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Freestyle stroke (front crawl) is one of the most popular of swimming strokes but also one of the most difficult to master. The most common problem with freestyle stroke is inefficient breathing technique which can lead to problems such as poor body position, scissor kicks and asymmetrical strokes. Here are seven tips to ensure you breathe effectively during freestyle stroke:
1. Exhale strongly with your head in the water between breaths
Beginners often struggle with breathing because they hold their breath while their face is under water. This means that when a breath needs to be taken it involves a rushed exhalation and inhalation which is very inefficient. By exhaling under water, more time can be taken to inhale when the time comes to breathe. This will help you to relax and also improve your ability to employ bilateral breathing.
2. Keep your head still when you’re not breathing
Rolling your head around in the water affects body position and co-ordination, leading to inefficiency. Try to fix your head in one position as you swim; it may help to focus on one point at the bottom of the pool as you swim in order to maintain head position. A good tip is to practise this by hanging on to the side of the pool while you immerse your head and kick your legs. Get into the habit of looking at one point directly below while you kick and only move your head when it’s time to breathe.
3. Breathe into your own bow wave
As you swim through water, your body naturally creates a ‘bow wave’ similar to that of a boat. This means that the water level next to your face is lower than the surrounding water, effectively creating a breathing space or pocket of air. More advanced swimmers take advantage of this effect by simply rotating their head into the air pocket when it’s time to breathe; any unnecessary lifting of the head or other inefficient practice is thereby avoided. This technique requires time and practice to accomplish but is worth persevering with as the payback will be a dramatic improvement in performance.
4. Don’t lift your head out of the water
Your body acts like a see-saw in water with your legs coming down as your head is raised. This increases drag and reduces the efficiency at which you move through the water; you’ll work harder and tire more easily if you continually lift your head to breathe. Lifting your head out of the water also disturbs the bow wave, making it more difficult to get a clear breath of air.
Rotating your head and breathing into the air pocket created by your bow wave helps to avoid this problem. Your head will stay in the water while your body maintains a streamlined horizontal position, helping you move through water cleanly and without undue effort.
5. Don’t rotate your head too far
This is a similar problem to lifting your head out of the water. Over rotation of your head when breathing leads to a loss of balance and can result in crossing over with your lead hand as your body tries to support itself in the water. This in turn causes the body to take on a curved shape that results in zigzagging down the pool as you swim. You may also experience a stiff or sore neck, as excess rotation puts your muscles under considerable strain.
To correct this problem, you will need to practise breathing into the trough of your bow wave. This takes time to develop, along with the confidence that an air pocket will be there when you go to breathe. A useful tip is to keep one eye in the water as you go to breathe, ensuring that your head does not rotate too far. Alternatively you could ask a friend to walk beside you alongside the pool as you swim, keeping their feet level with your head; as you take each breath you should try to look at their feet square on.
6. Make sure you have good body rotation
Body rotation is a big help to breathing because it reduces the amount of rotation required by your head. For efficient technique the torso, shoulders and hips should all roll together as one. Body rotation is also important because it allows you to reach further with each stroke, resulting in faster speeds with less effort.
7. Breathe bilaterally
Bilateral breathing means breathing on both sides as you swim. This can be varied (for example, alternate side breaths every three strokes or breathing twice to one side then twice to the other) according to your own personal preference. Breathing bilaterally will help your body maintain symmetry and move straighter through the water.