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

Head-Lead Looking Down is one of our swimming drills for the front crawl/freestyle stroke. The goal is to further improve your active balance, which will benefit your swimming technique.

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

A swimmer practicing the Head-Lead Looking Down drill for the front crawl stroke.

In Head-Lead Looking Down, you start in the Sweet Spot position, then swivel your head down, like you practiced in the previous Head-Lead Nose Up/Nose Down drill. From there, you roll further so as to finish in the Sweet Spot position on your other side.

Rolling from Sweet Spot to Sweet Spot requires you to maintain your balance while rolling from side to side along your longitudinal axis. This is challenging in the beginning but will benefit you in the long run.

After a while, maintaining your balance as you shift the position of your body in the water (“pressing your buoy”) becomes second nature and allows you to fully focus on the movements of the arms and legs instead.

Swimming Drill Video

The following video demonstrates Head-Lead Looking Down:

Swimming Drill Instructions

Begin this drill in the Sweet Spot position:

  • Float in a horizontal position, rolled about 45° away from the surface of the water; that is, halfway between fully on your back and fully on your side.
  • Keep your head facing upward, looking directly at the ceiling/sky.
  • Keep your arms by your sides.
  • Your top arm is partially or even completely above water.
  • Perform a relaxed flutter kick.

After spending a few moments in this position, do the following:

  • Swivel your head down so you are looking at the bottom of the pool.
  • Roll your body sideways until you are lying on your side at right angles to the surface of the water.
  • Your arms don’t move; your top arm should now be entirely above water.
  • Correct your balance if needed.

After spending a few moments in this position too, do the following:

  • Roll further in the same direction until you end up again in the Sweet Spot position, but on your other side.
  • Initiate the rotation from your core, not from your head. Your head just follows along with your body.
  • Roll your body like a log.
  • Your arms remain still.

Take a few moments to correct your balance and catch your breath in this position. Then repeat the same procedure to roll back to your other side, and so on.

Additional Tips

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

  • Try to finish your rotation directly in the Sweet Spot.
  • Maintain a streamlined position in the water:
    • Keep your head in line with your torso.
    • Keep your arms close to your sides.
    • Perform a compact flutter kick.
  • You will need good breath control as you roll your body in the water. To avoid getting water up your nose, exhale as soon as your face is under the water, or use a nose clip.

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 3rd of May 2018

Tried this, but could only rotate by turning the shoulders to initiate, which is clearly wrong.

Any pointers you can give me?


Friday 4th of May 2018

Hi Lee,

Thinking about it, I initiate the roll by turning the head and the shoulders in the direction I want to roll to, and then kick in such a way to initiate the rolling of the rest of the body.

Hope this helps.


Wednesday 18th of April 2018

"Ensure," not "insure." Unless you are in the insurance business, you will rarely, if ever, need to use the word "insure."


Wednesday 18th of April 2018

Fixed. Thank you!

Bjørn Erik

Friday 28th of October 2016

Hi Christophe!

First of all, thank you so much for this page. It has helped me so much, and I've become very motivated to learn crawl.

I have a question related to the crawl drill named "Head-Lead Looking Down", It's going ok, except that I seem to meet a problem on the second to last point ("Still roll further in the same direction until you are back in the initial position but floating on the other side of your body.").

Now, when I am rolling around to the other side, my head is not easily getting above water. I have to contract my neck/upper body at least just a little bit. By contracting I mean that my neck gets a bit closer to my chest and my shoulders are pulled a bit together. I guess crunching could also be a describing word. It seems that I have to do this to get my head up and I tend to do this "automatically" without thinking much about it.

If I really try to keep my body straight, as I think is the goal, then my head and upper body actually stays under water when I get around. is this a common (or at all understandable) problem? Any advice to get my head above water?

I'm a tall guy (28 y, 1.91 m, 78 kg), don't know if that has any influence on this problem though.

Thank you very much!


Sunday 30th of October 2016

Hi Bjørn,

I did a bit of the "Head-Lead Looking Down" drill on Friday at my local pool. When I roll from side to side, my face always gets above water, but if I remember well, in the beginning I had to practice this a bit for it to become automatic. I also have to contract the neck a bit like you also do, but it is automatic and doesn't cause discomfort or disrupts my balance.

So I'd say that your observations are valid, and one needs to do a bit of a compromise and put the head a bit out of alignment from the spine to be able to breathe easily. But as long as it doesn't disrupt balance and/or cause discomfort in the neck you are fine.

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