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Freestyle Breathing - Under the Arm Fault

Freestyle Breathing under the arm is possibly one of the least picked up faults in swimming!

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I guess the main reason for this is that in most people it is so minor that nobody thinks it’s a fault. Never the less it is something that affects breathing and the timing of a stroke and therefore diminishes an otherwise effective stroke. There are possibly millions of swimmers world wide that have struggled with distance and running out of breath over that distance and because they are not athletes they just simply put it down to them not being fit.

The worst case I ever had of this action was a young girl that practically looked at the underside of her arm when she took a breath. In fact because this swimmers fault resisted correction with all my other drills I have discarded them for new one that was suggested to me by Sam, another swim instructor and coach where I work.

Image of a swimmer turning their head too far as he does his freestyke breathing, under the arm that is out of the water , with his other arm reaching too far past the center of his body
Breathing Under The Arm Fault

Freestyle Breathing Stroke Components

Before I can explain it however I need to break the freestyle stroke down into components. The following is what happens when you take a breath:

  • The catch phase, where you put your hand into the water and catch the initial water with your hand
    - At this point you should be starting to turn your head.
  • The pull phase, where you pull the caught water down past your shoulder
    - At this point your head should be in the correct position for taking a breath.
  • The push phase where you push the caught water past your hips
    - You should be taking full advantage of this time to take a full breath of air.
  • The recovery phase, where the arm exits the water at your hips and returns to the entry position, beginning catch phase again.
    - At this point your head should have already gone face down into the water and begun exhaling (lots of bubbles)

The Last Phase

It is at this last phase that the fault occurs. When a swimmer maintains the head position in order to get that little bit of extra breath. In most case this fault is fixed buy doing catch up drill because the swimmer starts to turn their head to take their breath at the start of the stroke and not later in the stroke phases. However in some cases as was the case with my student catchup only makes it worse because the swimmer is so proficient at taking their breath later in the stroke phases.

I tried all sorts of things to change the stroke behaviour of my student. From swimming with fists to make it harder to maintain the head position in the faulty stroke, to swimming with the head out of water in order to break the habit of the stroke, but none of it worked.

In the end Sam suggested getting the student to hold their arm at their hip a little longer and getting my swimmer to turn her head before allowing her to enter the recovery phase. In other words finish her stroke turn her head then recover the arm as a separate movement.

Image of a swimmer doing her Freestyle Breathing Stroke Progression. Putting her face in the water before her arm goes over her head
Freestyle Breathing Stroke Progression

It worked a treat and now I keep this as my drill to fix this problem.

So here is that drill again:
Get the swimmer to hold their arm at their hip a little longer and get them to turn their head before allowing their arm to enter the recovery phase. In other words they finish their stroke and turn their head then recover the arm as a separate movement.

Try it for yourself or on your students and let me know how it goes.


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