3 Steps To Master Breathing For Beginners – How To Not Drink The Pool

Getting a mouth full of water when trying to breathe during freestyle is not a nice experience, and for most people starting out on their open water swimming, Ironman, or triathlon journeys will experience the taste of the pool.


Swimming freestyle is not a natural movement for humans. If we have not learned as a child or swam in a club, learning freestyle can be a challenge. Doing an exercise where we need to breathe in a certain way and in a certain spot significantly adds to this challenge. Fortunately, instead of learning trial and error while drinking half of the pool, Swim360 Coach has a method to get you breathing effortlessly.


Step 1 – Become familiar with the feeling first


Being able to breathe easily without taking on water is as much about getting the feeling of when to breathe, as it is about correct technique. Knowing when the water has cleared your mouth and it is safe to breathe is something we need to become familiar with.


Isolate your attention to breathing by either holding onto the side of the pool or using a kickboard. While kicking place one hand on the side of the pool or kickboard and the other arm at your side. Practice rotating your head and body out for a breath, make sure to blow your air out underwater first to ensure a quick breath in when your mouth is out of the water. Repeat this until you are comfortable with the process of, face underwater – breathing out, face out of the water – breathing in.


male swimmer doing a breathing drill while kicking and holding onto the side of the pool



Step 2 – Build on the feeling


Now we want to practice this process without the wall or a kickboard and in a moving position. If you have fins this is a good time to use them. Start by kicking on your side with one arm out in front. Practice rotating your head in and out of the water with the correct breathing technique. Once this becomes easy for you, practice rotating your whole body and head at the same time when breathing, this will have you kicking on your front when your face is in the water and breathing out, then on your side when your face is out of the water and breathing in. Repeat these drills until you can breathe in fairly quickly without any issues when your face is out of the water.


male swimmer doing a breathing drill while kicking on his side in a poolmale swimmer doing a breathing drill while kicking on his side in a pool


male swimmer doing a breathing drill while kicking on his front in a poolmale swimmer doing a breathing drill while kicking on his front leading with one arm in a pool



Step 3 – Putting it all together


Once you have become really comfortable and familiar with the feeling of breathing, it is time to put it all together while swimming freestyle. One thing we want to avoid is holding our breath for too long – this will cause us to want to breathe for too long when our face is out of the water. Start by setting a breathing pattern, this makes it easy to know when to breathe, instead of waiting until we need to breathe. For example, a good breathing pattern if breathing on both sides is breathing every 3 strokes, or if breathing only the one side, breathing every 2 strokes. Count in your head as you swim – 1, 2, 3 breathe, 1, 2, 3 breathe – this means we take 2 strokes and breathe on the 3rd stroke. Start by swimming very slow and relaxed, practicing this pattern.

Becoming comfortable with breathing can take some time, be patient and repeat, repeat, repeat until you have mastered it and made it a habit.


Check out our video for the 3 steps in action!

Carl is head coach at Swim360 Coach, a former Olympian and national champion freestyler. Carl now uses his skills and passion for coaching and competing in the open water.