The Importance of a Still Head

I can’t sleep on my left side or hold 10 kilos out with my left arm, due to injuries sustained through sport and poor swimming technique…but now I can swim for 17+ hours in the toughest conditions and I am the first Brit to swim the Oceans 7! In a series of blogs I talk about how the Ocean Walker Technique was born.

I don’t know about you, but for years I never thought about the importance of my head position whilst swimming. My arms would drive forward and my head would often follow the front driving arm. When I started to break it all down without arms, you realise the head acts like a boat rudder and depending on what direction or angle your head is, your body will follow. Your arm strokes can compensate for any head movement to keep yourself in a straight line, but this involves more energy to keep you aligned and increases drag as you are moving your body through more water surface area than necessary and swimming more distance.

head-closeThe head position is where I begin in all my coaching sessions. Not only should the head be still, you should be looking downward, which is a neutral position. This is the equivalent of looking forward standing up which we all do. If you look up when swimming you will be engaging extra muscles and putting strain on the neck. (I still have nerve issues in my neck caused from my old swimming technique). Over longer distances you will start to feel the strain and potential neck issues.


1. Example of head up, eyes looking forward in the water

The other effect of a head looking upward while swimming would be pressure on the spine and sinking legs. The head is the heaviest part of the body, so by looking straight down your head will be more immersed, which will help bring your hip and legs up – it’s Physics! If you want to look far in front of you, this could come at a price of an inefficient body position with legs dropping.


2. Example of head down in the water

You can sight and breathe easily from the downward head position used in the Ocean Walker technique. Eyes just clear the water so there is minimal lifting of the head in order to save energy, reducing stress on the neck and shoulders keeping the hips and legs up in order to keep the body as efficient as possible and reduce drag.

“Looking forward in swimming is the equivalent of looking at the sky when on land”

David Pickering (registered Osteopath and qualified Acupuncturist) says ‘The conventional stroke places the neck and lower back under strain due to the prone positioning of the body. The neck is held in extension (tipped back) placing stress on the bony and muscular structures at the back of the neck, whilst the low back is often arched with shear forces being placed on the lower spine when the legs are kicked. It is the lower level amateur and “weekend warrior” swimmers who are more susceptible to injuries affecting these areas, owing to generally lower levels of fitness and strength, than club or elite swimmers.

Next blog in this series – Why I don’t DRIVE with my arms anymore!!!

One thought on “The Importance of a Still Head

  1. This is a superb article. I have only recently, after a few years as a self-taught swimmer, been made aware of what my head is doing when I swim front crawl. I’ve had two, half-hour, coached sessions in the past two weeks and the difference that has been made to my stroke is hard to overstate. My head has been wagging back and forth following my lead arm, as Adam describes. This has been producing lateral sway in my lower body. Concentrating on keeping my head still and looking down has changed the dynamic of my stroke significantly. I’m much quicker and more efficient and it just feels more like good swimming. In these two coached sessions I’ve also been advised that my hand position at entry was a little wide and a little shallow. Addressing these three things together has transformed my stroke. I had gone for years trying to improve my stroke by reading blogs, watching videos and trying, by myself, to apply what I’d learned. The problem is that it’s very difficult to know for sure what you’re actually doing in the water without a trained eye on your efforts. If you’re serious about improving your stroke get some coaching. You can do a Skills n Drills class at your local pool if it’s available. I’ve had great coaching already through that route. I’ve been lucky. Only a handful of people were there on the two sessions I’ve attended so far and I got great one to one attention. A busier class might not have been quite as immediately useful. Or sign up for a day with Adam to learn his specific, ultra-efficient Ocean Walker technique. I believe he keeps the groups small and ensures enough one to one attention to make a difference. I also had one, rather expensive, session of stroke coaching last year in an ‘endless’ pool. That was not a good experience for me. The whole time was spent adjusting to the counter-intuitive environment of swimming against the water jet. I made no improvement at all from that experience. In my experience, a coach watching what you’re doing as you actually move through water, is a much better way to make progress.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s