If you can barely make it across the pool without gasping for air, it’s time to work on your head position and breathing pattern! Make a few small changes to your technique and try a few of our favorite drills, and you’ll be breathing easy in no time. 

First, let’s break down what proper breathing and head position look like in freestyle.

What Good Freestyle Head Position Looks Like

Many beginner swimmers lift their heads and look forward at the other side of the pool as they swim. That head position is probably tiring them out and slowing them down!

In freestyle, your neck should stay in a neutral position as you swim. That means that you should look straight down, or down and slightly forward. 

Related: The 5 Most Common Freestyle Mistakes (and How to Fix Them!)

This head position encourages your hips to stay closer to the surface of the water, which reduces drag and makes it easier to swim. If you feel like your hips are dragging through the water, try fixing your head position!

If you’re nervous about not seeing the wall, use the line on the bottom of the pool as your guide for where you’re at in each length. When you get close to the wall, the line will turn into a T, and you’ll see the backstroke flags.

Try using a front-mounted snorkel to improve your head position. When you swim with a snorkel, you don’t have to worry about turning your head to breathe and can focus on finding your neutral neck and looking down at the bottom of the pool.

What Good Freestyle Breathing Technique Looks Like

Many beginner swimmers lift their heads forward out of the water before turning to breathe, and try to exhale and inhale when their faces are out of the water. Both of these mistakes are a recipe for disaster…if you breathe this way, your hips will be dragging you down and you will never have enough air to make it to the other side of the pool!

Proper breathing technique starts with good head position! To breathe in freestyle, keep your neck and head neutral, exhale out of your nose while your face is in the water and turn to the side to take a quick inhale. Try to keep one eye in the water and one eye out of the water to avoid over-rotation.

Related: 4 Freestyle Breathing Drills for Beginner Swimmers

Focus on that good head position, and don’t worry about inhaling water…your body’s forward motion will create a small pocket of air that’s just big enough to get a quick breath in!

Pro Tip: Find a Breathing Pattern & Stick to It

To make sure your body always has enough air to make it through every lap, find your breathing pattern. Some swimmers breathe every two strokes and some breathe every three. It’s up to you to figure out what works best for you and stick to it during training and racing! 

It can be tempting to try to hold your breath as long as possible, but doing that can negatively impact your performance (unless you’re doing a hypoxic set). Without adequate oxygen, your body won’t be able to make it through your workout. 

Your breathing pattern is about more than just breathing. It also helps create rhythm in your stroke that can be helpful when you want to hold a specific pace or intensity.

Practice your breathing pattern, and over time you’ll find that your lung capacity will increase and you may be able to hold your breath a little longer.

Try These Freestyle Breathing Drills

Add these drills to your workouts to improve your head position and breathing technique.

Kickboard Breathing Drill

This drill is great for beginners. Kick with both hands on a kickboard and take one stroke with the right arm, breathing to the right side. Place your right hand back on the kickboard and repeat on the left side.

Paddle on Head Drill

The Paddle on Head drill is a bit more advanced, and will show you if you’re maintaining good head position as you breathe. Place a paddle on the crown of your head and swim, trying to keep that paddle stuck to your head for an entire length, even as you breathe.

Freestyle Drill Set

Want to give these drills a shot? Try this short set in your next workout:

3 rounds of 4×25 freestyle:

  • Round 1: 4×25 freestyle with a snorkel if you have one. Feel your head position!
  • Round 2: 4×25 kickboard drill
  • Round 3: 4×25 paddle on head drill

Do you have a favorite drill or swim set for improving breathing and head position in freestyle? Share your tips in the comments! For more drills, technique tips, Training Plans and personalized workouts, download the MySwimPro app.



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