Skip navigation

10317 Views 20 Replies Latest reply: Dec 22, 2009 5:56 PM by slojon 1 2 Previous Next
slojon Amateur 13 posts since
Aug 24, 2009
Currently Being Moderated

Oct 24, 2009 7:29 AM

freestyle alternate breathing?

OK, I've completed my first tri, with a 1st place in my age group!  and I'm continuing to improve in the pool.  Everyone says that I need to work on alternate-side breathing, and I can see that it would improve my left-right muscle balance, streamlining, etc., BUT I have two problems;

1 - at 66 years of age, I have arthritis in my neck, among other places.  I can rotate my head 90 degrees to the right, but only about 45 degrees to the left, accompanied by weird snapping and popping noises and much creaking in my neck...and even if I could breathe left...

2 - I just don't have the lung capacity to go three arm strokes without taking a breath!  As it is, I find that if I push the pace too hard while breathing every two strokes, I get totally winded, to where I'm gasping for breath by the time my mouth clears the water and I can get some air, and I have to back off the pace...

and I just don't see how am I ever going to be able to go three strokes without breathing...I mean, when I was running marathons twenty years ago, if I pushed the pace to around six-minute miles, very soon I found that I had to breathe much more rapidly to keep from going into oxygen debt, like every two paces instead of every four....


Has anyone had this problem?  Will it sort itself out?  I just don't see my lung capacity improving 50% (from breathing every two strokes to three)

  • ChadCOP Rookie 1 posts since
    Jan 21, 2009
    Currently Being Moderated
    1. Oct 24, 2009 12:04 PM (in response to slojon)
    Re: freestyle alternate breathing?

    I don't know what to tell you about the difficulties you experience turning your head, but if lung capacity is a concern, then you can try using a snorkel to increase your lung capacity. i had a coach who was very fond of us using snorkels in practice. Not only does it force a swimmer to take a deeper breathe in order to get a regular breathe of air in, but it takes longer to get a full breathe out so you extend the time between breathe intakes and outakes. it basically makes it very difficult to take several shallow breathes in a row before wearing you out.

  • Cammy711 Rookie 1 posts since
    Sep 29, 2009
    Currently Being Moderated
    2. Oct 24, 2009 2:45 PM (in response to slojon)
    Re: freestyle alternate breathing?

    I would agree that it would be a better idea to improve your lung capacity rather than alternate your breathing.  Although I prefer alternating breathing myself since I breathe every 5-7 strokes, I can see how physical discomfort would take top priority.  I do not have further suggestions on specifically training your lungs but I wanted to recommend you see a sports medicine physician who may offer suggestions and exercises for your neck.  Arthritis gets worse if not treated, or not cared for properly.  If you want to continue to have the range of motion you do now or improve it, you need to make sure you are performing proper exercises.


    Good luck to you.  It is fantastic that you are working on improving your technique!

  • Tri 2 Do It Pro 84 posts since
    Jan 2, 2008
    Currently Being Moderated
    3. Oct 26, 2009 12:24 PM (in response to Cammy711)
    Re: freestyle alternate breathing?

    First of all, congratulations on completing your first triathlon and winning your age group.  You're off to a great start!


    The previous replies both offer excellent advice, and alternate breathing can be very beneficial in open ocean swims especially when you're swimming parallel to the shore.


    My only suggestion would be to not let your current breathing method discourage you from continuing to train and compete.  I'm a right side breather (every two strokes like you) by choice, and although it may not "ideal", I'm still improving also and, more importantly, I feel comfortable in the water and am confident that I can complete my swims (8 triathlons and counting, including a 1K swim and a 1.5K Olympic distance).  And for what it's worth, keep in mind that many Olympic freestyle swimmers breath every two strokes to the same side during their races.


    If you're able to get to the point where you're doing alternate breathing, please come back and tell us how you did it.  Best of luck.

  • William Fisher Rookie 2 posts since
    Sep 29, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    5. Oct 28, 2009 7:11 PM (in response to slojon)
    Re: freestyle alternate breathing?

    There are a number of significant benefits to breathing on both sides.  These benefits are related to muscle balance, swim balance, sighting, speed, dealing with adverse water conditions, especially in the ocean, and a bunch of others.


    Breathing on both sides is an acquired skill-the more you do it the easier it becomes.  I was a right-side breather and it took me almost a year to become comfortable with breathing on both sides (I did this when I was just a few years younger than you are now); however, once I acquired the skill, I found it was actually easier and less fatiguing to breathe on both sides.  Also, you will find that you will lose the out-of-breath feeling after you get into better shape and get used to breathing every third stroke.


    Do not use the snorkles.  They create more bad habits then they are worth and serve as a crutch that you will not be able to use in a race.  If you don't plan to race, then anything goes I suppose.


    To assist with learning alternate breathing, try the following drills:


         1.  At first breathe, on the alternate side one stroke out of five, then after a 5-8 swim sessions or so, reduce alternates to one every four strokes for 5-8 sessions, then one every three strokes for 5-8, then start doing it consistently.

         2.  Also at first, swim alternate laps while breathing on your atypical side for an entire lap.  Do a lap while breathing on your atypical side then one lap on your typical breathing side and keep alternating.  Do this for 8 sets of 100 yards or for your warm up and cool down.


    Be very careful that you avoid a common habit that far too many people unfortunately acquire when learning alternate side breathing:  don't push down with your hand to raise your head to take a breath.  You should learn to ROLL equally to your left and right to take a breath.  From what you say about your neck, it appears that you are moving your neck too much to take a breath instead of rolling into and out of the breath.  Think of breathing with your navel.  To test whether you are pushing down with your hand to raise your head, swim a lap with your hands in a fist (The Fist Drill).  If you feel like you are sinking on a breath, you haven't learned to roll properly.


    The above is what I did and what I teach others, and it works.



  • wcsting Rookie 2 posts since
    Sep 19, 2009
    Currently Being Moderated
    7. Oct 31, 2009 8:19 AM (in response to slojon)
    Re: freestyle alternate breathing?

    I am a left side breather and have taken up Tri-ing 7 weeks ago after a 2.5 decade break from it. I was a high school swimmer in the seventies and have always swam lefty. When I did tri's in my mid to late 20's I swam lefty as well and was reasonably competitive especially in long and ultra distance events. Now after having taken it up again, and getting back into good state of swim-fitness, I still swim left and can finish in the top 25% of the field in the water. I have tried practicing to alternate with reasonable success, but my focus has been on getting fit first, and I a now going to start to convert over to alternate swimming. I don't know if I will ever alternate in an event, but I am not going to stress about it if I don't.


    I can definitely see that if one wanted to be at the front end of competitiveness, equal sided breathing is a good thing, but for me, I think its more important to be unstressed and comfortable in an event, especially in the swim leg. This bodes true as well early on in one's triathlon "career" even if it starts at age 66.


    Just my $0.02c.

  • Ajax0505 Rookie 2 posts since
    Aug 29, 2009
    Currently Being Moderated
    9. Nov 3, 2009 11:59 AM (in response to slojon)
    Re: freestyle alternate breathing?

    Funny thing is I have the opposite problem - I can only swim by alternating on every third stroke - and I am a terrible swimmer who is out of breath more than not - I wish I could breathe every two strokes as I think it would help me catch my breath - have done 8 triathlons now and I am still usually about the last guy out of the water - I am a great runner and biker but just can't get the hang of swimming - so don't feel bad, as it is just plain hard for some of us to learn how to swim

  • Amateur 31 posts since
    Oct 8, 2009
    Currently Being Moderated
    10. Nov 4, 2009 12:47 PM (in response to slojon)
    Re: freestyle alternate breathing?

    I have been coaching swimming both competitive and recreational for about 8 Years.  I have swam competitive for 12 years which my last four years were

    in college in a NCAA Division I team.  I majored in Kinesiology which gave me a whole new insight in the biomechanics of human movement and the

    activity it is performing.


    For freestyle (aka Front Crawl) it is best to train with breathing every 3rd. Meaning you take three stroke for every breathe.


    -Build Lung Capacity

    -Don't over compensate on one side

    -Don't over build strength on one side

    -being able to grab same amount of water with both arms



    Just like everything in life, a little bit of everything is better than

    too much of one thing.  This decreases the risk of injury by putting

    the same amount of strain and force to both arms.  Not favoring one

    side than the other is the greatest detail in training anything.


    Once you have trained with every third I guarantee you will go to your

    race and realize that your body is an efficient machine which will need

    a lot less oxygen when performing any of the activities in your everyday



    If you find yourself fighting for a breathe everytime you pull water then you need

    to realize that there are some key points to your stroke:


    -Body Position

    -Breathing Position

    -Most Important- Lung Capacity


    *Roll your body and head as one piece to breathe.  Breathing doesn't involve lifting the head in an awkward position.

    It should feel smooth and effortless.  Remember the more you keep your body at the surface of the water the more

    buoyant you are as a whole.  If you lift any body part above the water surface you will realize that your body position

    changes causing you to struggle and fight your way to gain momentum.  Above water is something which is not

    the greatest thing for us Swimmers (Gravity).


    Matthew Olaya

    Swim Venture

    Head Coach/ Technique Stroke



    Matthew Olaya

    Personal Trainer

    Huntington Beach California

    -B.S. Kinesiology

    -NASM Cert.

  • wcsting Rookie 2 posts since
    Sep 19, 2009
    Currently Being Moderated
    Re: freestyle alternate breathing?

    Matthew, I read this with interest, and I will be working on this in the next 60 days. I am determined to balance out

    Thanks for your post.



  • Amateur 31 posts since
    Oct 8, 2009
    Currently Being Moderated
    13. Nov 11, 2009 7:38 PM (in response to slojon)
    Re: freestyle alternate breathing?

    Glad to hear that you had a victorious finish!


    One of the biggest things in swimming is breathing.  It will make it or break it when it comes

    to successful swimming.  Always remember that in swimming the whole body works together

    as one unit.


    Breathing consists of rolling your body (rotating) to the side having your Belly Button and Eyes

    looking at the side of the pool/wall.  When you rotate/roll to the side you do it using your whole

    body.  Your Neck/ Head should not come apart.


    A great drill to work on while breathing is kicking on your side while having one arm in a stream

    line position and the other arm just resting on the side of your body.  The arm which is up in

    a stream line should be straight as an arrow and your head should be resting on it like a pillow.

    *Just like a regular Stream Line with two arms, but you put one arm to the side.


    Then you kick across the pool.  Whenever you find yourself sinking remember to focus on the buoyancy


    1. Your chest is where you are the most buoyant

    2. If you press down with your chest (Buoyant Part) then you will conteract your bottom half.


    So we return to the drill, if you find yourself sinking press down with your arm pit still keeping your

    head and arms in the same position.


    After you have tried several times now apply it to swimming regular freestyle.


    1. Push off take three stroke without breathing and then engage in the rolling/rotating of the body keeping

    your head and arm together.  PLEASE do not rush the breathing.


    2. Always take your time when practicing a new drill which will enhance your stroke.


    3. SO when you engage in the breathing stay there till you find yourself finding a comfort area and

    maintaining it so that when you take your next three stroke you can now repeat it again.


    PRACTICE PRACTICE makes perfect.


    Hope this helps,

    Matthew Olaya

    Swim Venture

    Pool Manager/ Head Coach

    Huntington Beach


    Learn to swim  ALL AGES!


    Matthew Olaya

    Personal Trainer

    Huntington Beach California

    -B.S. Kinesiology

    -NASM Cert.

  • margaret48906 Rookie 4 posts since
    Apr 25, 2009
    Currently Being Moderated
    14. Nov 13, 2009 1:57 PM (in response to slojon)
    Re: freestyle alternate breathing?

    Congratulations on being 66 and doing these things!  I am 65 and have placed first and last in my age group because I was the only one!  However, I have been trying some of the drills mentioned in the thread especially the one where you are on your side and kick 10 times, then stroke and do the other side.  I think it will help me not just with breathing but with my kicking, which is pretty weak.  I found 4 drills on the internet which look helpful for strengthening swimming.  Good luck!  I'm going to work on the alternate breathing as well.  But the one thing I have learned is that you have to be much more careful not to overdo during the swimming or you will be at the bottom of the pool.  That's embarrassing!

1 2 Previous Next

More Like This

  • Retrieving data ...


  • Correct Answers - 10 points
  • Helpful Answers - 7 points