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Freestyle - Head-Up Swimming

Posted by Glenn Mills on Dec 15, 2006 09:03AM

Catch and kick. Those two very important components of a good freestyle are tough to work on at the same time. It's hard to think about two focus points at once -- especially when they involve OPPOSITE ENDS of the body.

This drill almost FORCES you to feel the catch of the hands, as well as kick more quickly and frequently. If you don't do BOTH... you won't be able to accomplish the simple goal of the drill, which is keeping your head above water.

If you're a beginner or intermediate swimmer, or if you're still working on balance, this drill may seem to go AGAINST everything you're trying to learn. It asks you to be UNBALANCED, but this can be good when you realize how HARD you have to work when you're out of balance. For more advanced swimmers, this drill is a good way to practice swimming freestyle with a bit more intensity and aggression. Don't think about your balance when you do this drill. Just allow whatever happens to happen as long as you're... keeping your head above the water.

Why Do It:

Head-Up Freestyle requires that you make a quick connection with your hands at the front of the pull. While some may argue that this connection is placed at the wrong angle because it's a more supportive move, a connection is a connection, and when the head is lowered, the angle of connection will change automatically and it will all tie together. This drill also requires that your legs stay active. If your kick is too small or too slow, the lower half of your body is going to sink SO low that it will be TOUGH to make it to the other end.

How To Do It:

1. Push off and swim freestyle like you normally would... only... lift your head out of the water.

2. Look directly forward, and keep your head stable. Don't allow it to move from side to side. Keep the eyes looking forward.

3. Try to keep your mouth above water, and avoid bobbing up and down for air. Move on a straight line to the other end.

4. To increase your turnover, experiment with a bit wider entry. Find the spot that allows you to maintain a quick rhythm as well as keep your head up.

5. Maintain a quick, consistent kick throughout the entire length.

How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):

This is an aggressive drill, so limit your swims to 25 or 50 yards. Take a break, then try again. Don't overdo it and end up struggling just to grab a breath. You'll also find that the drill is easier to do if you release the hands earlier in the back. If you push the hand too far back, you slow the rate of rotation, and cause your head to fall into the water. Keep the hands out in front as much as possible.

To make sure you don't end up with a high-head freestyle, alternate sets of this drill with some long, smooth, slow pulling or swimming to remind yourself how you can integrate this pull into your regular stroke. Because this drill works the legs, taking a little break with pulling or swimming will allow you to maintain a quicker kick when you switch back to the drill.

Archived Comments

Responded Dec 15, 2006 12:16PM

Great Drill, my son's coach calls this drill "Tarzan" I guess we are old enough to remember those old black and white Johnny Weisemuller ( spelling ) movies I think Tarzan is a cooler name than catch and kick but I guess catch and kick makes you think about what you are doing...maybe


Responded Dec 15, 2006 01:30PM

I like Tarzan too... it's just I've had a really bad cold, and doing the YELL would have been IMPOSSIBLE. :)

Responded Dec 15, 2006 04:17PM

I like this drill, nonetheless I do find it tough on my lower back, specially the upper lower back...I still struggle with kind o weak lumbar muscles!!!


Responded Dec 18, 2006 02:40PM

My kids love Tarzan drill! The weaker kickers in my group have a hard time keeping up on this drill, so they use their fins! It works and allows them to think about the catch ect instead of kicking. We always follow up this drill with "Crocodile" drill. It also is a great stepping stone to head position drills.

Responded Dec 21, 2006 03:57AM

I like this drill, when I use it for my swim technique classes, I add water polo balls for an element of fun. The swimmers toss the balls to the other end of the pool, and I tell them to keep their eyes on the ball at all times, as they swim towards it.
Mostly, I want them to feel how much more relaxed they can be, when they swim "head down" in a neutral position. Many of my swimmers first come to me as adult non-swimmers,and are very resistant to keeping their faces IN the water. This drill quickly teaches them that face-down is the less-tiring way to swim.

Responded Oct 12, 2009 01:04PM

In an episode of "What's the Limit", the narrator explains Popov does this as "head-up with dolphin kick". I find it impossible to do this drill with a dolphin kick. The most successful kick approach for me is a 2-beat with exaggerated down kicking. Was the narrator refering to two seperate drills or did Popov in fact use a dolphin kick for the head-up drill?

Responded Oct 12, 2009 06:23PM

Not really sure what you're talking about Steve. What's "What's the Limit"?

Responded Oct 12, 2009 09:36PM

I think he is refering to a video swimming instruction Alexander Popov swimming technique "whats the limit"

Responded Oct 12, 2009 10:24PM

I think in part 3 and 4 it was stated. I can manage with a 2-beat or without kicking at all, just can't add a dolphin kick to properly master it.

Another thing, I've been practicing the other "roll-over" drill (also mentioned in the video) for about a week. Now that I can do it fairly successfully, my form has improved substantially.

Responded Oct 13, 2009 12:32PM

Sorry guys. It's tough enough keeping up with the 20+ DVDs we've created, and the 300+ drills... you'll have to ask the producer of that video what they meant.

Responded Oct 13, 2009 07:25PM

I understand completely. I will give that a try if the producer still exists - about 10 years old.

Sometime I might try the "head-up" drill following the "active glide" with the same gear. But I still need to focus on basic form at this point.

Responded Nov 22, 2009 05:40AM

I decided not to contact the producers, the video is so outdated.

Anyway, about head-up free and what kick was used, I believe he used the dolphin. After 5 weeks of occasional practicing I finally developed the rythym to perform head-up free using dolphin kick (without significant knee bend). I can't keep head high enough to breath yet and do a 25 like I would with a head-up 6-beat, but I'm getting there.

Why am I trying to learn head-up free with a dolphin kick? I have no idea, but it seems to be very demanding and might help my 50. I will be doing my first meet at the end of January and I can use all the help I can get.

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