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Single Stroke Breathing and Continuous Breathing

This is an excerpt from Swimming: Steps to Success by Scott Bay.


As land-based creatures, we cannot process oxygen out of water as fish do; therefore, we must find a way to breathe air while swimming. In freestyle, this need is met by rotating the head so that the mouth and nose are out of the water at a good time during the stroke cycle (figure 3.4), thus allowing the swimmer to breathe without interrupting his or her rhythm. The best way to do so is to rotate the face out of the water as an arm is finishing a stroke at the thigh and beginning the recovery. The rotation is initiated at the shoulder and hip, and the head follows.

This technique is less about rotating the neck and more about proper positioning. There is a bow wave with the forward propulsion that allows for a trough to be produced; the depth and utility of that differ from swimmer to swimmer. A bow wave in the world of fluid mechanics is a wave that is produced by the vector displacement of water by another object. The size of the crest and trough produced depends on the mass, velocity, and displacement buoyancy of the object. As the body moves through the water, the crown of the head will cause the water in front of it to increase in pressure as the head moves forward. The water will seek equilibrium from this high pressure state by moving to a lower pressure. Due to the incompressibility of water, the water molecules "choose" a direction to go with some moving down and others moving up or to the side with and infinite number of vector possibilities. The rising part is offset by a falling part producing both a crest and a trough which is below the waterline and will be helpful when trying to rotate the mouth and nose toward the air to breathe.The objective here is to get your air as quickly as possible so that you can get your face back in the water before your hand finishes the recovery, thus readying you for the next catch.

At this point, you should be on your side or back with one arm at your side and the other arm above your head, in front of your shoulder. Practice this sequence several times. Most people prefer one side or the other for rotation, so multiple repeats are helpful to identify which side is preferred. Then move on to continuous breathing (figure 3.5).

Figure 3.4 Single-Stroke Breathing


  1. As you did in working on the basic armstroke, push off of the wall and begin your armstrokes.


  1. While stroking with your arms, slowly exhale until you have expelled much of the air from your lungs.
  2. As you finish your next stroke, rotate your body and face so that your face is out of the water, then breathe in and stop.

Figure 3.5 Continuous Breathing


  1. Follow the steps for single-stroke breathing in figure 3.4.


  1. Rotate your face back into the water and continue swimming. Rotate your face out of the water with a special emphasis on rotating the chin out.
  2. Once you have mastered rotation to the side and gotten a quick breath, rotate your face back in while your hand recovers, then repeat the process.
  3. Remember that slower movements are better at this point.


You swallow water when trying to breathe.


Are you lifting your head to vertical and looking forward instead of rotating? Doing so brings your mouth and nose closer to the surface of the water; instead, think about rotating your chin out while leaving one eye in the water.


Your hips sink when you go to breathe.


Make sure that you are looking to the side of the pool rather than lifting your head to look forward.

Learn more about Swimming: Steps to Success.

More Excerpts From Swimming: Steps to Success