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

Head-Lead Looking Down is the next one in our series of drills to learn swimming the front crawl / freestyle stroke.

Now you try to maintain horizontal balance while rolling from side to side under water.

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

This is an advanced balance drill. Once you have mastered it, you’ll have all the balance you ever need for swimming front crawl (and even backstroke).

Video Demonstration

Below, you can see a demonstration of the head-lead looking down drill:

Drill Instructions

The starting position is the same one as in the previous Head-Lead Side Balance and Head-Lead Nose Up / Nose Down drills (Sweet Spot):

  • Your body is rolled on the side, at a 45° angle from a flat position.
  • Your face is turned upward.
  • Your arms are kept at the sides.
  • You use a supple flutter kick for propulsion.

When you are balanced, do the following:

  • Roll your body further until it is at a 90° angle with the water surface and your face is turned downward.
  • Continue to flutter kick.

Take a few moments to ensure that you are still balanced, then do the following:

  • Roll further in the same direction until you are back in the initial position but floating on the other side of your body.
  • Roll your body as a unit, don’t anticipate the rotation with your head.

Take a few moments to find your balance, and take a few breaths. Then roll back towards the first side using the same technique, and so on.

Additional Tips

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

  • Don’t use your arms or your hands to initiate the rotation but instead use your kick.
  • Don’t hold your breath while the head is submerged, exhale continuously through your nose and/or your mouth. A nose clip can help by keeping water out of the nose.
  • Try to directly dial into the initial position as you roll towards it from the nose down position.

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.