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

Head-Lead Nose Up/Nose Down is one of our swimming drills for the front crawl/freestyle stroke. This drill introduces you to dynamic balance, where you try to maintain balance while switching between two positions.

Head-Lead Nose Up/Nose Down follows Head-Lead Side Balance and precedes Head-Lead Looking Down in our series of swimming drills for the front crawl/freestyle stroke.

A swimmer practicing the Head-Lead Nose Up/Nose Down drill for the front crawl stroke.

Up to now, you have been practicing static balance; that is, keeping your body horizontal in the water and assuming the same position for a whole length of the pool.

However, while swimming front crawl, your body doesn’t stay in a fixed position. Rather, it rolls continuously from side to side.

For this reason, it makes sense to practice balance while shifting between various positions, and this will be the focus of the next few drills.

In Head-Lead Nose Up/Nose Down, we will shift between two positions: the previously practiced Sweet Spot position (floating on your side with your head facing up), and the position where you also float on your side but with your head facing down.

Swimming Drill Video

The following video demonstrates Head-Lead Nose Up/Nose Down:

Swimming Drill Instructions

You begin this drill by assuming the Sweet Spot position we practiced in the previous Head-Lead Side Balance drill:

  • Lean backwards in the water and push yourself off the ground with your feet.
  • Start to flutter kick as you lie in on your back with your arms by your side.
  • Make sure your head is in line with your body and facing upward.
  • Lean on your upper back to keep your hips and legs up and maintain balance.
  • Breathe in a relaxed manner.

Roll into your Sweet Spot as soon as you feel balanced:

  • Keep your head facing toward the ceiling/sky while you roll onto your side. Roll as far as you can while still feeling comfortable. Typically, this will be about 45° away from the surface of the water; that is, you will be halfway between lying fully on your back and lying fully on your side.
  • Your upper arm should be above the water’s surface.
  • Lean on the shoulder of the submerged arm to correct the tendency of your hips and legs to sink.
  • Keep performing a relaxed compact flutter kick.
  • Keep breathing in a relaxed manner.
  • We’ll call this position the Nose Up position.

Once you feel balanced in this Nose Up position, roll your body to the Nose Down position:

  • Swivel your head down until you are looking at the bottom of the pool.
  • Simultaneously, roll your body further on your side until you are lying at right angles to the surface of the water.
  • Your top arm should now be completely above the water’s surface and your shoulder pointing nearly straight up.
  • Your head should now be completely underwater.
  • Start exhaling through your nose and mouth as soon as your face is in the water.
  • As you switch your position, you’ll need to adjust how you lean on your upper body to maintain your balance.

When you need to breathe, roll back to the Sweet Spot/Nose Up position. Take a few breaths, correct your balance, and switch to the Nose Down position, and so on.

Additional Tips

Here are a few additional tips for practicing this swimming drill:

  • Keep your body in a straight line and perform a compact flutter kick to generate as little drag as possible.
  • In order to roll from one position to the other, you need to perform a coordinated movement where you engage your core muscles, turn your head and at the same time perform a wider kick than usual.
  • Exhale continuously while your face is in the water, until you roll back to the Nose Up position.
  • In this drill, you rotate your head between the Nose Up and the Nose Down position, so it is quite easy for water to get up your nose. To avoid this, wear a nose clip. It makes a lot of sense, at least in the beginning.
  • Using swim fins is also okay if your flutter kick isn’t that 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!

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