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

In the front crawl / freestyle stroke, rolling from side to side instead of swimming in a flat position has a few advantages.

It allows you to better engage the back and core muscles in addition to the shoulder and chest muscles and as a consequence improves propulsion.

A novice swimmer who practices the head-lead side balance drill for the front crawl stroke.

However, floating on your sides in the water can feel a bit odd if you aren’t used to it.

So the following swimming drill addresses this by letting you practice floating on your sides.

Swimming Drill Video

Here’s a demonstration of the head-lead side balance drill:

Swimming Drill Instructions

The initial position is the same as the one you practiced previously in the Head-Lead Supine Balance drill:

1) You float in the water on your back. Your body is horizontal and straight. Don’t bend at the hips.

2) Your face is facing the ceiling.

3) Keep your arms close to your sides.

4) Use a supple flutter kick for propulsion.

4) Push down a bit with your head and upper back so that your hips and legs buoy up.

Once you have a good balance in this position, do the following:

1) Roll your body like a log toward one of your sides, except for your head, until the corresponding arm and top of the hip emerge.

2) Your head should remain motionless in relation to the water surface, your face still facing the ceiling.

3) The degree of body roll is an individual matter. You should roll as far as possible while still feeling comfortable floating on your side.

This is difficult in the beginning but becomes easier with practice. Most swimmers seem to settle at around 45° of body roll.

4) Continue to flutter kick in this side position for the rest of the length.

5) Change sides after each length until you feel comfortable flutter kicking on both sides.

Total Immersion literature calls this position where you float on your side the Sweet Spot.

Additional Tips

Here are a few additional tips to practice this swimming drill:

1) To keep a balanced position once you float sideways, now you will need to push your submerged shoulder down to counter-balance the tendency of your legs to sink.

2) You will most likely find it easier to float on one of your sides than on the other. This is a common occurrence, simply practice a bit more on your weak side to compensate.

3) Use a relaxed flutter kick and keep it compact to avoid drag. This is a general rule to observe while swimming front crawl.

4) It is OK to use swim fins with these kinds of drills if your flutter kick is inefficient.

5) You can also use a nose clip if it helps to keep water out of your nose.

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!


Thursday 13th of April 2017

Thank you so much for these drills. I am a beginner and they have made a big difference in my technique.

I struggle with bilateral breathing and by doing this side balance drill, I noticed that on my weaker side, I tend to sink a lot, more making it difficult to catch a breath on this one side.

Do you know why this could be and do you have any tips for improvement - or is just all about practicing?


Sunday 16th of April 2017

Most people have a weaker side when floating in the water, or breathing in the front crawl, for the matter.

My theory for this is that as the left lung is smaller than the one on the right side, the buoyancy on each side of the body is different.

However, I think with enough practice, we are able to compensate for this weakness.

Good luck!


Thursday 22nd of December 2016

Excellent advice, watching and reading this series has taught me ways to improve my swimming skills. Flutter kick has improved as well as breathing.

Thank you four your series of articles and videos.


Monday 26th of December 2016

Thanks Grahame!