Proper breathing in front crawl

Triathletes breathe a lot more than competitive swimmers, which is why it's critical to breathe correctly. Here's how to do it right.

| February 14, 2017 | TRAINING

Keine Panik! Die richtige Atmung ist eine Frage der Übung.

Keine Panik! Die richtige Atmung ist eine Frage der Übung.

Photo >Frank Wechsel

The subject of breathing is of crucial importance for beginners as well as for advanced swimmers. Executing proper breathing technique is an integral part of the freestyle stroke.


When breathing out, the head looks down - you should look slightly forward. Exhale during the entire underwater phase of the arm stroke - you should not exhale quickly or sharply, but rather slowly. Exhale through your mouth.


For inhalation, the head is just turned to the side. Do not turn your head towards the sky or the ceiling! The mouth should be only slightly above the surface of the water during inhalation. As opposed to the exhalation in the underwater phase, the air flows quickly into the lungs and should be fast, but not hectic. By the time your arm comes level with your head during the recovery phase of your stroke, your face should be turned back and looking down. Inhalation is thus significantly shorter than exhalation.

Important tip: The ratio of inhalation time to exhalation time is about one to two.

Typical errors in breathing

It is difficult for many triathletes to coordinate breathing along with arm movements. Inhalation should start as your hand enters the water and your body begins to roll.

Good body rotation is a critical to proper breathing technique - proper body roll will mean you only have to turn your head slightly to breath.

Make sure not to lift your head - this will cause your legs to sink downwards and increase the amount of resistance your body creates in the water.

Even advanced swimmers should take care that they don't take too long to inhale. The end of the inhalation phase initiates the beginning of the underwater phase of the working arm. As long as your head is turned to the side, the other arm can not perform a clean pull phase because it functions as a support in the gliding phase.

If, during this phase, you take too long, your arm won't be able to get in the right position to catch the water and your arm then acts like a brake or parachute, creating more drag in the water.

Swimming straight

Do you often find yourself swimming in different directions? This can also be due to poor breathing technique. If you're moving laterally as you're breathing you'll create a back and forth motion.

So, make sure you're breathing quickly and you'll have fewer problems keeping up a quick turnover and maintaining a smooth, straight stroke.

Tip: When the forearm is at the level of your chin, you must end the breathing movement by turning the head back.


Christoph Fürleger is a former elite swimmer and now CEO of Hannes Hawaii Tours, a travel company that organizes training camps in Spain and other countries. Each year, Hannes Hawaii Tours organizes the journeys of 500 triathletes, family and friends to the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.