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Learn How To Swim 101 - Beginning Freestyle - Breathing

Learn How To Swim Beginning Freestyle Breathing

When you learn how to swim freestyle breathing. You need to establish the correct head movement first before you try to apply it to your stroke.

There are a number of ways to do this, but try this one:

Start on the side of the pool, holding the edge with both hands put your face in the water, eyes and all.

Now blow bubbles.

Lots of bubbles.

Blow all your air out under the water.

Leave nothing in your lungs.

Wait... Get Your Lesson Plans Here

When all the air is gone then turn your head to the side, leaving your ear in the water. DO NOT Look at the roof. If you are wearing goggles and you should be by now, you should leave the tip of your goggles in the water.

Image of a man standing in the pool water, laying his head on his arm that is extended and holding a kickboard
Freestyle Breathing Practice

Take a deep breath in.

Turn your nose to the water (don't lift your head) and repeat, only this time turn your head in the opposite direction, making sure you keep your ear in the water when you turn your head.

After you have done this as many times as you can stand it and then a few more, it's time to try kicking with a one-arm torpedo. What is a one-arm torpedo?

image of a man doing a torpedo on his side in the pool
Side Torpedo

A one-arm torpedo is a torpedo where you have one arm in the front of you and one arm beside you with your head turned on its side, ear in the water kicking.

In this position, you should be able to breathe constantly but don't expect to get very far. It is exhausting work.

You have now established the position your head and arms should be in when you breathe in.

Now do a standard torpedo with your entire face in the water blowing bubbles, exhaling all your air as you did on the side of the pool and stand up.

It is time now to put the two torpedo's together.

Begin with the standard torpedo, when you have exhaled all your air change it to a one-arm torpedo and breathe in.

If you haven't just taken a mouthful of water you will have just taken your first breath in the correct freestyle breathing position.

More or less anyway. It's bound to be a little, well alright, a lot rough but it is your first freestyle breath and you should celebrate.

If you have taken a mouth full of water you are probably not turning your head far enough to the side and you need to keep trying till you do manage to take in un-watered down air, then celebrate.

Once you have done this a few times you should find that you have established a bit of a pattern and it is time to discard the standard torpedo and add your strokes.

Now, whenever you breathe you should try and be in the one-armed torpedo position to breathe.

A word to the wise, however. Don't try and be too ambitious. Try to take a breath only every 4th stroke and start your breathing on one side only. Breathing every 4th stroke gives you the time to think about what you are doing and get it right.

If you can't do that because you run out of breath then try every second stroke on one side only. The reason for this is that breathing on both sides is a whole lot harder than it looks and discouragement is a terrible problem to overcome.

Start on only one side and once you understand how that works it becomes only a matter of practice to do it on two.

Next, I'll deal with Common Faults and the Bent Arm Action



  1. I am 29 and just now learning to swim. I had a lesson today. The breathing is the one thing that is keeping me from officially swimming. I actually did the freestyle stroke today, and took my first breaths!! I was very excited, but when my lesson was over, I wanted to practice on my own, and then I had trouble. I was a little bummed for the rest of today...I just want to swim so badly!!

  2. G'day Athesia,

    Breathing in freestyle is indeed by far the one skill that most students have the most difficulty with.

    Don't let yourself get discouraged! This skill will take some time and practice.

    But not only that you have a lot of years of none swimming to overcome. Especially if your original reason for not swimming had to do with some kind of fear or frightening event.

    You are doing a great job and the right thing by making use of an instructor. Let them help you.

    I will be posting more on the subject of breathing in the next week or so with a drill that might help.

    Mind you the drill may not be popular with your instructor. But as long as you are doing it as a drill it should be OK by them.

  3. This looks like a good idea. I'm getting back into swimming since my knee isn't up for running at the moment - I haven't swum since I was a kid (I mean properly - I can swim in the lake for ages, but the technique is awful). My problem is I hate putting my face in the water. I can do backstroke, and I don't mind breast stroke since you can breathe after each stroke, but I get a panicky feeling whenever I try to swim freestyle for more than a few seconds. (Butterfly is completely beyond me.) Any suggestions as to how to acclimatise myself to this?

  4. G'day Rebecca,

    Good for you getting back to swimming. As well as the stuff I have written on breathing you may want to review my blog on Getting you face under water and All Your Swimming Fears. It should help.


  5. Thanks very much Richard - this is a fantastic site! I looked at the blog entries you suggested and they are encouraging. Your whole blog is great, I think I've read most of it, and the video clips are also really useful; some things have to be seen, not just explained.

    I've been adding a lap of freestyle to my swims, and did five this morning. My form isn't great, and it's still my least favourite stroke, but it gets a bit easier each time! I've signed up for an adult stroke improvement class that starts in a few weeks. Thanks again, this site was a great psychological help in deciding to try and swim for fitness, since running is too hard on my knee.

  6. Thanks for your comment Rebecca and keep up the good work.