Mastering breathing to the side in freestyle can be a challenge, and it’s easy to fall into bad habits that can slow you down significantly.
If you’re having trouble breathing in freestyle, you’ve come to the right place! We’re sharing 5 ways to improve your breathing so you can swim faster and more efficiently.
Why You Should Breathe to the Side
It’s common for beginner swimmers to lift their heads forward when they breathe. This may feel more natural to you at first, but it’s incredibly inefficient and will tire you out very quickly.
Related: The 5 Most Common Freestyle Mistakes
Instead, breathe to the side! It’s super beneficial to your stroke:
- Reduces Drag: Lifting your head causes your hips to drop, which creates more resistance for you to work against. Breathing to the side keeps your hips higher!
- Maintains Rotational Momentum: During freestyle, you rotate side to side. If your rotation is on point, breathing to the side should feel pretty natural — all you have to do is turn your head slightly!
- More Efficient: Breathing to the side allows you to swim faster without expending a ton of energy.
If you’ve gone to the pool or watched swimming on TV, many athletes make breathing to the side look so effortless. Keep practicing and working on technique, and you’ll be able to breathe effortlessly too!
5 Ways to Improve Your Breathing Technique
So now you know you should breathe to the side, but how do you learn to do it? Try these 5 drills!
1. Breathe at the Wall (Both Arms)
To start, practice breathing while holding onto the wall to get comfortable. Grab the wall with both hands, and either stand or float. Put your face in the water — try to keep half your head under the water, and the other half dry. Look straight down at the bottom of the pool.
Once you’re comfortable here, take one arm stroke, and turn your head to the side to take a breath. Repeat on both sides a few times, keeping one goggle beneath the water at all times. Try not to lift your head!
It’s common for many swimmers to feel like they’re going to inhale water when breathing to the side. But you won’t! Your forward momentum in the water will create an air pocket big enough for you to take a quick breath. You might have to contort your mouth just a little bit, but you won’t swallow water!
2. Single Arm Freestyle Drill
Once you’ve mastered breathing at the wall, let’s put things in motion! Grab a kickboard with your arms straight. Kick with your face in the water, looking straight down. Take an arm stroke and breathe to the side, returning your hand to the kickboard and repeating on the other side.
Make sure you don’t over-rotate here. Remember: 1 goggle in the water at all times!
3. Breathe at the Wall (Single Arm)
Now, we’re going to build on the first wall drill. Press one hand into the wall, and float your body horizontally. Keep the other hand at your side. Kick with your legs, and rotate to the side to breathe. After a few repetitions, switch out your hands and breathe to the other side.
Take your time with this. It’s all about finding comfort with this breathing pattern!
4. 6-Kick Switch Drill
6-kick switch drill is great for practicing rotation and breathing. Starting on your side with the bottom arm extended straight and the top arm out of the water, take 6 kicks. Then take one stroke and switch to the other side.
When you’re on your side, you can focus on balancing and breathing to the side. When you’re not breathing, your eyes should be looking straight down at the bottom of the pool.
You can mix up this drill by swapping 6 kicks for 12 kicks, or doing 3 full strokes and 12 kicks.
5. Bilateral Breathing
Most swimmers prefer breathing on one side, but it helps to practice bilateral breathing: breathing on both sides. You can work on breathing on your non-dominant side by breathing every 3 strokes or 5 strokes during your warm up or during specific sets during your workouts.
It’s ok to favor one side over the other, but it will help you get more comfortable in the water if you practice on both sides!
Want more advanced drills to help with your breathing and overall stroke technique? Download the MySwimPro app! Start a free, 30-day trial of ELITE COACH to unlock all of our drill videos, workouts and technique tips.