Zero Head Lift, Risky Breathing, Red Dot

All three of these are really just different ways to think about, and accomplish, the same thing - staying balanced while getting a breath. Whichever link brought you here, read all 3 items below...

Zero Head Lift Focus

Instinct does not necessarily serve us well in swimming. If we should fall in the river, instinct says, "Get head above water, get vertical and get out!" - basic survival instincts. Despite much progress since caveman days in the area of aquatic ambulation, for most swimmers the instinctive need to lift the head, if only a wee bit, to breathe still remains.

Problem: A swimmer moving in a horizontal, longitudinally balanced position has minimum form drag. If then, to take a breath, he lifts his head even a little bit, the hips and legs sink – maybe a little, maybe a lot. In fact, a 2-inch vertical lift of the head can cause a four to six inch drop of the hips, which shows up as an 8 to 12 inch drop of the feet. This is enough to nearly double total form drag. The typical response to this is to use extra kick to support hips and legs near the surface. But this wastes energy — a lot of energy.

Solution: Instead of lifting your head to breathe, let your head rotate with your body in order to bring your blowhole to the air. Notice where your nose is pointed while you are sucking in air - if it is pointed predominantly toward the side wall then you have either lifted your head to breathe OR you simply carry your head too high all the time! If you tend to swim with little or no core body rotation you’ll find that rolling more with each stroke will allow you to rotate your head to where your eyes, nose and blowhole are in the air - way better than lifting your head to get air.

Risky Breathing Focus

The uneducated swimmer, to take a breath, lifts his head to a position where he is absolutely sure he’ll get nothing but air, with no risk of water being part of the mix. As indicated above, this can be a huge problem. The words “with no risk of water being part of the mix” hint at the solution.

You must get “risky” about how deep you keep your head when going for air. Risky enough for there to be a possibility of taking on some water – hint: if you never ever take on water then you are not being risky enough. Consciously and consistently seek deeper head positions for grabbing air.

Don't mis-construe this to mean, "Turn your head as little as possible." In fact, we want just the opposite. Rotate your head far enough that your nose is pointed more skyward than sideward. The closer you come to a nose-straight-up position, the deeper your head can be and still get air. Most people, swimming at moderate paces, need to rotate far enough to have the nose pointed at least 45 degrees toward nose up (at least half way between nose pointed at the side wall and nose pointed straight up) in order to get a zero-head-lift breath.

If you create a habit of going for a “risky” deep head position every time you breathe, you will decrease the amount of energy you waste in extra “support” kicking or in extra stroking effort to overcome unnecessarily added form drag. 

Red Dot Focus

In many drills, and in freestyle swimming, it can be helpful to imagine a two-inch red dot in the center of the top of your head that you keep underwater at all times. A person underwater watching you approach should not be able to see that red dot move up or down or side to side as your body rotates or you take strokes. They would simply see it rotate as you turn your head to breathe. This focus point requires you to be aware of:

  • horizontal and vertical motions of the entire upper body, generally introduced by poor posture or incorrect arm motions
  • horizontal and vertical motions of the head - combines the three head related ideas we harp on incessantly:
    • the neck and core tension of tight-line aquatic posture,
    • keeping your nose pointed straight down at the bottom of the pool when not breathing (see the hairballs and bandaids directly under your head, not the ones you are going to swim over in a few seconds) and
    • the zero-head-lift of risky breathing.

Regardless of which of these focus points you use, your goal is zero head lift, zero torso lift and zero extra energy consumption. You’ll swim faster, use less energy and look more like a real swimmer.

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