Breathing on your side is very important when swimming freestyle. Get our tips for how to breathe easier in the water, and try this free drill workout to improve your technique.

Watch our video for tips and drills:

Listen to podcast:

This Workout of the Week is a 1,200 yard session I completed with the MySwimPro app on the Apple Watch. In the video above I’ll overview the workout strategy and walk you through a set-by-set analysis of all the data captured in this MySwimPro workout!

How To Breathe On Your Side:

When swimming freestyle, it is important to learn Bilateral Breathing. This means breathing on both your left and right sides between strokes. You should not breathe by lifting your head up and facing forward.

Try to swim freestyle by looking down at the bottom of the pool with your neck straight. Do not tuck your chin down.

As you swim, your body will rotate by leading with your hips, and your upper body will extend as you reach for your stroke.

We suggest taking a breath after every 3rd stroke. So after 3 strokes (left, right, left) you are going to rotate your body to the side, with your leading arm still extended forward.

As you rotate your hips, your chest will open – try to focus on keeping your head flat, and in-line with the surface of the water.

Open your mouth to breathe, and try to keep one eye underwater. You might have to purse your lips so you do not swallow water while breathing with half your face underwater.

Related: How To Swim Freestyle With Perfect Technique

When Do I Breathe?

Every swimmer is different. Some swimmers feel more comfortable breathing every other stroke, while others swim 3-5 strokes between breaths. We suggest breathing after every 3 strokes.

It is important to keep a streamlined position on the surface of the water while breathing. If you are breathing too often, you might discover your body rotating too much and breaking that perfect streamline.

For more intermediate to advanced swimmers, focus on closed starts and turns:

Pushing off the wall:

  • Push off the wall underwater in a perfect streamline
  • When reaching the surface of the water, take 1-3 strokes with your head down
  • Try not to take a breath until you reach the backstroke flags (typically 15 feet)
  • If you breathe right after pushing off the wall, you will slow down and lose all your momentum

Related: How To Improve Your Underwater Dolphin Kick

Approaching the wall for a flip turn:

  • Approach the backstroke flags (last 15 feet of the lane) with your head down swimming freestyle
  • Take a breath, and allow yourself enough space to swim 1-3 strokes head down before your flip turn
  • Practice your timing, and learn how to take a deep breath 1-2 strokes before your flip turn
  • If you lift your head up or breathe on your side immediately before a flip turn, you are going to slow down and lose your
  • momentum

Related: How To Do a Freestyle Flip Turn

1 Stroke – 6 Kicks Drill:

Try this free drill! Take one full stroke. Then rotate your body by leading with your hips, but keep your head facing the bottom of the water. Kick 6 times with your leading arm extended forward. Then take a breath!

Repeat on the other side. Continue alternating sides with 6 kicks, 1 stroke for the entire drill.


Paddle Drill:

Grab a paddle and remove the straps. Place the paddle on the front of your forehead. The paddle will stay in place as you move through the water, the momentum will push it against your head.

This drill is a great way to practice keeping your head still, and focusing on looking at the bottom of the pool as you swim.

Try to keep the paddle in place as you rotate your head side to side to breathe between strokes.


Try This Free Workout:

  • Distance: 2,300 Yards
  • Duration: 33 Minutes
  • Focus: Learning how to breathe on your side

Equipment is optional! Paddles and fins are recommended.

How to get this workout – open the MySwimPro app to manually create a new custom workout. Type in the sets and intervals and then log it for free!

Warm-Up:

  • 1 x 200 Freestyle
  • 4 x 50 Kick
  • 4 x 25 Drill (6-kick switch)

Drill Set (2x times):

  • 2 x 25 Drill (Paddle on head)
  • 1 x 100 Freestyle (Bilateral breathing)

Main Set:

  • 4 x 50 Freestyle (Descend 1-4 with fins)

Cool Down:

  • 200 Freestyle

Keep in mind, these intervals are the ones I wrote for myself in the MySwimPro app. You can personalize every part of this workout to be more specific to your speed, goals and duration of workout you desire.

It doesn’t change the effect of the set at all, if anything – the opposite! The workout becomes more personalized and you get more out of the session!

For more swimming tips, drills, and workouts, download the MySwimPro app! Now available on iPhone, Android, and most smartwatches. Get your free 7-day trial of ELITE here.

2 thoughts on “How To Breathe When Swimming Freestyle

  1. Hi ! Thanks for the tips! I would really appreciate if you’re would also write the distances in meters or specify in the training set if you mean meters or yards… sorry if i missed this in the text. Kind regards by swimmer from Switzerland

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