Where’s Your Head At?


This post started out as a response to an article about “Weightlessness” on Terry’s blog. Here is an excerpt and my response:

Have you ever seen a fish that wasn’t horizontal while swimming? Fish and aquatic mammals are naturally designed for aquatic (i.e. horizontal) balance. Humans, asterrestrial mammals, are naturally designed for land (i.e. vertical) balance. Most of us recognize that the cost of imbalance in the water is more drag and fatigue, less speed. But the true cost is actually far greater.

Actually, few swimmers think of it as a balance problem. It feels more like a sinkingproblem which leaves most new swimmers feeling at least highly uncomfortable, and often at risk.

Terry I like this post and especially paragraph one = The “Energy Sink”. Of the hundreds of people who claim to be ‘sinkers’ I have only met one who could sink to the bottom of the pool with full lungs and I think he can float ok in salt water.

I agree with what you say about us humans being ‘vertical mammals’. We have ‘up-down’ spine alignment whereas virtually all animals (excepting the Aussie kangaroo which ‘pivots’ – quite strange and interesting to watch them grazing!) have a horizontal spine.

This links to another key factor which generates resistance to looking down at the bottom of the pool:


… and its not exactly an unreasonable need! For 99% of our waking lives my head is upright so I can see where I am going. Think about walking, sitting, driving a car, using a computer etc.

OK so there ARE sports like rowing where you face backwards. If you have ever tried it you will know that it is a strange sensation at first.

Moving to the extreme you get things like the luge and time trial position in cycling where the simultaneous demands of aerodynamics AND being able to see where you are going necessitate a less comfortable position. I’ve never tried the luge but I can tell you that my neck and back used to get pretty damn sore when I was doing Ironman and training for 5+ hours tucked over the tri bars!

In swimming we are ‘lucky’ because there is less need to look forward. There are fewer ‘obstacles’ to avoid and less ‘steering’ to be done. Most pools have those convenient markings on the bottom which help you to go straight and let you know when you are getting close to the end. They also have rules about which way around you should circulate! Even at top speed in open water you are unlikely to cause serious injury through collision. The most injured swimmers I know is suffering a shoulder injury sustained  through getting knocked off his bike by a car. I have never come across a swimmer who sustained serious injury from ‘swimming into something’.

Yes OF COURSE you need to look up sometimes when you are trying to find the next marker in open water but please do yourself a favor and let your head hang down while you aren’t sighting! Your balance will be better and your neck will thank you. As Terry points out you could well save a heap of mental energy at the same time!

Please don’t take our word for it, try it yourself. Swim slowly enough to feel the difference and notice what happens when you look forward as compared to looking down. Post a comment to let me know what you notice! If you would like to find out what works best for you then book in for our Demo Course and we will show you an exercise that will make things very clear to you!


4 Responses to “Where’s Your Head At?”

  1. Sarah Anne Evans Says:

    I couldn’t agree more with our need to look at where we are going.

    It’s a basic survival instinct that is inbuilt in all of us.

    The other scenario is ‘hunting’ of the end of the pool. Keep it in your sights like prey and hunt it down with all your might. Again it’s a natural instinct to reach safety and stop working hard.

    It feels strange and unnerving for most of us to allow the head to natural hang down in a neutral anatomical position while we are swimming.

    Having coached Outside the Box, our open water swimming course, earlier in the year, I gained a huge amount of respect for all of our swimmers as they trusted their instincts and hung those heads. With no lines to follow they needed to rely on feeling their balance and position in the water only sighting occasionally to confirm they were on track.

    Letting our head hang and allowing our bodies to lay in the water in the more natural human spine alignment is a crucial part of learning to let go and relax.

    After all, when are we at our most relaxed?? At night, in complete darkness, with our eye closed, asleep, and laying down with spine and head neutral.

  2. Greg Says:

    Haha! I am a sinker! I am studying TI and in my first session I spontaneously sunk to the bottom of the pool… and I was in the deep end too! I was completely relaxed as I went down as I was learning not to fight the water. I just thought to myself when I hit the bottom I will just kick back up to the top.

    That said, doing the TI drills has helped me master balance in the water. For us sinkers it is a skill that can be learned but it doesn’t come naturally to us like it does to some people.

    Four sessions of TI drills has given me more confidence in the water that years of swimming lessons. Zooming up and down the pool, lap after lap of effortless drills is so enjoyable and relaxing that I could literally do it for hours. After my third session I climbed out of the pool and my muscles were aching a bit and I was breathing quite deeply. I had enjoyed myself so much and felt so relaxed that I didn’t even know that I had been working so hard!

    So, what happens when I look forward as compared to looking down when I swim? My legs sink of course! It feels like I am literally swimming up hill, I start to pull harder to get my legs up and because I am working harder I breathe harder. I can exhaust myself in 25 metres to the point I have to stop. With my head down, my legs come up and I can swim with relaxed arms. I don’t feel like I am swimming uphill, I feel like I am swimming through the water. I haven’t mastered the stroke yet so I don’t know how far I can swim yet. I should know in a couple of weeks. 😉

    • Dunstan Bertschinger Says:

      Hi Greg and thanks for your message! Its exciting to hear about your TI journey so far. It sounds like you have got the balance thing going well.

      I love the way that different people experience things differently in the water. You can obviously feel the difference your head position makes! The great thing about this ‘experiment’ is that your experience will speak for itself rather than having to trust an ‘expert’.

      You articulate it really well, Greg and I’m looking forward to hearing an update on your progress.

      I’d also love to hear what other people feel when they try it.

  3. najlepsze gry planszowe Says:

    najlepsze gry planszowe…

    […]Where’s Your Head At? « Swim all Day[…]…

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