Breathing and Swimming Drills for the Freestyle Stroke

Breathing and swimming issues are pretty common while learning the freestyle stroke. For example, you need to synchronize breathing with arm and leg movements, movements which themselves are asymmetrical. Add to this that you need to roll on your side to breathe, and you have a few reasons why breathing needs some time to master.

Close-up of a female swimmer breathing in the front crawl
Breathing in freestyle takes some practice.

That’s why progressive swimming drills like the ones given below can help you learn proper freestyle breathing technique.

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 with your chest and face 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. Repeat several times.

Drill #2: Is identical to 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 inhaling and start to exhale, turn your 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 make it easier to keep your legs up and to move forward. You’ll be able to focus on your breathing technique and to synchronize breathing with your arm stroke and body roll.

Drill #6: Is identical to 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 as 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 with swimming after several swim sessions, it might be that you are experiencing other issues in your swimming technique. If this is the case, I suggest that you practice our sequence of progressive drills for the freestyle stroke.

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