Front Crawl Breathing Technique

When it comes to front crawl breathing, there are two techniques to try out: trickle breathing or explosive breathing.

Are you one of those swimmers who gets to the end of your first length or lap, and collapses in a breathless heap feeling like you're going to pass out from exhaustion?  Read on, because the solution to your lack of breath is right here.

front crawl breathing technique rolling head to the side as the arm pulls through

Before I explain the different types of breathing technique, it is important to understand how and when to breathe.   

Here are some key points:

  1. Each time a breath needs to be taken, the head must roll to the side.  That is roll to the side, NOT lift up and look to the side. (The action of rolling the head to the side ensures that the body position remains level.  Lifting the head causes the legs to sink, making the stroke harder work.) 
  2. The timing of each breath must be coordinated with the arm pull cycle.  As an arm pulls through to the hip it leaves a vacant space where the head can be rolled to and a breath can be taken.
  3. The head begins to turn at the end of the upward arm sweep and turns enough for the mouth to clear the water and inhale.  The head turns back into the water just as the arm recovers over and hand returns to the water.
  4. Which side the head rolls to is personal choice and you can change sides or keep to the same side.  

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Front Crawl Breathing Demonstration

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Which Breathing Technique: Explosive or Trickle?

Explosive and trickle breathing techniques refer to how you exhale as you swim.

You may be completely unaware of how you breathe when you are swimming front crawl so now is the time to take control of your technique.  

Trickle Breathing

  1. Trickle breathing is a slow controlled exhalation, out through the mouth.
  2. The breath is continuously exhaled through the mouth into the water as the arm pulls through to the hip. 
  3. Bubbles are blown slowly into the water while the face is submerged. 
  4. The exhalation is controlled, allowing inhalation to take place easily as the arm recovers over the water. 
  5. The time taken to exhale can last one or several arm pull cycles, depending on the stamina of the swimmer. 

Explosive Breathing

  1. Explosive breathing gets its name from the sudden exhalation and inhalation action.
  2. The breath is held after inhalation during the propulsive arm phase.
  3.  The breath is then released explosively, part in and part out of the water, as the head is rolled to the side.
  4. This is done in a very short space of time, usually a second or two, and can be very tiring.

Although trickle breathing is usually the easiest and most widely used, explosive breathing does work well for some people.  Therefore it is important to try both and experiment.

How Often Should I Breathe?

Breathing frequency is very much an individual thing.  Some swimmers start out breathing every 4 strokes or more and then increase the frequency to every stroke as their energy levels drop off. 

Some find it easy to just breath every stroke to the same side right from the start.  This helps them to establish a steady rhythm and sustain a smooth stroke over a longer distance. 

There is a matter of fitness level and your breathing pattern could be dictated by your stamina, or lack of it.  The more you swim, the more your stamina will increase and this will improve your front crawl breathing by default.  

Front crawl breathing technique rolling the head to the side

Do You Make These Front Crawl Breathing Mistakes?

1.  Holding the breath during the swimming stroke 

This comes naturally to most people but it is not necessarily the most energy efficient way of swimming.  

It is very common, especially for beginners, to hold their breath and adopt an  explosive breathing technique without knowing they are doing so. 

Breath holding causes an increase in carbon dioxide in the system, which increase the urgency to breathe.  This can cause swimmers to become breathless very quickly.

Trickle breathing is the most effective breathing technique for beginners as it allows a gentle release of carbon dioxide from the lungs, which then makes inhalation easier.

2.  Lifting the head instead of roll the head to the side.  

Lifting the head causes the legs to sink and the overall body position to be disturbed and the swimming stroke to be inefficient. 

The best exercise for perfecting trickle breathing and ensuring the head is not lifting is to hold a float with a diagonal grip and kick.  The diagonal grip allows space for the head to roll to the side.

Front crawl breathing technique showing head turn for breath in and breath out.

Fine-tune Your Breathing Technique With These Exercises

Download these documents to your computer, tablet or mobile device and discover the most essential technique tips and key focus points to help improve your basic breathing during front crawl.

Breathing whilst holding the poolside


Breathing holding a float with diagonal grip


Breathing with single arm action


Breathing with alternating arm action


Click here for a complete set of front crawl exercises.

All of these documents are PDF format and are compatible with all tablet and mobile devices.  Some computers may need PDF reading software such as Adobe Acrobat

Get Your Breathing In Tune With The Rest of Your Front Crawl

How To Swim Front Crawl with ease and confidence.

My 'How To Swim Front Crawl' ebook contains some basic front crawl breathing exercises and shows how to get your breathing to fit into your arm pull and leg kick actions.  

It's simple and straight forward and it's waiting for you at the link right here

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