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Swimming can be a difficult sport to learn if you’ve never been taught the very basics. One of the biggest issues most beginners face is breathing in the freestyle stroke. Even for veterans of the sport, breathing can be a nightmare if you don’t know the correct technique and method for easy and effortless breathing in freestyle.

The prospect of swallowing water can stop people from learning swimming as it can all seem too difficult after they’ve given it a shot three or four times. If you are having breathing problems in your swimming, don’t despair. There is an easy solution which can be implemented right away. Here I will outline the three keys to overcoming breathing problems in swimming.

1. Breathing out

The most important aspect of breathing technique is the breath out. The reason most swimmers choke on water is because they blow out all of their air too early or too late. The swimmer should breath to the side of the recovery arm (the arm which is out of the water) and take a big breath of air. As the head enters the water, begin blowing a small amount of air out of both the nose and the mouth. Continue doing this until just before you take your next breath. As you go to breath again let all your air out quickly through your nose and mouth just before you take that next breath. Remember that last sentence and your breathing problems should be fixed.

2. Rotation

To breath effectively it’s necessary to breath to the side. The easiest way to do this is to rotate the shoulders throughout the freestyle stroke. This makes it easier to get the mouth out of the water so not as much head rotation is required. Use your body roll and momentum to help rotate your head when breathing.

3. Stay relaxed

A secret to effortless swimming, not just effortless breathing, is to stay relaxed. Too often swimmers will tense up, hyperventilate and force themselves through the water. This isn’t how to swim fast. You must stay relaxed, keep calm and allow yourself to glide through the water. During your breathing, keep calm and allow yourself to breath normally without forcing air in and out.

There you have it, three important tips which will help you breath easier in freestyle. Remember to let all of your air out quickly through your nose and mouth just before you take a breath. Use your body roll and momentum to help rotate your head when breathing, and stay relaxed and breath normally though out the stroke.

As a coach of both elite and amateur swimmers, it is apparent that one of the biggest issues facing adult swimmers is the ability to generate power from their kick. There is a noticeable difference between those swimmers who were taught correctly as a kid or teenager, and those which have never been shown the correct technique for kicking in swimming. In some cases, I’ve seen people being dragged backwards because of their kick (true story!). There is a simple way to dramatically improve your kicking power even if you have bad ankle flexibility, and you can implement it starting today.

There are two keys to correct kicking technique in swimming. Swimmers must point their feet down (pointing in the opposite direction to where they want to go) and they must turn their feet and big toe inwards. Most swimmers will get the first point correct without being shown because it happens naturally during the kick, however the second point is something which needs to be learned.

By pointing the feet and big toes inwards (towards the centre line of the body) it increases the area of the feet which is used to generate propulsion and it increases the ankle flex of swimmer during the kicking motion (without needing to increase your ankle flexibility!). The feet and legs should remain ‘relaxed’ throughout the kick as this helps with leg flexibility.

Swimmers who are able to understand and apply the principle of turning the feet inwards will experience a much more powerful kick in each of the four competitive strokes. It may appear too simple an answer to the kicking problems which so many swimmers experience, but it is the first step to correcting kicking in swimming.

Last night at training during a set of 4x25m of butterfly at max effort, I was called aside by my coach. He’d noticed that my ‘sprint’ butterfly looked more a 400m butterfly. Why, I wondered? I was trying my hardest (or so i thought). I was aiming for minimum splash and maximum power. I was also feeling efficient and fast in the water. What could it possibly be that my sprint butterfly was missing?

His answer: Kick.

My kick had a very noticable pause inbetween each stroke. Rather than keeping a continuous kicking motion, my feet were waiting at the surface of the water before I took each stroke. How I didn’t notice this myself is a mystery, but it usually takes someone else to pick up the flaws in anyones stroke.

I’ve never been a great butterflier. Any kind of sprinting would see me at the back of the field, but anything which required long and relaxed butterfly would suit me well (A 400 IM for example!).

So, was this the solution to my slow butterfly?

On the next 25m sprint, I kept a continuous kick where I really worked the up-kick hard. My kick was more fluid and provided me with a lot more power. I felt much quicker and my coach had told me that I was sitting up much higher in the water (this is a good thing). This may be the advice I need for a faster butterfly swim.

Is your butterfly sprint missing a continuous kick? Would you benefit from a  consistent dolphin kick with a powerful up-kick?

At your next ¬†practice session why not experiment with a harder, more continuous butterfly kick and see if you can reduce your butterfly sprint times. It worked for me and it’s something I’ll be working on over the next few months.