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Front crawl breathing drills

Breathing is the one aspect of front crawl which feels the most unnatural. When you’re not used to it, putting your head underwater, exhaling underwater and then breathing in while recovering your arm can be a tricky business.

You may know the front crawl basics by heart but putting them into practise is never as simple. So for those who struggle with front crawl breathing, here are some drills to help you feel more comfortable swimming the most common stroke.

A bit of science to start

Before we get to the front crawl breathing drills we need a quick introduction to breathing.

With a normal breath you generally only exhale about 75% of the air in your lungs. The final quarter remains in your lungs and sits there stale.

You can do breathing exercises to engage more of your lung capacity and improve your aerobic turnover (the amount of air that goes in and comes out of your lungs).

This will make swimming easier as you delay the onset of oxygen debt and lactic acid in your muscles – this causes you to feel tired and your muscles to ache.

To make the most of the following drills, you should always complete them from one to three, starting with the breathing exercises. Even top athletes practise breathing exercises regularly to maximise their lung capacity.

Drill 1. Breathing Exercise

It’s important to be completely comfortable exhaling underwater and not panicking and rushing your head to the surface.

  • Stand up straight in the water and bend your knees, dropping down into the water until your chin is touching the surface.
  • Take a deep breath in until your lungs are completely full, then drop down further into the water until the line of the water is just below your goggles.
  • Exhale very slowly – counting as you go – until your lungs are completely empty.
  • Repeat this exercise six times.

Try and blow a few more bubbles out, then quickly pop back up to the surface and inhale deeply, taking in one long breath only.

Your lungs should ultimately feel bigger in your chest and you should feel like each breath is full. Try and blow out for longer each time, counting seconds will help you judge this.

Drill 2. Kicking

Begin practising your breathing technique with a kicking drill so you don’t have to worry about timing your inhale with your arm strokes.

  • Using a kick board, swim forwards with your face in the water and count for six seconds, slowly blowing out all of the air in your lungs as per the first exercise.
  • On the count of six, lift your head to the side (as you would in a normal front crawl) and take one sharp intake of breath until your lungs feel completely full.
  • Once your lungs are full, lower your face back into the water and blow out the air slowly and steadily whilst counting to six.

Repeat this exercise for the duration of the length. Swim as many lengths as you feel appropriate until you feel comfortable with your breathing.

Drill 3. Full Stroke

Once you feel comfortable exhaling underwater and inhaling sharply to the side, mix it in with a relaxed, smooth arm stroke. Try breathing in every three strokes, focusing on the following points:

  • While your face is in the water exhale completely until your lungs are totally empty.
  • Turn your head to the side and take one sharp intake of breath as practised.
  • Lower your head quickly back into the water.

Repeat this until you finish your length.

If you feel comfortable with your breathing then continue swimming. If you are not quite there yet, return to breathing exercise or kicking drill a few more times. Don’t slip into old habits – you want your new, improved breathing to become automatic and natural.