Front crawl swimming in the River Avon

Are you struggling with your breathing in front crawl? Do you get out of breath really quickly and feel exhausted after a few strokes or a few lengths?  Common issues swimmers raise with me every week are

  • Getting out of breath really quickly
  • Water going in their mouth
  • Swallowing lots of water
  • Feeling like they’re underwater or sinking
  • Struggling to co-ordinate the breath into the arm cycle
  • Only able to breathe to one-side
Why does it feel like hard work?

Breathing is the hardest bit about learning front crawl but naturally is the bit most people focus on first.

It’s useful know and acknowledge that humans are “land mammals” so being in water isn’t in our genetic coding. So it’s normal to feel uncomfortable with your face head down in water where you’re unable to breathe. Just feeling a bit tense or anxious will make you get more out of breath.


If front crawl feels like hard work and you get out of breath after a few strokes it’s probably because your stroke isn’t very efficient and is wasting a lot of energy.

When your body isn’t balanced in water you’ll be swimming uphill. If your body feels unstable then your body will compensate for this with extra stabilising movements such as kicking more and turning your arms around faster – all of which tires you out really quickly.

How to breathe in water

The first thing to do is to get calm and relaxed in water. Just doing some simple breathing exercises standing up in the shallow end can really help. Especially if you’re a bit tense or have rushed to the pool straight from work.

Breath holding or trickle breathing

Then check out how you’re actually breathing when you swim. Are you holding your breath, blowing out hard through your mouth or your nose. Is it stop start or continuous?

What we’re looking for is a slow quiet steady trickle of bubbles out your nose.  You can start off just standing still and practising by putting your face in and blowing a slow quiet trickle of bubbles out of your nose.  Then add it into your swimming and see how different it feels.  Hopefully it feels quieter and more relaxed.

Posture and balance

The next thing to do is to check out your posture and balance in water. Can you feel your legs sinking? Or do you feel horizontal?

The first way to help this is check your head position. If your head is up or looking forward this will contribute to your legs sinking. Having your head in neutral with your neck in line with your spine and gently resting on the water is the first step to improving your balance.

If your head is in neutral your eyes will be gazing towards the bottom of the pool but don’t press your head down or under the water. See if you can swim 6-8 strokes without taking a breath with your head in neutral and see how it feels.

Head position in breathing

The next thing to work on is keeping  your head in neutral even while taking a breath. Rather than lifting your head up to the front focus on rotating your head to the side so your bottom ear is still resting in the water.

One eye out, one eye in

Other things to aim for is to keep one eye in the water and have one eye above the water. Just checking in with what you can see while your head turns can give you some insight into your posture. If you see the ceiling you’re rolling almost on to your back, if you see part of the wall in front of you then you’re lifting you head up.

Trouble shooting
  • Rotation: if your body doesn’t rotate then you’ll find it hard to turn your head enough to get a breath
  • Timing of arms: if your arms are going round in constantly rather than holding a streamlined position then you’ll find it hard to get your breath and rotation fast enough to keep up with you arms.
  • Being underwater: If you’re under the water every time you try to take a breath all you’ll see is water. Things that contribute to this are pressing your head down, a high arm recovery, windmill arms
  • Swallowing water: If you swallow lots of water it could be because the timing of your head turn to get air is late and not in sync with your rotation.

Let me know if this helps and if you need some help with your front crawl swimming then get in touch to find out how I can help. You can  book a 30 minute taster session here or if you have lots of questions then get in touch and book a FREE 15min Lets chat here.

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I am a triathlete and wild swimmer with a passion for outdoor adventures. I’m a Total Immersion Swimming Teacher and I help people feel more comfortable in the water so they can swim further and discover the joy of swimming or finish a triathlon without feeling exhausted.