Swimming: Freestyle - Should You Breathe on Both Sides?

Swimming: Freestyle - Should You Breathe on Both Sides?

Dick Moss

In the freestyle, there are advantages to using a three-stroke breathing pattern, in which swimmers alternate turning the head to the left and the right when taking a breath.

For example, during races, it allows them to monitor the position of competitors on both sides of the pool. It also produces a more symmetrical stroke.

In contrast, swimmers who always breathe on only one side tend to kick and pull more strongly on one side than the other.

However, some swimmers race faster using a one-sided breathing pattern and are reluctant to use a slower technique during races. So what do you do?

Compromise Solution
A good solution is to compromise. Use a three-stroke pattern during practices, so your swimmers develop efficient, symmetrical technique. They may lose a few tenths on their intervals, but aside from time trials, that's not critical.

But during races, allow your athletes to use whatever breathing pattern produces the best times. If that means breathing from only one side, so be it. Their technique, ingrained through many hours of practice, should remain symmetrical and efficient over the course of the meet. And if they race faster by using the breathing pattern that's most comfortable…well, that will keep them motivated and willing to work even harder to improve.


1. Dick Hannula, Nort Thornton, The Swim Coaching Bible, Volume 2, Human Kinetics, 2012.

2. Does it make a difference if you breathe every 2nd or 3rd stroke? USA Swimming


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