One of the most common issues that people come to me for help with is front crawl breathing. Getting out of breath quickly, swallowing water, feeling exhausted, and difficulty co-ordinating a breath into the arm cycle are the main issues that swimmers find challenging. In this blog we’re going to give you some simple tips to try and help.

Holding your breath

It is common for people to hold their breath while swimming. This just makes you tense, and also means that you will get tired more quickly as carbon dioxide builds up.  We don’t hold our breath when doing any other physical activity and imagine how tired you’d feel if you held your breath for a several steps while running. The first thing to do is swim and observe your breath. Are you holding it or exhaling. Is it continuous or stop start?

Exhaling through the nose

For swimming it’s useful to breathe out through your nose in the water and then in through your mouth as you turn to the side to breathe.  If you have a habit of holding your breath this will mean that you need to breathe out AND in at the same time when you turn to take a breath which commonly leads to swallowing water.

Trickle breathing

When your face is in the water aim to be exhaling steadily out of the nose, so that when you turn to breathe you can breathe in through the mouth. You don’t need to completely empty your lungs. We’re looking for small, steady, quiet bubbles. Followed by a little sip of air before you’re desperate for a breath so that you avoid gasping a lung full.


I usually have swimmers practice this trickle breathing standing still, in the shallow end, arms in, front face in the water, just focussing on blowing bubbles steadily out of your nose, with small, quiet bubbles.  Most people find this calming and is a great way to start a swim especially if you’ve rushed in after work.

The next step is to swim either a few stroke or a single length, just focussing on a exhaling a steady trickle of bubbles out of the nose. Observe how much more relaxed your swimming can be with a simple focus on your breath. Almost without fail swimmers who do this on our courses feel more relaxed and swim smoother, quieter and more efficiently after just 1 length.

Why does it still feel hard work?

If it still feels like hard work this is often because a swimmer is losing their balance, streamlining or posture somewhere in their stroke.  This causes a lot of drag such as sinking legs and turbulence in the water making swimming hard work and inefficient.  Most people will need to address these things in their stroke in order to be less out of breath.

Head position and balance

The first thing to address is understanding the connection between head position and horizontal balance in the water. Lifting your head up to the front will cause your legs to sink and will also arch your back. We are looking for your head and neck to be in line with your spine, just resting on the water in a relaxed position. As you turn to take a breath your body and head rotates around your spine without losing this alignment.

Lifting you chin up as you breathe  is often what makes swimming hard work, it also means your head is in the wrong place to get a nice easy breath and often leads to swallowing water. Next time you go for a swim notice what’s happening to your head as you breathe, observe what it feels like, where your head is and what part of the pool you see. These will all help to give you clues about your head and neck alignment.

For more tips on how to practice click here and to deepen your understanding of human efficiency and swimming click here.

If you’re still struggling and you want to feel better when you swim get in touch to see how I can help.

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