Two Quick Tips If You Struggle With Breathing

If you're quite new to swimming freestyle, you might well struggle with your breathing. You might be taking on water when you try to breathe or feel desperately out of breath and have to stop for a rest at the end of each length.

Don't worry that's perfectly normal, here are two quick tips to help:

The One-Two-Stretch Mantra

One of the biggest causes of breathing problems is if your lead arm is collapsing down into the water as you breathe, as we see with Clare's stroke here:

As you start to take a breath, your lead arm should still be out in front supporting you. If it sinks down in the water with little purchase then your mouth will sink below the surface and you'll take on water.

At this point of the stroke you're naturally thinking 'give me that air' and nothing else! The key is to let your breath take care of itself and keep your focus on the support of the lead arm instead.

To help with this, try repeating this mantra to yourself: 1-2-Stretch-1-2-Stretch where the 1 and 2 are on normal strokes and the stretch is on a breathing stroke, reminding you to keep that lead arm stretched forward for support.

If you have a tendency to pause and over-glide in your stroke then be wary of leaving this arm stationary for too long or you risk stalling. Just stretch and feel like the focus is on that lead arm and not on breathing in.

If you found this tip helped your breathing then take a look at our Bambino Swim Type and see if it rings any bells with your stroke. The Bambino Stroke Correction Guide (here) will give you plenty more tips to improve your swimming, all tailored to your specific stroke style!

Popeye Breathing

Our second tip is to remember to angle your mouth to the side as Paul is demonstrating here:

This looks a bit like Popeye chewing his spinach, which is where the technique gains its name from. Breathing in this way helps you keep your head lower without taking on water, which is important as lifting the head too far causes your legs to sink downwards.

Any Swim Type can benefit from Popeye breathing but particularly those new to swimming.

Swim Smooth!


Anonymous said...

thanks for the awesome tips

Rudolf said...

This post could have greatly benefitted from a video that shows this
The One-Two-Stretch Mantra
in good detail, i see lots of swimmers having EXACTLY this problem, no
"lead arm still supporting in front"!
I've seen the Canadian elite doing exactly this and wondered why they glide so effortless - while i just run out of air..... So, yes, i would like to figure this specific topic out once and for all!

Anonymous said...

1-2-stretch is a great tip. However, I do not find myself balanced when i try to keep that arm stretched. the reason it is collapsing is because i am trying to keep my balance in the water.
1) what should I do to be more balanced doing this?
2) at what point is it ok for the stretched arm to start catching? what is the trigger for that?

Adam Young said...

Hi umit, I just sent you an email about this.

If you feel like you lose balance when extending forwards it is most likely caused by a crossover in front of the head with the lead arm. That will make you feel like you are going to topple onto your back and/or weave around the lane.

Really the lead arm should always be in motion, either extending forwards, catching the water or pressing backwards - not actually paused at any point. The key is that it doesn't collapse downwards without any purchase on the water.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much Adam! I will let you know how it goes with the 6-3-6 drill.

Anonymous said...

Good tip to avoid taking in water,
however any tip to avoid being out of breath in this style.

Unknown said...

Any tips on how to develop the popeye breathing? Are there any drills that will support this? I continue to over rotate my head (both goggle lenses out of the water) when I breathe even though I try not to rotate/lift my head. Gimme a drill or two please! Duncan

Unknown said...

Duncan, I also had this problem in the past. The coach at my tri club suggested looking for the lane rope when breathing. Once I got used to the smaller range of motion I felt calmer over a period of several strokes, more settled. Even in open water I found I could look for the water surface. Like the 1-2-stretch drill I think it helps to focus on something other than the breathing itself.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the tip Glen, I'll give that a go.


Adam Young said...

Great tip Glen.

If you get it right Duncan you should be able to see above and below the water at the same time when you breathe:



Anonymous said...

I merged two mantras into one:


Works pretty well for me :-)

Anonymous said...

Do you have to touch your head to your arms while stretching?

Unknown said...

Hi Anonymous,

The focus here is more to stretch the lead arm to provide support while breathing, the head doesn't need to make contact with the arm, certainly not intentionally. Hope that helps and your swimming is going well!

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