Should You Rotate *Less* When You Breathe?

One of our coaching maxims at Swim Smooth is if something's going to go wrong in your stroke it will go wrong when you breathe.

Here's a common example of that (so common in fact it's very likely to be present in your own stroke to a greater or lesser extent):

The correct amount of rotation in the freestyle stroke is 45-60 degrees through the shoulders and hips:

Here's Eben doing just that:

Unless you have been focusing developing a lot of rotation in your stroke*, it’s unlikely you’ll be rotating much more than 45 degrees, at least on a normal stroke.

Now see what happens to Eben's rotation as he goes to breathe:

Immediately his rotation has increased to around 66 degrees - beyond our recommended maximum of 60 degrees and enough for him to start to lose balance in the water. This over-rotation is caused by his strong desire to stretch to inhale a clear breath of air.

One problem with this over-rotation is that it causes you to unconsciously part your legs to stop yourself flipping onto your back, creating a large scissor kick at the rear of the stroke:

Another is that since it takes slightly longer to rotate further into this position it also adds a delay into your stroke timing, harming your rhythm. You probably won't appreciate this loss of timing but you will feel the improvement once you reduce your breathing rotation.

Try Rotating Less When Breathing

So the next time you swim run a small experiment and focus on rotating slightly less than normal when you go to breathe. Become aware of what your shoulders and hips are doing on breathing and non-breathing strokes, and try and keep the amount of roll about the same.

*Through the 1980s and 90s swim coaches put a lot of emphasis on increasing the rotation in the stroke as much as possible, on every single stroke. If you swam through this era (or have read any swimming books heralding back to that time) then you may be over-rotating on every stroke, not just breathing strokes. As you can see above that's clearly a bad thing for your swimming - in modern swim coaching we teach you to rotate enough (45-60 degrees) but no further!

Think "Sneaky" Breathing

You may notice that rotating less far on a breathing stroke means you have less time to inhale. In fact you might only have time for a "sneaky" breath between strokes. Embrace this - it's how good breathing technique should feel: a long smooth exhalation into the water and then a sneaky inhalation to the side.

Unilateral Breathers

If you only ever breathe to one side when you swim ("unilateral" breathing) then over-rotation is extremely likely to have developed on your breathing side. If you feel the benefits from reducing your rotation when breathing then you know you're onto something good - so make introducing bilateral breathing a priority to help balance out your stroke.

Swim Smooth!

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