Some Great Shots Of The Bow Wave

The key challenge of freestyle swimming is how to breathe when facing down in the water. To stop the legs sinking and to not interrupt the rhythm of the stroke, you must breathe to the side whilst keeping the head low in the water.

To keep the head low enough you need to use the bow wave formed by your head moving through the water. It can be difficult to visualise what the bow wave looks like so here's some nice shots of it (click on images to enlarge):

Notice how there is a small lip formed in front of the head and then the water drops quite steeply as it passes your head and shoulders. Notice around where your ears are, the water's surface is significantly lower than the general surface of the pool. That's useful because you can rotate the head and breathe into that "pocket" of low water with your mouth while keeping your head really low.

That should look like this:

Notice how Paul is angling his mouth to the side to make sure he doesn't suck in any water. For obvious reasons we call that "Popeye Breathing":

Also notice how Paul has kept the top of his head in the water, he hasn't lifted it about the surface as you might have a tendency to do (more on this below).

Practising Bow Wave Breathing

When performing drills (e.g. side kicking with fins) your speed is very constant and the bow wave can become really smooth and glassy:

So much so that side kicking with fins can be the perfect drill to practise keeping the head low when breathing to the side.

Remember keep the top of your head in the water and breathe to your ears!

I Don't Think I Have One!

We often hear from swimmers who find it hard to breathe without taking on water. If this is you, you might believe this is because you are not moving fast enough to create a bow wave but this is very unlikely to be the case. Much more likely you are either:

- Burying your head beneath the surface when you swim such that the water flows over the back of your head. Do this and a bow wave won't form at all! If you've been trying to "swim downhill" this could well be the problem.

- Lifting your head clean out of the water when you swim - again doing this will remove the bow wave and you'll have to crane your head really high to reach clean air.

- Breathing too far forward in position (B) where the wave is much higher. Remember, breathe by your ears (A) and the water's surface is much lower:

Further Swim Smooth Resources

If you are new to swimming then you need our full Learn To Swim Program, available with our low-cost standard subscription in the Swim Smooth Guru:

Follow this inspirational step-by-step process to swimming smooth relaxed freestyle - including lots of detail and clever tricks to develop a relaxed breathing technique!

Whatever your level of swimming your can also use the Guru to fix these breathing issues (and a myriad of other faults elsewhere in your stroke):

Swim Smooth!


pjst0rer said...

Nice post. My question is about the idea of burying your head - wouldn't this mean that you are more streamlined? Is it that the benefit of a bow wave outweighs the benefit of being more streamlined by having head buried with no bow wave?

Adam Young said...

Very marginally pjst0rer but you will have to lift your head really high over the surface to breathe which will lower your legs and create a huge amount of drag. Just not worth it!!

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