the breath at the surge point in her cycle. In almost every stroke the head was under water for that brief but critical moment.

  15. Mary-Margaret

    I’m a beginning swimmer and the breathing part of the freestyle stroke has been the biggest struggle for me. So, during the nonbreathing part of the stroke,the head should be tucked with the chin almost to the chest? Then during the breath, the head rotates to the side and back with the chin to the shoulder? Thanks.

    • garyhallsr

      That is correct…but remember to keep the lower goggle in the water ( or part of it), so that you still see underwater with the lower eye. You need to get that breath in quickly!

  16. Chris Burke

    Good to see that fundamentals drills and skills don’t get lost along the way to being elite level status. Great to see (and show my novice kids) that even the best revisit issues like this. Thanks, Gary!

    • garyhallsr

      Thanks Chris! Fundamentals come first.

  17. John

    Can you tell about how much time a swimmer can lose in the 50 meter freestyle if they keep their head up as opposed to keeping it down? Let’s say they do a 30.00 with their head up. What would it be with their head down approximately? Thank you.

    • Gary Hall Sr.

      It would depend on how high up the head is, but in testing this in Islamorada, I find about 1/2 second difference per 50 meters between head too high and in good position.

  18. Jenia

    Hi garry,
    I have a few questions. In one of your comment you said it is faster to swim with head and body submerged under surface. I guess is not relevant for 50 freestyle sprint because the speed elevates us above the surface,am I right?
    Does the bow wave exist in the 50 freestyle? when we swim so fast and high?
    I somtimes have more comfortable feeling with the head slightly up in a sprint, that I have more propulsion, is that a wrong feeling? Does the chin have to be tucked also in the sprint?
    Thank you,

    • garyhallsr

      Go to youtube and watch Pernille Blume from Denmark..the winner. Look at her head position. All of the swimmers are looking down, but I was struck by the postion of Pernille’s head….under water. Arching the back and elevating the head will create more propulsion…you have the right feeling. It also creates more frontal drag…so that is the trade off.

      • garyhallsr

        Sorry…the winner of the 50 m freestyle in Rio.

  19. John Leonard

    Dr. Gary – FANTASTIC VIDEO! Just beautiful!
    And marvelous description by you.
    As YOU KNOW,historically the 50 freestylers are “Different”….with head higher, BUT everyone else SHOULD BE AS YOU describe for best position and least resistance and optimal speed versus effort. Pernille is the FIRST that i can find in the 50, with lower head.
    Interesting stuff. Love your presentation of this, THANK YOU! All the Best! John Leonard

    • garyhallsr

      Thanks John. You are right. The 50 sprinters are different…in almost every aspect. When you look at the best sprinters, the line of sight is straight down, not forward. They get such tremendous lift from the beginning of the pull and the ferocious kick that their entire bodies ride higher in the water. That position can be sustained for only a short time. Pernille is unusual in having her head virtually under water the entire length.

  20. Clive Pritchard

    Love the video, thanks Gary!
    I would really like a closer look at the Junya’s breathing technique with the head as low as in the clip – to get a better feel of how much head rotation and how much body rotation he uses.
    Also that low position means he has a long way to rotate round to get air. Would swimmers trying this technique need to adjust their timing to avoid pressing their leading arm too early?

    • garyhallsr


      The key to the quick, low profile breath is to breath posteriorly….in the trough of the wake formed by the elevated head. That position enables the swimmer to turn the head less for the breath and makes it more likely to return the head to the down, rather than forward, position.

      • Clive Pritchard

        Yes, agreed but not quite what I meant Gary. If the head is lower, then the chin has to rotate further, so it must take longer.
        I’m not advocating a high head position here, far from it. I was just curious to see if you coached some minor timing changes to adjust to this.
        At race pace I could foresee swimmers (particularly younger ones) itching to start the next pull before the breath is done and the head and body are moving back in the correct direction.This might result in an odd pull across the centre line and an inability to regain an high elbow pull position as there is now so much “going on”

  21. Lewis McCorvey

    Good morning Gary , triathlete here , 32 yrs , age 60, breaking a ton of bad habits coming back into the sport back in Oct after 15 yrs away . Swimming with head down now, but still have problem with sinking and legs that cross over , I need a 2 beat kick for ironman distance , what can i do to keep my legs up and develop a nice 2 beat kick ? I watched Katie Ladecky in the 800 m final Rio, wish my legs could be just like her’s . I do have the alignment board, snorkel and warrior fins. I soak in all of your videos . And totally appreciate how you teach in every video .

    • garyhallsr

      Thanks, Lewis. All kicks are helpful…even the two beat kick. The more plantar flexibility in the ankle, the more propulsion you will get from the down kick. In order to keep your legs at the surface, you must continue with at least a two beat kick…or wear a wet suit whenever possible.

  22. Chris Breedy

    Hi Gary-love the films and tutorials!
    I have a question about head position-
    I understand how the body position is in alignment with the head in a more natural position as shown by Junya but is there any negative affect when water flows over the head and the back during the propulsive phase- like the water adds weight on top of the body?

    • garyhallsr

      The body actually weighs zero (with air in the lungs) in the water. The important issue is that by getting under water, a swimmer eliminates surface drag at the lowest drag coefficient position and highest body speed position during the stroke cycle. Both of these facts lend themselves to an increase in speed below the surface rather than on the surface. Some swimmers are faster underwater with legs kicking than they are on the surface while kicking and pulling.

  23. Phanish

    Hi sir.I have just started participating in long distance events(1500,800 and 400).In a recent meet during my first 1500 freestyle after half the distance I felt stiffness in my body.Please help me with suggestions to overcome this problem(like hydration, warm-up duration etc)

    • garyhallsr

      The stiffness you are feeling is likely from the effects of lactate production. Make sure that you are training enough to build your aerobic energy system and that you breathe often during the race.
      You will only know your times of pacing through experience of training and racing.

  24. Phanish

    And also how do I know whether my lap times are good or bad when I am swimming a 1500 or 800 race


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