Decreasing Frontal Drag with Better Head Position


Posted by Coach John Murray

To decrease frontal drag and increase efficiency we can hone in on the attribute of keeping the head aligned. Here’s an example triathlete swim training session to target that. Some swimmers will unknowingly move the head (or even the shoulders and head) while breathing and moving their arms. Exposing that flaw with drills can begin the process of eliminating that extra and harmful movement.


1 x 400 Easy warm-up mix
Drill work w/ head alignment focus
6 x 50 (25 3-count pause drill, 25 1-count pause drill) use fins & snorkel
1 x 400 “Paddle Push”
Main Set
30 x 50 swim (2 easy, 1 hard) 
*Interval = Add 5-10 seconds to the easy 50 time, i.e. “30 x 50 swim on 1:00”
Easy Recovery/more alignment-focused swimming
1 x  400 swim w/ snorkel
Total = 3000


The first drill (3-count pause, 1-count pause) allows the swimmer to stop their arms in the streamlined position after each half stroke. With one arm out in front and one arm by the side the goal is to keep the head looking straight to the bottom, despite the fact that the hips and shoulders are rotating on the long axis. The snorkel is helpful, as the head does not have to turn for the breath.  The fins can help with propulsion during the longer pause.


The second drill (paddle push) is a fun drill that involves keeping the paddle resting on the crown of your head while you swim freestyle.  If you keep your head aligned, even when breathing, the paddle will stay in place. Any lateral or vertical movement will cause the paddle to shift, and then slide off. Be patient when first starting this drill as it may take several passes to figure out the technique. Grab the paddle at the end of each length and then place it back on your head as you push off.




The Main Set is another focus on pacing as well as a determiner of swimming fitness. The interval selection is key here.  The more fit the swimmer, the tighter the interval can be, let’s say add 5 seconds to the easy 50 time. For our newer folks I might suggest adding 15 seconds to the easy 50 time. Once your interval is known, for example 1 minute, it stays 1 minute for the entire 30 swims. You will get much more rest on the harder ones, but you will need it! Try to stay consistent with your times throughout the entire set.


The final set combines a bit more alignment focus with your always-needed recovery. This is just a few hundred yards/meters of easy, continuous snorkel swimming with your focus on keeping that snorkel straight up and down.


In most cases, triathletes are looking for the most efficient way to perform their swim. Head and spine alignment can be one of the best ways to decrease your swimming workload and make for a better bike, run and total race performance.


~ Coach John

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