Freestyle Swimming Breathing Techniques


The freestyle stroke, or the front crawl, is the most common swimming technique. When using this technique, the swimmer keeps his/her head down in the water and alternately reaches forward with the arms while propelling the body with small flutter kicks. When getting started with the front crawl technique, most swimming beginners struggle with freestyle breathing.

Failing to master the right freestyle swimming breathing technique can affect the swimmer’s stamina, speed, and even the ability to see where he/she is going. In extreme cases, it can result in cramped, tense muscles, and even injury.

Taking the time to learn how to use the right freestyle swimming breathing technique is vital. In this article, we will help you understand the right freestyle breathing technique.

Basics of Freestyle Stroke Breathing

We will get into the specifics of proper freestyle breathing in the sections that follow. However, before we get into the specifics, we need to make sure that you are familiar with the basics. Before following the steps below, you may want to put on your swim cap and grab your swimming goggles.

Start with the body parallel to the swimming pool bottom. Try to stay as high as possible in the water throughout the stroke.

While keeping your toes pointed and the legs lose but straight, kick your feet up and down.

Alternate rotating both arms in the windmill motion – when one arm is extended, the other should be back by your side.

While pulling the extended arm back in the water, focus on curving it toward your stomach and aiming it out by the hip as it exits the water.

On every 3rd stroke, inhale by turning your head to the same side as your arm that is coming out of the water.

While the above steps do sound easy enough, getting everything right may take a little finesse. Below, we will look at the common mistakes most swimmers make with their front crawl breathing and how to fix them.

Common Freestyle Breathing Problems and Their Solutions

1. Not Getting Enough Air

Solution: In addition to exhaling fully before you rotate up to take your next breath, ensure that you are not holding your breath. Also, you want to ensure that you breathe in as early as you can to get enough air.

2. Losing Momentum

Solution: If you end up decelerating every time you inhale, focus on breathing with the mouth parallel to the water, rather than above the water.

3. Jerking the Head Around

Solution: When you are not breathing, you will need to ensure that your head stays stationary. Try to look at a fixed point along the bottom of your above ground pool, only rolling the head to inhale every third stroke.

When swimming, you create the bow wave with your body and head. Experienced swimmers will breathe using the wave, barely turning the head at all to breathe in. You may also need to focus on improving your body rotation – if you are rotating properly, you will need to tilt your head very slightly to inhale.

4. Taking in Water

Solution: If you take in water instead of air, consider trying bilateral breathing (details in the next section). You can also try to improve your balance using the one-arm drill – in this drill, you use one arm to swim and focus on breathing on the opposite side of your stroking arm.

Bilateral Breathing


You must understand how to use the right freestyle swimming breathing technique on alternate sides. This bilateral breathing – exhaling and inhaling, in turn, on both your left and right sides – is the preferred method for most swimmers. The reason why experienced swimmers use the technique after putting on their swim caps and swimming earplugs is the symmetry it offers.

Breathing in one side can make your freestyle stroke lopsided – you will end up not swimming in a straight line. The repetitiveness could also mess with body rotation and can cause shoulder injury and pain.

Breathing bilaterally does not necessarily mean that you need to switch sides each time you come up for air. It could mean swimming a whole lap while breathing on one side and then breathing on the other side on your next lap. The key is ensuring that you maintain balance.

Below, we have some tips to help you perfect your bilateral freestyle swimming breathing technique:

1. Exhale Fully Whenever the Face is in the Water

Holding your breath even a little can make you tense up. Also, it can cause the sensation that you are not getting enough oxygen. Instead of struggling with a carbon dioxide build-up in the lungs, breathe out fully whenever you have your face in the water.

If you are struggling with exhaling fully when your face is in the water, you can use the sinking exercise to improve yourself. Consider donning your swim trunks, heading to the deep end of the pool, and treading water. Take a deep breath and allow yourself to sink. As soon as your head gets underwater, start exhaling smoothly and forcefully.

The goal is to sink to the bottom of your pool while exhaling. Stay at the bottom of the pool until you need to push off the pool bottom and come up.

2. Coordinate the Strokes with Breathing

You can easily improve your coordination using this simple drill: While standing in the shallow end of the pool with the head in the water, take a couple of stationary strokes, using both arms and repeating the bubble, bubble, breathe on the left side; bubble, bubble, breathe on the right side.

3. Rotate Your Body Properly

Rotating your body properly can help you breathe more effortlessly and efficiently. When swimming, consider imagining that you are breathing through the navel, so that with every breath, you roll the entire body – not just the head – up toward the sky. As you do this, focus on ensuring that everything from the head to the tip of the toes stays in ideal alignment.


Q: How Often Should You Breathe When Swimming the Freestyle Stroke?

A: When using the freestyle swimming technique, you can breathe in conjunction with the arm that is pulling down. What this means is that as your opposing arm is about halfway through recovery, the head will start rotating toward the pulling arm. The inhale will occur at the maximum head rotation point. Or in simpler terms, when your head turns to the side and you achieve the “one goggle out and one goggle in” position, you inhale.

According to swimming experts, however, breathing every 3 strokes is extremely effective. On your third stroke, breath in as you normally would. Then, as you put your face back in the water, start breathing out slowly. 70% of the exhale should be through your mouth while 30% should be through your nose. If, however, you are wearing tight nose clips, you can do 100% of the exhale through your mouth.

By using the above strategy, you will inhale the much-needed oxygen and then slowly exhale the carbon dioxide while swimming. When done correctly, the strategy can help extend the time between inhales and also help you avoid holding your breath.

Q: Should You Breathe Every Stroke in Freestyle?

A: In freestyle swimming, you do not have to breathe every stroke. As noted above, experts recommend breathing every 3 strokes.

This, however, does vary depending on the swimmer. Some elite swimmers breathe every 2 strokes from the 100 meters freestyle and up. If breathing more frequently does not affect your freestyle swimming speed, you can always reduce the number of strokes you put in between your inhales.

Q: How Do You Swim Freestyle Without Running Out of Breath?

A: Breathing sets the rhythm for your freestyle stroke. Keeping it consistent and relaxed should help you enjoy the whole swimming experience without running out of breath.

The trick is to simply inhale through your mouth when your head is to the side and then breathe out (through your mouth and nose) when the face is in the water. Breath out slowly and steadily and then turn your head to take your next breath.

It does not matter whether you breathe bilaterally (on both sides) or on one side. The most important thing is to ensure that you stick to a regular rhythm and take in as much air as you need. Breathing between 2 to 3 strokes is usually about right for most swimmers.

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A good freestyle swimming breathing technique delivers oxygen to the muscles and helps you swim more efficiently and comfortably. The more efficient the freestyle breathing, the less impact it will have on your stroke.

In this article, we have focused on showing you the right way to breathe when swimming freestyle. Putting the tips in this article into practice should help you become a better freestyle swimmer.

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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!