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Learn to Swim Front Crawl / Freestyle: Head-Lead Nose Up / Nose Down Drill

The Head-Lead Nose Up / Nose Down drill is a swimming drill for the front crawl / freestyle stroke where you practice dynamic balance.

This means that you must stay horizontal in the water while switching between different positions.

In one of those positions, you have your head turned upward, and in the other position, you have your head turned downward.

A novice swimmer who practices the head-lead nose up / nose down drill for the front crawl stroke.

This is a bit more difficult than in previous drills where you only practiced static balance, which means you stayed in the same position for the whole length.

Dynamic balance is an important front crawl skill to possess because it allows you to stay balanced even when you need to roll on the side to breathe.

Swimming Drill Video

The following video demonstrates how to do this drill:


Start to flutter kick on the side as explained in the previous drill, Head-Lead Side Balance:

  • Float in the water lying on the side, your body at a 45° angle from the water surface.
  • Keep your arms at your sides.
  • Your shoulder and part of your thigh should clear the water on your top side.
  • Your head is in line with the trunk, and your face is turned upward.
  • Apply downward pressure on your head and bottom shoulder so that your hips and legs buoy up.
  • Use a supple flutter kick for propulsion.

When you feel balanced in this position, do the following:

  • Roll your head downward so that you are looking at the bottom of the pool.
  • Let your body roll too until it is at a 90° angle from the water surface.
  • Maintain the downward pressure on your head (but now with the face turned downward) and bottom shoulder to keep your legs and hips up.
  • Flutter kick for a while in this position and try to maintain balance.
  • Simply roll upward to the initial position again when you need to breathe.
  • Roll between the upward and downward position for several lengths, alternating sides with each length.

Additional Tips

Here are some additional tips to practice this swimming drill:

  • Don’t hold your breath in the face-down position but slowly exhale through your nose and mouth instead.
  • You can prevent water from getting into your nose with a nose clip.
  • Consider the use of swimming fins if your flutter kick isn’t very propulsive.

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 1st of November 2017

I am really benefitting from your swimming drills, for the first time ever I have more control of my breathing and on a good day can do a length of crawl.

This is after many many years sticking to lengths and lengths of poor breaststroke because I could not progress on any other style.

I have even taken a course in the past and not improved this much.

I still need to get the flutter kick sorted, the problem is it is weak and I can't see whether my legs bend too much or whether my ankle is flipping in the way described.

Irritatingly (though not surprisingly after a lifetime of swimming breaststroke), I have a very strong breaststroke kick but a terribly weak flutter kick :)

Thank you!


Thursday 2nd of November 2017

Hi TJ,

It's nice to hear that you are making progress! A strong kick is not an absolute prerequisite, you can use a pair of short swim fins if it helps.

Good luck!