Friday, February 24, 2012

To go fast: Don't look down!

Grant Hackett, Sun Yang, James Magnussen, Alain Bernard all look up when swimming freestyle. Don't look straight down when swimming freestyle for you will just be pushing more head and shoulders through the water. Ride high like a boat. Clay Evans taught me that.  Consequently, theories that state otherwise such as The Total Immersion theory founded by Terry Laughlin has no demonstrable winners in today's swimming.


TedBaker said...

The key isn't "look up" or "look down". The key is hold the head in a relaxed position. You don't want to get your head up because that will sink your hips.

The real key to swimming fast has nothing to do with head position and everything to do with keeping your hips high and your back flat.

Back in the day, we were taught to to look down the pool and keep your head up high so that the water broke across your forehead. Guys like Andy Coan - there's a name from the dark past - swam like that. There was a coach at the University of Tennessee that really promoted a very high head position... Forget his name.

Touretski and Popov changed everything. Watch Popov swim and you'll see that hips are very high and his back is flat. His head is neither high nor low; it's neutral and relaxed. Sun Yang has that same stroke and so does James Magnussen.

I agree with you and I think TI swimming is overrated but the key to the freestyle stroke is not the head position, it's the hips. If I'm watching a kid and he - or she - is struggling with their hips - they're too low and their legs are dragging - I'll get them to relax their neck and roll their head down. Usually helps get their hips up and helps them get their ams up and out.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tony,

I agree with you that no swimmer looks directly down. Also, there are no hard rules when it comes to technique. That's one of the things that makes swimming great--there is an art to it and since every swimmer is a different lenght, weight, shape, strength they need to tune their strokes for optimum efficiency.

However, there are a couple of fine points that I want to make.

1) These elite swimmers have lower head position than most really good swimmers.

2) Sprinters generally have lower head position than distance swimmers.

Both of these, I think, are consequences of the fact that it is not possible to look directly down while swimming just like it is not possible to prevent lifting your head (to some small degree at least) when breathing.

As for (1), most good swimmers have too high a head position and the tradeoff is that their feet sink (like lift of an airfoil). I tell some swimmers to look directly down and explain that if they meet me half way, then they will be much higher overall in the water and faster for it.

And for (2), I think that distance swimmers have a slightly higher head position than sprinters because it is optimal for them. They breath much more often and a higher head position limits head bobbing. Since bobbing the head is worse than a tiny bit of extra drag, this strategy pays off with distance.

Tony Austin said...

I think you're right but when I sprint I go faster when I don't relax my head.

TedBaker said...

"Relax" is probably the wrong word. Move your head to a more neutral position is a better way of putting it.

With your head "up", your craning your neck - it's standing in the street and looking up a skyscraper - and arching your back. Puts tension in your upper back and restricts the movement of your shoulders.

Roll your head forward and it takes the tension out your upper back and it frees up shoulder rotation. Plus, it takes the arch out of your back and you can flatten your hips.

When I watch guys like Sun Yang and Cochran and even sprinters like Ceilo and Bernard, what I notice - as compared to my day - is the flat back, high hips and the fact that the water line on their head is near the top, about an 2 - 3cm above their forehead. That is a dramatically lower head position than 20+ years ago.

It's faster and easier, too. I've messed around with it and I can feel it.

Anonymous said...

Yet Terry Laughlin loves to claim that Sun Yang somehow validates TI.

junker23 said...

Now I don't know what to do.

Anonymous said...

I think the generally practiced method at the elite level is to have the hairline at water level, which usually corresponds to eyeline at 45 degrees or so, not strictly "look up" or "look down".

Glenn said...

Sorry to chime in again... but this was posted nearly 3 years ago. Something we've been experimenting with for a long time as well. No easy answer, but it's really the difference between body position and the ability to catch early. Just easier to get an early catch with the head up a bit.

Tony Austin said...

That's what I like about GoSwim is that it is not dogmatic. Ironic since I am evangelizing head-up position "only" - but the truth as you state is that "your milage may vary" and freestyle is exactly that, a freestyle stroke - any goes as long as it works with Janet Evans as an example.

libor said...

You can't put a stamp on such an absolute statement to swim with head up. Each individual has different body shape, so what works for one, might not work for another. Check this video of Sun , you will see that at some points of his swim his head is entirely under the surface (reducing wave drag). So the video you are showing, could also be just an over excitement before he settled into his pace :).

Fray Mollo said...


I couldn't resist posting this for your amusement. Terry Laughlin seems to parody himself. Just read his answer:

I don't know if Gary Hall Sr. is right or wrong, it doesn't matter. Besides, who does Terry Laughlin think he is? Sheakspeare?