5th January 2017. Perhaps one of the most fun and invigorating parts of swimming for fitness or sport is the sheer variety of ways in which you can approach the exercise. There are many kinds of styles you can use for swimming, and every type of stroke brings with it different challenges. Many swimming strokes are the very definition of "easy to learn, but hard to master"! The difficulty arises not just from keeping your body aligned in the correct form, but also from the need to breathe. Anyone who's been swimming for some time can tell you that managing your breath is a major part of being a successful swimmer. If you're a freestyle fanatic and the front crawl is your preferred stroke, breath control becomes even more important. Whether you're trying to improve your skills enough to compete in races or you just enjoy putting yourself to the test, it's worth considering how to breathe more efficiently. Today, we're going to cover several ways you can develop a better respiration technique during the front crawl. Not only will these strategies keep your lungs filled with oxygen as you cut through the water, but they can even help speed up your overall stroke. Let's start by discussing one of the most basic and essential front crawl techniques: bilateral breathing.

Learning how to breathe from both sides

If you want to improve your ability to perform the front crawl over long distances, the first thing you need to do is fundamentally change the way you breathe. When you swim, do you tend to just turn your head to one side for a gasp of air? That's a recipe for uneven muscle development. It's also a fast way to create bad breathing-techniques-for-a-better-front-crawl-grouphabits regarding your actual swimming form. You'll end up off balance, forcing your other side to compensate. This method not only slows you down, but it also expends more energy. The best choice is to cycle the side on which you breathe. Changing your breathing side also changes the rhythm of your stroke in addition to the way you breathe. Rather than drawing a breath nearly every stroke, you'll now space it out to every third stroke or so, allowing you to maintain balance, keep your lungs filled with oxygen as they need it, and reduced wasted energy. There's a reason so many Olympic swimmers prefer bilateral breathing! Switching to bilateral breathing isn't always easy; your current habits can be hard to break. How can you make it easier? Practice drills that develop bilateral skills. Try swimming with only one arm instead of both as you practice breathing to your non-dominant side. You may also try mixing up the stroke number on which you take your next breath of air. With time and effort, you'll get the hang of it, and you'll instantly begin to see improvements in your front crawl ability. Now, let's talk about taking advantage of your movement in the water for extra air.

Find air where you least expect it: using the bow wave

You could be breathing all wrong during your front crawl without even knowing. Take a moment to consider where the final position of your head is when you complete the movement to breathe. What do you see? If you're looking up and out of the pool, you're rotating your head too much. You should instead be trying to turn your head just to the left or right such that you're sideways. This method accomplishes breathing-techniques-for-a-better-front-crawl-air-pocketsseveral things. First, it keeps your stroke on balance and prevents you from over-rotating your body in the water. Second, it positions you to take advantage better of breathing into the bow wave. Once at speed, your body creates a strong wave in the water. Done correctly, this creates troughs of air on either side of your head. Try to find the lowest point at which you can breathe without sucking in a mouthful of water. It might take a lot of practice, but eventually, you'll discover that there is air where you least expect. Breathing from the bow wave is an advanced technique. It's not easy to master! However, it saves tonnes of energy by allowing you to breathe more quickly. You can fill your lungs and be on to the next two or three strokes in an instant. Taking the time to evaluate the placement of your breathing position can help you unlock this technique. Of course, you can't just take air in; you have to breathe carbon dioxide out, too. Let's consider how you can enhance your exhalation technique to become more efficient next.

Stop holding your breath in ? get that CO2 out!

Believe it or not, but knowing when to exhale is something with which even veteran swimmers sometimes struggle. It's only natural ? your body is on autopilot a lot of the time when it comes to your lungs. Taking conscious control and focusing on every breath you take isn't easy! That's why it takes so much practice. We've discussed a bit about how and when you breathe is important during the front crawl. So what should you be doing about exhaling? breathing-techniques-for-a-better-front-crawl-exhaleFirst things first: don't hold your breath. From novice swimmers to advanced competitors, everyone has a tendency not to exhale right away. However, your lungs extract oxygen from the air incredibly fast. Any strokes you spend holding it in equals lost time and wasted effort. Instead, you should attempt to exhale underwater at all times. By the time you turn your head into the trough for the next breath, your lungs should be empty and ready for the fresh air. Practically, this equates to a much steadier stroke overall. You no longer need to waste time finishing your exhale as you come up for air. You also avoid the worse scenario ? missing your breath altogether because you forgot to exhale! There's no easier way to slow down in the pool than to put yourself in oxygen debt. Just like bilateral breathing, figuring out your exhale can be a little tricky. Just remember: the bubbles shouldn't stop while you're underwater. Work to get that air out while you power forward. You'll find this actually helps to boost your breathing efficiency significantly.

Fix your form to reduce wasted movements

Finally, we think it's worth considering the actual movements involved in your front crawl. We've already tangentially discussed three ways your form can negatively impact your breathing ability. These are unilateral breathing, over-rotating your head when coming up for air, and lifting your head too far out of the water. Correcting these form-related issues will boost your ability. You should also consider how your body rotates in the pool, too. Going too far in the direction opposite of your next breath is bad; however, the right cadence makes all the difference. With an efficient front crawl, your body should do most of the rotation on its own, naturally bringing you up for your breath. Practice techniques for improving body rotation to correct this problem. You'll notice right away how much easier it is to breathe, which in turn makes the stroke easier. What about all the time in between strokes? Your head should be rock steady when you're going under the water. This allows you to move more quickly, yes, but more importantly it gives you time to exhale. As we've just discussed, that's critical to honing your abilities. Practice keeping your stroke in perfect form, because efficient, effective breathing depends on it more than anything else.

Hit the pool and find your ideal rhythm

So, there you have it ? some highly effective ways to retrain yourself to breathe more effectively while you swim with the front crawl. From bilateral breathing to training yourself to hold your head still, it certainly takes plenty of practice to master these skills. The end result is very much worth the effort, though. Not only will you be more comfortable while you swim, but you'll be able to improve your speed, too. That extra boost can make all the difference when you're racing a competitor to the finish line. One final tip: consider practising these techniques with a friend or swimming team-mate. When someone else can watch your form, they can point out where you can improve. Likewise, you can assist them, too. This cooperative spirit will help you reinforce what you learn. Good luck in the pool!