Breathing and Swimming Drills for the Freestyle Stroke

Breathing and swimming issues are pretty common while learning the freestyle stroke because in the beginning, it is difficult to coordinate the head, arm and body movements with breathing.

In the freestyle stroke, as is the case in most swimming strokes, breathing is a distinct technique that has to be mastered. Progressive swimming drills like the ones below can help you learn or improve the breathing technique used in freestyle.

Breathing and Swimming Drills

Drill #1: Stand in shallow water, so that you have water up to your waist. Bow down at the hip, so that you are still standing and your chest and face are horizontal and submerged. Keep your arms at your sides and exhale in the water. When you are done exhaling, turn your head to the left to inhale. When you are done inhaling, turn your head back down, and so on. Alternate the sides on which you inhale every time. Repeat this several times.

Drill #2: Is the same as drill #1, except that you add freestyle arm movements. Bow down, but this time extend both arms forward. Start to exhale in the water. When you turn your head sideways to inhale, start to sweep your arm backward on the breathing side, like you would do while swimming freestyle. When you are done with inhaling and start to exhale, turn you head downward and recover the active arm forward. Alternate breathing sides like you did in the previous drill.

Drill #3: Put on swim fins, take a kickboard and hold it at arms' length. Push off, so that you are floating in a prone position, with your face submerged and turned downward. Kick gently with your fins and exhale in the water. Rotate your head and body sideways to breathe in. Then roll downward again to exhale. Change the breathing side every time.

Drill #4: Try to do the same as drill #3, but without a kickboard held in front of you. If this is easy, you can move on to the next drill. If this is difficult, you might have to improve your balance in the water first.

Drill #5: Try to swim the full freestyle stroke with fins on, and breathe on the same side for the whole length. Then change the breathing side with the next length, and so on. The swim fins will help you to keep your legs up and to move forward. It will then be easier for you to focus on your breathing technique and to synchronize it with your arm stroke and body roll.

Drill #6: Is the same as drill #5, except that you now alternate breathing sides. To do so, you only inhale every third arm stroke and not every second arm stroke like you did in the previous drill. This ingrains the habit of bilateral breathing, which is important to get a balanced and symmetrical swim stroke.

Swim Freestyle: Remove your swim fins and try to swim freestyle. If it is still difficult for you to coordinate breathing and swimming after several swim sessions, it might be that you are experiencing other issues in your swimming technique and that you need to build up your freestyle stroke from scratch.


You should now have learned basic breathing and swimming coordination in the freestyle swim stroke.


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