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Learn to Swim Front Crawl/Freestyle: Head-Lead Supine Balance Drill

Head-Lead Supine Balance is one of our swimming drills for the front crawl/freestyle stroke. As the name suggests, the focus is on improving your balance as you swim.

Head-Lead Supine Balance follows the Flutter Kick Drills and precedes Head-Lead Prone Balance in our series of swimming drills for the front crawl/freestyle stroke.

Maintaining balance means maintaining a horizontal position in the water with little effort. Balance is the key to being able to swim front crawl (and backstroke) in a relaxed fashion. Good balance also makes learning the front crawl much easier.

A swimmer practicing the Head-Lead Supine Balance drill for the front crawl stroke.

In this article, we will practice balance in the supine position (i.e., floating on your back). Practicing balance on your back means you won’t be distracted by breathing issues. Instead, you will be able to focus on the principle of balance and putting it into practice.

In subsequent drills, we will then practice balance while floating in a prone position and on your side.

The Principle of Effortless Balance

Since we move upright on land, our legs are usually the most muscular and dense parts of our body.

By contrast, swimming is usually done in a horizontal position. The density of our legs can become a problem because our legs tend to sink. This disturbs our (horizontal) balance and increases drag.

So, we have to find a way to compensate for the tendency of our legs to sink. In front crawl (and backstroke), beginners often do this by kicking hard, but then quickly get out of breath because their leg muscles require a lot of oxygen.

There is a more effective way to keep our legs from sinking. We just have to use our body’s natural buoyancy.

When our lungs are filled with air, our chest cavity acts like a natural buoy. We can then leverage this buoy to keep our hips and legs up.

Let’s think about floating in the water on your back. Imagine your body is a seesaw with the fulcrum located below your chest. If you lean on your upper back, your body will pivot across the fulcrum (which are your lungs), and your hips and legs will come up.

You can use this principle to maintain your balance and keep your hips and legs up with little effort. Consequently, only gentle kicking is required for propulsion and balance. You don’t get out of breath easily and can swim (or practice swimming drills) with little effort.

Swimming Drill Video

The following video demonstrates Head-Lead Supine Balance:

Swimming Drill Instructions

Here is how to practice Head-Lead Supine Balance:

  • Push off from the ground with your feet and get into a horizontal position on your back. Keep your arms at your sides, and start to flutter kick.
  • Contract your abs slightly to keep a straight back throughout the exercise.
  • Make sure your head is in line with your trunk and slightly tuck in your chin.
  • Try to maintain a horizontal position while flutter kicking on your back.
  • If you notice that your hips and legs drop, lean on your upper back. You should notice that your hips and legs rise in the water in response.
  • Use this method to counteract sinking legs instead of kicking harder.

Additional Tips

  • If your kick isn’t propulsive enough when you are just beginning to learn, you can use swim fins. You can always get rid of them later, once you have learned balance and your kicking technique has improved.
  • You can use a nose clip to stop water getting up your nose.
  • Even though this drill is done on the back and your face should remain above the water, you can wear swimming goggles to prevent getting water in your eyes, if you wish.
  • A friend observing you can be a source of feedback if you find it difficult to get into a horizontal position or maintain it. They might be able to spot a problem and guide you to correct it.

Moving in a Straight Line

When you float on your back, moving in a straight line can be difficult at first. There are different strategies to alleviate this:

  1. If you are swimming indoors, fix your gaze on an overhead feature — for example, a row of lights, or lines painted on the ceiling that indicate lane markings — to help you swim straight.
  2. From time to time, you can overextend your head to be able to look ahead (in the direction in which you’re swimming, not towards your feet). However, you need to have good balance already to do this, and it can also strain your neck.
  3. If the pool isn’t too crowded, you can just perform the drill over short distances, then stop, look around, and correct your trajectory, if necessary.
  4. If you are wearing swimming goggles, you can also look over to the side from time to time. You can then assess the distance to the wall or the next lane divider and correct your trajectory accordingly, before rolling back to your original position.

Please note that as you gain experience, you’ll also get better at swimming in a straight line on your back.

Learning Path for the Front Crawl

Below is an overview of our series of articles on learning the front crawl. Each article in this series contains one or more drills that have to be mastered. The current article is highlighted:

Once you have gone through all the steps of this learning path, you should be able to swim front crawl without any problems.

Good luck!


Wednesday 26th of February 2020

why cant i see the videos ?


Wednesday 26th of February 2020

Hi Zeev,

Are you using an ad blocker or Javascript blocker? If so, that could be the explanation. If this is the case, please whitelist this site.




Thursday 11th of July 2019

Hi Christophe,

Is it possible to lie on your back without using kicks? While I can do this in a prone position I need to use supply kicks to stop legs and hips from dropping in a supine position. Thx. Michal


Thursday 11th of July 2019

Hi Michal,

It really depends on your morphology/body composition. Some people are able to float on their back without kicking, some aren't...


Friday 11th of January 2019


I am 35 and learning to swim. I have had lesions and practice every week.

The instructor said I need to be more stable in the water as when I breath I lift my head and body to the side and favor my right-hand side. He then got me to try to breath every 3rd stroke on each side but I’m really struggling with that.

Any tips on improving my head turns to breath? I wear flippers and use a board and do catch up drill. Or is it more practice?

I have had 8 lessons and can swim 25m. How do I go about learning to tread water?



Monday 14th of January 2019

Hi Mick,

Please have a look at our swimming lessons for the front crawl.

The first few lessons are all about improving your balance in the water, so I'd recommend you give them a try.

And yes, it takes some time and patience.

Good luck!

Kiki L

Friday 24th of August 2018

Hi Christophe,

Your website is so helpful for self-pace swimming learners! I just started following all the drills you provide on this site.

For Head-Lead Supine Balance drill, I am not moving forward in a straight line when doing the flutter kick, and any tip about this?



Friday 24th of August 2018

Hi Kiki,

I have updated the article toward the end to include some strategies you can use to swim in a straight line.

Good luck!


Tuesday 10th of April 2018

How do I get faster with my kicks in the water as I am unsure if my kicking is the correct technique?

I try to kick from the hip and keep my legs straight but find I am moving at snail pace.

I recently bought flippers and this has only improved my speed slightly.


Tuesday 10th of April 2018


Do you want to get faster in your kicking sets? I don't put that much emphasis on kicking, because you don't necessarily need a strong kick to be able to swim with ease.

A weak kick could be due to low ankle flexibility, lack of balance (sinking legs), smaller feet, your gender (girls often are better at flutter kicking), etc.

Using flippers help increase ankle flexibility, so that's a good start. To improve balance, just practice our front crawl drills.

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