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Fix Late Breathing in Freestyle

posted Apr 28, 2014, 12:06 PM by Pat Windschitl   [ updated May 6, 2014, 10:48 AM ]

This article is by Russell Mark and Scott Colby, part of the USA Swimming Consultant Team.

Good breath timing. For two-time Olympian Chloe Sutton (@csutswim), returning the head quickly from the breath is a focus for her freestyle technique. 

Breathing too late in freestyle is one of the most common and problematic issues in all of swimming. If you have no idea what it means to breathe late, then you’re probably guilty of it, too. A late breath is what’s natural and easiest, and you have to TRY in order to have good breath timing. 
A late breath can cause a domino effect of problems. It can disrupt the rhythm of your stroke, cause you to rotate too much onto one side, weaken the catch of your non-breathing side, make your kick too wide or pause … or all of the above! 
So what’s the problem and how do we fix it?? 

Late Breath = Most people turn the head to breathe at the same time as the body rotation. The head starts to turn to breathe after the opposite arm enters the water. The head returns from the breath when the breathing arm passes in front of the face. 

Good Breath

  • The head turns independently of the body rotation
  • The head starts to turn to breathe before the opposite arm enters the water *
  • The head returns from the breath before the breathing arm passes in front of the face
  • Snap the head back in line from the breath. This is a conscious movement!
  • A great cue is to try and look at the hand of the non-breathing arm during the catch, not after!

* For distance swimmers or swimmers with slower tempos, starting the breath earlier is not as important. Bringing the head back quickly, however, is still critically important.


In addition to understanding what a good breath should be, here are some drills that can also help: 

Video #2: Quick breath while kicking – While not kicking on your side, but also not kicking on your stomach, turn the head to breath and then bring it back in line. The body should not be rotating with the head turning. 



Video #3: Quick breath every 2 strokes while kicking – Take the above drill a step further and add 2 strokes between each breath. Return the head in line and kick a few times before starting the non-breathing arm stroke. Make sure to maintain a steady kick during the breath and arm strokes. 



Video #4: Quick breath while kicking (8 & under swimmer) – Same drill as Video #2, just with a much younger swimmer. 

 * Big thanks to our friends at Cheyenne Mountain Aquatics for demonstrating these drills.