The number one question I get in my coaching sessions is “How can I make my breathing easier?”. First off, if you haven’t read my earlier post, “The Air We Breathe”, check it out here. Once you understand how to breathe easier, you can then start to incorporate steps to make the technique calmer and smoother.
This post is going to concentrate on the breathing experience of the freestyle stroke.
To improve your freestyle breath, you must first look at your body position. You need to have a good horizontal position in the water to make your breath easy, calm, and controlled. If you are not swimming horizontally (your legs sink or your midsection is dipping), first address this issue and then move onto breathing. For the sake of this post, I’m going to assume you have a good horizontal position. (If you don’t, stay tuned for more on this topic.)
The first drill we are going to do is the side swimming drill. Please note, this is not sidestroke so don’t confuse the two. Side swimming is swimming on your side with the arm that’s in the water (bottom arm) extended to the front and pointing to your destination (usually the other side of the pool), your head resting on your extended arm, eyes looking across the water (not up at the sky), the top arm is down to your side, and the legs doing a flutter kick (the kick we use in freestyle). As you are swimming, be sure to engage the core and stretch tall all the way from the finger tips of the extended arm to the toes. Start on your strong side (usually the side you write with) and try to do a lap on your strong side. As you swim, feel what your strong side feels like. If your kick is weak, you can use fins for this drill. Once you can do a complete lap on your strong side, work up to a lap of side swimming on your other side keeping in mind what your strong side felt like.
Add a roll to your stomach. Once you achieve your side swimming, you can add on.Start with your side swim on your strong side, take a good breath in through your mouth, and then roll onto your stomach. Hold this position on your stomach for a couple of seconds and then roll back to your starting side. Make sure you get your strong side swimming position back and take a controlled breath then repeat the roll to the stomach. Keep repeating this sequence until you reach the other end of the pool. Once you get this sequence feeling comfortable on your strong side, move to your other side. It’s very important to make sure as you roll that you are initiating the roll with your core and your hips. Do not get into the bad habit of using your shoulders, legs, or head to start your roll.
Under-switching. Now that you can control your roll from your side to your stomach and back again, let’s add on again. For this step, you’re going to start in your side swimming position on your strong side, roll to your stomach and then complete a pull sequence, so you are switching lead arms, while your arms and your head stay in the water (this is called under-switching because you are switching the lead arm while the arms remain in the water). Now your opposite arm should be in front. At this point, you are going to want to jump ahead and take a breath on the opposite side but resist that urge and under-switch back to the first side to take your breath. Once you are comfortable here, start on your weaker side and repeat the process.
Additional breath. After you’ve mastered the under-switching step, repeat the step but take your breath on the opposite side you started on. So, you’re going to side swim, roll to your front, under-switch, and then breathe. For swimmers who are looking to begin bilateral breathing, this is a perfect sequence to practice. Once you’ve mastered the first side, start on your opposite side. When you’ve mastered the second side, you will be able to achieve bilateral breathing much easier.
Regular recovery arms. Finally, we are going to repeat the additional breath step with the recovery arm coming above the water instead of under-switching. Once again, make sure you start on your strong side and then move onto your other side. It’s important to actively feel and pay attention to what the strong side feels like before you try the weaker side. When you switch to your second side, try to make it feel like your stronger side.
If you run into trouble with any of these steps, remember the following:
* the breath is the most important part,
* stretch tall from the fingertips to the toes,
* rotate with the core and the hips,
* break it down and don’t rush the process,
* four great 25 yard swims are much better than a crappy 100 yard swim.
I welcome your comments and suggestions.