Front Crawl Breathing

Front crawl breathing is one of the most challenging swimming skills to master. Correct breathing technique is a hot topic for discussion as many breathing different styles work. Let’s start by watching the full stroke in action so we can see the importance of timing.

As with any new skill, watching the end result can be a bit overwhelming, especially for a beginner. We start by learning the breathing patterns first, before moving onto the full stroke later. Here’s how to get started on your way to mastering front crawl breathing.

1. Breathing in and out

The key to an effective front crawl breathing technique is pattern and repetition. This video demonstrates the best way to build confidence in the early stages with some simple breathing exercises.

Coaches Tip: “Stay relaxed and count as you exhale to help you concentrate on the timing in slow motion”

2. Timing

Combining both breathing and swimming elements can be challenging, there’s lots to think about. Using progressive drills allows for practice in slow motion, before speeding things when we move onto the full stroke.

Coaches Tip: “Stay relaxed whilst holding your breath for a count of 2, then slowly release roughly 20% of the oxygen throgh your nose, followed by 50% out of your mouth”

3. Head Position

Any movement from the head whilst swimming causes resistance, it’s vital to keep the head as still as possible unless turning to breathe. Head movement from side to side can cause the body to do a ‘snake-like’ action, which results in a loss of control and balance.

Coaches Tip: “Draw an imaginary black line on the bottom of the swimming pool floor and keep your eyes fixed on it. (If you’re lucky the pool will already have a black line down the middle) Return your eyes to the black line after every breath,  focus on a still head position”

4. Rotation

Rolling the head to breathe must be accompanied by a rotation from the body. Both head and body have to be in sync with one another to maintain a streamlined position and reduce the risk of shoulder injury.

Coaches Tip: “Be careful not to over-rotate, the goal is keeping everything aligned with minimum disruption to the natural flow of the stroke”

Common Mistakes

With so many things to remember there’s bound to be a few faults creeping in to your stroke, Don’t worry, mastering swimming is all about continuous improvement and stroke correction. Here’s a few things to keep your eye on as you aim to minimise resistance and increase propulsion.


Breathing Patters: Bi Lateral (both sides)

A bi-lateral breathing pattern is great for distance swimmers, triathletes and open water swimmers. In most cases its either 3 or 5 strokes per breath, alternating sides from left and right.


Breathing Patters: Unilateral (one side)

Unilateral breathing is great for speed over a short to middle distance. If you greatly favour one side and struggle on the other pick your most effective side and master it.



Coaches Tip: “Experiment with different breathing patterns, figure out the one that works for you. Time yourself over a specific distance and check your heart rate at the end of the swim. Fully recover then try again, this time with a different breathing pattern. Record your results, each time experimenting with a different pattern and logging your results on each swim. Evaluate your times and heart rate to examine the most efficient pattern. Your aim is to improve your speed and reduce your effort.”

Trickle Breathing

You’ve probably heard the term trickle breathing before, it’s the preferred choice for most front crawl swimmers. If you aim to cruise up and down the pool or swim long distances, learn effective trickle breathing to save energy and stay stronger for longer?

Coaches Tip: “Whilst swimming, turn your head to the side and take a deep breath in through your mouth. Hold your breath as your head returns into the water. Slowly let the air trickle out of your nose, followed by the remaining air out of your mouth, don’t force every last breath out there’s no need. Start the cycle again.

Explosive Breathing

If your goal is swimming at high speed or sprinting, this is the style for you. The aim is a to take a big deep breath and then hold for an extended period of time followed by a deep breath out, and repeat. Front crawl sprinters often use this style of breathing to maximise the amount of time their head is down (in a streamlined position). Explosive breathing is hypoxic in nature meaning without oxygen, which produces lactic acid and causes fatigue.

Coaches Tip: “Use explosive breathing to mix up your training, fast intervals or (sprints) work a different energy system that can shock the body into new areas of physical improvement”

Improving breath holding

By regularly practicing holding your breath for longer periods, your heart and lungs can start to work more effectively and aid your muscles ability to utilise oxygen when swimming. This can often be referred to as hypoxic training, which essentially means (without oxygen)

Coaches Tip: Be careful, holding your breath for long periods can build up c02 in your bloodstream. Set yourself a target, start with 10 seconds, take a deep breath in, submerge your head under the water. Slowly count to 10 whilst exhaling (repeat and improve)

Front Crawl Breathing for Beginners – Summary

Learning to breathe first, before trying to swim, is the most effective way to build confidence in the water. Get used to having your face in the water and exhaling properly, this will make swimming far easier later on.

Coaches Tip: “Take a deep breath and submerge your head under the water. Hold your breath for a count of 2 seconds to allow your body to utilise the oxygen, then slowly exhale through your nose and mouth. Once the air has been expelled from your lungs, pause for a second then return to the surface for another breath. Repeat 5 times.”