When I do childrens lessons I keep a 20m section of rope in my swim gadget basket. I tie a small loop in one end. Then I give that loop to a swimmer, have them get out in the pool to the end of the rope. I stand on deck ready to reel the rope in. They will lay flat on the water surface with arms extended in front in long streamline position (I call it “Be LONG like a pencil!”).
Then I instruct her to lift her head to look a little forward as I reel her in at a steady pace. Then we do it again, while their head is down, ears tucked between the shoulders as I say, and I have her tell me the difference she felt. Then I switch places and have her reel me in while I place my head in different positions so she can feel the change in force she has to apply to keep me coming at a steady pace as my head position changes.
It becomes instant sensory proof to every single student (children or adults) what the superior hydrodynamic head position is: head down, spine straight, eyes looking straight down. Any angle adjustment in the head is immediately registered in a force change by the arms/hands of the one reeling in, and in the feel of water pressured against the head of the swimmer.
It is an easy way for a coach or swimmer to validate what physiologists, therapists and those studied in human hydrodynamics will tell us. Keep that head looking down and the entire spine in line (as if standing vertical and tall under the force of gravity).
I stand my students in a line, walk to each one and touch the crown of the head – that point where the spine would poke out of the skull as if on a shishkabob stick – and tell my swimmers that this is the head of their torpedo. Where that points is where their energy will go. So let’s keep it pointed straight down the lane.
By concentrating on pointing that ‘laser lead’ shishkabob line toward the far wall, not only does it keep the body aligned during the stroking, it helps the head find the best position between the arms during the push-off as well.
It may be re-assuring to look forward a little, but that glance comes at a price, and that price adds up after hundreds and thousands of strokes.
Addendum: August 2013
I found a new way to test this head position: in an Endless Pool (or in any place where the swimmer can lay down in a current and hold position).
I was recently in TI Head Coach Terry’s outdoor pool equipped with a Fast Lane unit. With the current on, I held onto the support bars on either side of the unit, let my body lay out in Superman Glide position and then played with head, hip and spine alignment to find the easiest way to stay flat and near the surface without propulsive movements to assist me.
Sure enough, the moment I tilted my head up a fraction, or looked forward even the slightest I could feel a dramatic increase in water resistance against my head and a downward push on my body which I then felt compelled to kick to push up against. The easiest, least-resistant position was to put the crown of my head pointing directly forward, my eyes looking straight down. This allowed water to stream evenly under the body and provide lift, keeping the hips up.
There you go. Two ways to test the best head position.