LynneLynne Member
edited May 2016 in General Discussion

Thought that would get your attention. Question about neck/head position in open water over distance. I tend to look slightly forwards when I swim. I try to remember to rotate my body to breathe and not just turn my head - I am a left sided breather on the 4th stroke but can bilateral breathe if I am whipped.

I joined a Masters squad in November last year and am constantly told to adjust my head position to look directly down (I am the only OW swimmer in the squad). This is not natural for me and I don't find it helps particularly with position in the water or breathing - it just feels awkward.

However the point of the post is that I tend to get a sore neck and am wondering whether I should persist with trying to look down and hold my head lower in the water or if there are other tips that could help with neck tension.



  • timsroottimsroot Spring, TXCharter Member

    While others with more coaching experience might disagree, I think it's beneficial to look straight down if you aren't sighting. It's a more natural head position, so I'd think it would help relieve a little tension. Looking ahead IN the water won't help you look where you are going, will drop your hips, and tend to introduce drag.

    Look up and out of the water when you are sighting, try to keep a good body line when you are in the water.

    As for bilateral breathing, I used to breathe every stroke cycle to my left. As a result, I didn't rotate well to my right. My first 10k, my right shoulder hurt a lot because of it. After that, i got very comfortable breathing bilaterally, and my shoulders have thanked me for it. Took a couple months to get really comfortable breathing bilaterally, but I'd strongly recommend it, especially for open water swimmers. If I had been swimming breathing only to my left, in a crosswind that had the chop coming from that direction, I'd either have been likely to eat a lot of chop, or just be very uncomfortable and awkward breathing to my right. Being comfortable breathing on both sides gives you a lot more options when you are outside of the pool.

  • LynneLynne Member

    Niek said:
    No need to sight with every breath so keep your face down.

    I definately don't sight with every breath, my neck would break. I was just saying that my 'go to' head position is looking slightly forward in the water rather than 90 degrees down into the dark depths of beyond.

  • suziedodssuziedods Mem​ber

    Of course it feels awkward.. you are changing something.
    Whenever I am working on something I start with REALLY focussing on it during warm up and drills. That way I am not on the clock and am (supposed) to be thinking about stuff anyway. You will of course naturally fall back into your old ways easily but the more you work on it the easier it (should) become.
    Try this... float on your back... where does your head end up? What's the most comfortable/ easily floating position?
    Now, flip on to your tummy and try to replicate that.You are most likely going to have to move your head around to get the same floaty relaxy feeling.

    It's not a true FACE DOWN LOOK AT THE BOTTOM technique, because everyone is different and conditions may dictate what your body needs to do in the water to be efficient but it defo is not the " water at the goggle line" we were taught ages ago.
    If it doesn't feel weird, you probably are not changing anything and if it does feel weird .. you are on your way.
    Swimming is both an art and a science.. and I think we forget sometime the "art/feely " part.
    LET it feel awkward... after a while.. and a while may be longer than we want it to be.... but my guess is your neck pain will disseminate.
    Also check your pull.. but that's another story.
    ( ps it took me over 5 years to be comfortable bilateral breathing and I still have to work at it)

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber

    I swim head down in both open water swimming and in the pool. Unsuspecting folks often randomly jump into my lane during lap swim and are surprised when I plow into them because I can't see them. I feel terrible, but figure it's their own fault for not giving me any type of warning they were arriving. I get annoyed in open water swimming when a kayaker or boat is too far forward and I have to lift my head up to see them. It hurts and causes so much more effort. It's not a natural body position to have your head lifted slightly forward- it pushes your legs down and causes more drag (i.e. making you work harder). My swim husband is a head up swimmer- and it hurts me to watch him swim long distances. It's nice cuz he rarely crashes into things and can swim a little straighter on his own... but it's so much more work. I'd suggest to keep working on it!

  • LynneLynne Member

    Thanks @suziedods - so in your opinion looking down is the preferred position? Taking into account ow conditions obviously. I want to be sure before I make the change

  • suziedodssuziedods Mem​ber

    It's "looking down" in that it's not "looking up".
    As @ssthomas says sometimes you may crash into things or people,but in the pool you have lane lines , the flags, the line on the bottom of the pool as well as the T at the end of each lane.
    Plus you have the rule of 'circle swimming" so you kind of have an innate idea of where you are.
    Every "body" is different so every position is going to be slightly different.
    What I can say though is if your neck hurts that much? It's definitely time to change something and because the head is so heavy ( it's something like %12(??) of our body weight and affects so much of how we move in the water... that'd be the first thing I'd look at.
    If you have a coach on deck.. have them film you, and not just 25 yards.. but randomly. See what it looks like, some people learn better by looking.
    Put a glass (plastic) of water on your head... see if you can swim without losing the glass.
    Or.... gag I can't believe I'm saying this.. a snorkel. But.. a snorkel is a tool , not a crutch. Please don't become one of those people trundling up and down the lanes ALL the time w a snorkel. :-* .
    As I said, it's gonna feel weird at first... then less and less so.
    You have a built in meter... when your neck stops hurting.. you've got it.

  • mysterybobmysterybob North Hampton, NHMember

    When I coach OW swimmers, I often tell the story of how M. Cavic lost the gold medal in the 100 fly to M. Phelps in the Beijing Olympics. Cavic protested the loss, only to have the slow motion video show that he lifted his head slightly in the last .5 meters of the finish. Arguably costing him .02 seconds in that .5m. Doing the math, that is over a minute a mile, or and extra 20+++ minutes in the EC.

    While there are many great distance swimmers who hold a higher head positions with record times, I believe these swimmers have other natural abilities in their stoke that make them successful.

    Head down, neck long...swim strong.

  • Kate_AlexanderKate_Alexander Spring Lake, MichiganSenior Member

    After 16 years of OW swimming in a head-up/face forward position, I finally took some swim lessons this year and the very first lesson was about face down swimming. My coach said check the folds in your neck – if you have folds in the back of your neck your head is too high/forward, if you have folds in the front of your neck, your head is too low. After practicing that for a week my stroke count dropped by one full stroke per 25m – that comes out to 400m on a 10k!

    I swim along a shore line so most of the sighting is easy, to the side. I do have to watch out for buoys, parked boats and jet skis and other people in the water tho. Learning how to swim 20 strokes, say, with my face down and then lift my head to sight straight forward is still awkward. But swimming face down has become so comfortable that I forget to look up to see what I’m swimming towards and I’ve been bumping into things more. For now, bumping into things a lot more is a good sign that I’m swimming head down.

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    I describe it as keeping your head neutral, as if you were walking down the street. Your neck would get pretty stiff if you constantly walked around looking for seagulls. You can feel the drag of various head positions by pushing off the wall, noticing how far you coast and being aware of the feel of the water against your head.


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • ChrisgreeneChrisgreene Mercersburg PA/Atlanta, GAMember

    This reminds me of a swim camp I went to when I was 8. Each day a visiting coach came in to instruct a different stroke. The freestyle coach said the water level should be top of forhead, then 2 days later the fly coach came in and said "like freestyle. The water level should be middle of the top of your head" There were alot of confused campers.
    Lately I found that I was getting a sore back of my neck after long swims and my thought was that i was looking forward too much. I've since worked on looking straight down and it has solved my sore neck problem.

  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member

    Relax and your head will find the right position. Don't force what isn't natural.

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    My coach keeps telling me that my head is too low, which can cause its own problems, such as with taking a breath or sighting. It seems comfortable to me, though, and when I try to change the position, it feels odd. But then again, I suppose any new habit feels odd to start off.

  • Doc2dockDoc2dock Member
    edited June 2016

    Kate_Alexander said:

    My coach said check the folds in your neck – if you have folds in the back of your neck your head is too high/forward, if you have folds in the front of your neck, your head is too low.

    I find if I look forward too much my swim cap slides up the back of my head, doesn't happen since I started swimming looking down, just another guide...

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