Breathing in Freestyle – TSC Podcast #1

Posted admin Podcasts
The 5 Challenges to Breathing in Freestyle


Greetings, today is Tuesday, Feb 17 and this is the first edition of the Tri Swim Coach podcast. I hope to do many more of these and it looks like we’re gonna start doing the weekly and then we’ll go from there and hopefully have some really good information and some interviews coming up and a whole lot of things having to do not with just swimming but with the whole sport of triathlon. So it should be exciting stuff and i hope everyone is subscribing and following along.

So today’s topic is going to be my favorite and everyone’s most commonly asked question, it seems, is how to master the top 5 challenges to breathing in freestyle swimming. The most common question I hear in the triathlon world about the mysteries of swimming efficiently usually involves something to do with breathing. In freestyle, it is the first step to get your body position right, then for many, you throw in breathing, and everything goes haywire. This has to do with lack of balance, using your head instead of your core to breathe, and a few other factors.

Here’s 5 challenges in learning how to breathe in freestyle, along with the remedies on how to get over these. And this is stuff I teach on a fairly regular basis, and it’s almost everybody who has this, so if you do have any problems or challenges with breathing, you’re not alone.

The number one is not getting enough air. There are a couple of reasons this typically happens with freestyle. First, you must breathe all of your air out before you rotate to take a breath. When learning, some people try to exhale and inhale, while they are rolling to the side for air. There is simply not enough time for this. Your exhalations should only be in the water, in the form of bubbles. At first, the timing may seem difficult, but eventually, you will get used to it. Second, you may be sinking as you breathe. Make sure you are rolling to the side to breathe, and not rotating your head and looking straight up. Practicing the side kicking and shark fin drills as discussed in The Complete Guide to Triathlon Swimming as well as The Essential Triathlon Swimming DVD (both available on You can also get this on the introductory 4 session online clinic you get when you sign up for the Tri Swim Coach newsletter.

The number two challenge is extended arm sinks while taking a breath. This is mainly a balance issue. When you breathe to one side, your other arm should be extending. For many swimmers, this extended arm pushes down into the water, elbow drops, and they are sinking while trying to inhale. The side kicking and shark fin drills, again, will also help to improve this. Another drill also discussed in the materials that will help this challenge is the fist drill. This forces you to not use your hands, and therefore improves your balance in the water.

The number three challenge is speed is sacrificed because of a pause while breathing. A typical scenario is that you feel like you’re cruising along just fine, and then you take a breath, and it feels like you just lost all of your momentum. To remedy this, when you breathe, concentrate first on breathing to the side, as in the first challenge, which is not getting enough air. Then, on having your mouth parallel to the water, instead of over the water.

The number four challenge is difficulty breathing while navigating in a race. You need to look up to see where you’re going, and at the same time, grab a breath. How can you do both? Start with bilateral breathing – breathing on both sides, every three strokes. This will help you to see about where you are, without lifting your head up as much. When you need to lift your head to sight, try not to look straight ahead. This will make your hips sink and throw you off balance. Instead, take a quick peek at your target, roll to your side to breathe, and bring your head back down into position.

The number five challenge is sucking in water while taking a breath. In practice, this will sometimes occur because of the first two challenges above (not getting enough air, your extended arm is sinking while you’re taking a breath). In a race, the waves may cause the inhalation of water instead of air. Bilateral breathing will help here, as well. The drills to practice to improve balance, and to avoid this unpleasant occurrence are the side kicking and shark fin drills, as well as the one arm drill. To perform the one arm drill, swim a full stroke with one arm while your other arm rests at your side. Breathe on the opposite side of the stroking arm. This is a difficult drill and takes some practice, but it will pay off.

Well that wraps up the five challenges to breathing in freestyle, as well as our show for today.

For more information on triathlon swimming and on the products that I mentioned, The Complete Guide to Triathlon Swimming and The Essential Triathlon Swimming DVD, just go to

Thanks for listening, and we’ll talk to you soon.