how to breathe in front crawl swimming

So, you’ve mastered the art of breathing in front crawl swimming but you can only breathe to one side.  Does it even matter?

If you’re starting out with front crawl, then your first goal is to learn to breathe and to be able to swim more lengths. So only being able to breath to one side isn’t a massive problem.

However, as time goes by and you want to swim faster and further it will start to affect your stroke and hinder your progress.

If you only breathe on one side, then your stroke is likely to be different one side to the other.


The most common issue I see is only rotating on the side that you take a breath. This will affect your efficiency in the water but can also have an impact one what your arms are doing. A lack of rotation can make it harder for your arm recovery to come forward above the water.


Other issues I see is just a general lack of symmetry and the arms doing different things. Often one arm will come higher on the breathing stroke, the legs might come apart in a scissor kick, and the timing of the catch is often different on the breathing stroke.

Swimming straight

A lack of symmetry means that there’s a high chance you won’t swim straight. Even indoors in the pool this wastes energy but of course outdoors it means you’ll be swimming further than you need to.


There’s also a risk of injury and in balances in your body developing. If you only turn your head to one side your neck might become tighter on one side to the other. You might be putting more pressure on one arm in a particular way which can lead to in balances and injuries in the shoulder.


Swimming front crawl easily for a long time is about having an efficient stroke and maintaining your stroke even while you’re tired. The more control you have over your movements, the more likely you’ll be able to maintain your stroke. Learning how to breathe on both sides is a step towards this.


The biggest reason to learn how to breathe on both sides in front crawl swimming is so that you have options and choices while you’re swimming. This is particularly important in open water and triathlon where waves, swimmers and sunlight might all be in the way of you breathing to your favourite side.

If you can breathe to both sides, then it won’t matter what’s happening you’ll just swap to the other side. It will also means that if one side of your body gets a bit tired you’ll be able to swap to swimming using the other side to mix it up.


Having options will give you a lot more confidence in your abilities and your swimming. If you know you can breathe whenever and however you want, then you’ll be more confident which will make you a stronger swimmer. You might be more likely to give a race everything you’ve got rather than waiting at the back and feeling intimidated by the crush at the turn point of a big race.

Chocolate and Marmite

You might always have a chocolate side and a marmite side (a favourite side and a non-favourite side). This is because we’re often have one arm that’s stronger than the other, or some tightness on one side, or maybe we’ve had an injury at some point in our lives. As adult swimmers our bodies are not likely to be completely symmetrical so we may always have one side that feels better.

And when we work hard or go to a race we may well revert to our favourite side. I certainly still do even after 20years of Total Immersion swimming. However, I know that the differences between my two sides are pretty minimal, and I can still breathe to both sides whenever I like.

Try it out

The first step is have a go at breathing to your non favourite side and just see what happens. Let me know how you get on and how far you manage to swim.

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Get in touch

If you’re wondering if I could help you to learn front crawl then why not book a taster session here or if you have lots of questions then get in touch and book a FREE 15min Lets chat here.


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