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

The next set of front crawl / freestyle drills will teach you balance. Balance is an important skill to master because it allows you to be relaxed and perfectly horizontal in the water while swimming front crawl (or backstroke).

The drill on this particular page will teach you balance in a supine position (on your back). Teaching balance on the back first minimizes breathing issues. Subsequent drills will teach you balance while floating on your chest and your sides.

The Secret of Effortless Balance

Our legs are among the densest parts of our body, which on dry land helps us to stay erect. But in the water, the density of our legs can be a problem because they tend to sink, disrupting balance and increasing drag.

As a consequence, we need to find a way to compensate for the tendency of our legs to sink. Beginners often do so by kicking hard but then quickly get out of breath because their leg muscles consume lots of oxygen. But there is a more effective way to keep one’s legs up.

The smart way to maintain balance requires us to learn how to take advantage of our natural buoy. Our buoy is in fact located in our chest and formed by our lungs filled with air. This area is the most buoyant of our body, and we can leverage it to keep our hips and legs afloat.

To do so we use our body as a lever with the fulcrum located in our lungs. We press our head and upper back down while lying flat in the water. As our lungs are buoyant, our hips and legs will have the tendency to rise up. This almost requires no effort. Nice, isn’t it?

Advantages of Being Balanced

The advantages of being balanced while swimming front crawl are the following:

  • Your body creates little drag because it is horizontal and moves through a smaller cylinder of water.
  • You don’t need to kick hard to keep your legs up, which saves oxygen and energy.

As a consequence, your swimming technique is more efficient, and you can swim longer and faster for the same effort.

Front Crawl Drill Video

Below a video that demonstrates the drill:

Video Thumbnail

Drill Instructions

  • Lie flat in the water on your back.
  • Slightly contract your abs to keep a straight back throughout the exercise.
  • Keep your head in line with the trunk and slightly tuck in your chin.
  • Keep the arms relaxed and extended at your sides.
  • Start to kick with a gentle flutter kick.
  • If you notice that your hips and legs drop, do increase the downward pressure on your shoulder blades and the back of your head. This should make your hips and legs rise. Don’t compensate for your sinking legs by kicking harder!

Additional Tips

  • You can use swim fins in the beginning if your kick isn’t propulsive enough. You can always get rid of them later on once you have learned balance and your kicking technique has improved.
  • You can use a nose clip to avoid getting water into your nose.
  • Even though this drill is done on the back and the face is above water, swimming goggles can nevertheless keep water out of your eyes.
  • A friend can be of great help if it is difficult for you to attain a horizontal position in the water. He/she can analyze your posture and tell you about the mistakes you might be doing.

Moving in a Straight Line

As you are floating on your back, moving in a straight line can be difficult if there isn’t some kind of lane marker on the ceiling to use for orientation, or if you are swimming outside.

One strategy can be to tip your head back and to try to look forward from time to time. But you already need to have good balance to be able to do this.

Another strategy can be to only flutter kick for short distances, then to stop and reorient yourself.

Another option, if you are swimming indoor, is to roll sideways from time to time, look to the side underwater, and to assess your distance from the wall or a lane marker and to correct your trajectory accordingly.

The best solution, however, if you are swimming indoor, is to use some feature on the ceiling as a guide to swim straight.

Please also note that with experience, you’ll get better at swimming in a straight line.

14 thoughts on “Learn to Swim Front Crawl: Head-Lead Supine Balance Drill”

  1. Aiko Akiyoshi

    Thank you very much for your written articles on techniques. They were of great help for me to learn to swim.

    I am 73 years old woman and took up swimming a year ago for the first time. Since I started to take lessons, I have been looking for ways to correct my sinking legs and hips. I used a kickboard to learn to kick, but my legs and hips kept sinking.

    Finally, I have found your website that explains everything, not just this problem but other problems I have been experiencing. I am very grateful for your help.

  2. Your website is so helpful. I was so afraid of water and after reading your articles relating to overcoming the fear of water, I have succeeded in having my head down the water without much fear!

    But I still have fear of floating/gliding without using a kickboard. If I let go of my kickboard, I feel like my arms and my head are sliding downward and eventually I might hit my head on the ground.

    May I know if there is any way to overcome this? Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Gracia,

      Maybe you could practice the drills from this article:


      In shallow water, practice the flutter kick, holding onto the edge of the wall. Then try to find balance until you only need to hold onto the edge of the wall with your fingertips. Finally, let go of the wall. Practice this several times over a few swim practices.

  3. Sorry I have one more question regarding breathing.

    When I am floating or doing a gliding, I often hold my breath because this will make me float. If I start to exhale, my body just sinks. Is this normal? (When I exhale, my lungs should have less air, and this makes me sink?)

    Thank you!

  4. Can you make any suggestions and/or point me in the direction for tips to improve a bad back?

  5. Kamal Nijhawan

    I can float on my back, looking at the sky. I cannot kick with my legs to propel me. Any tips?

  6. 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.

    1. Daryl,

      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.

  7. 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?


    1. 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!

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