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Knowing when to breathe and how to breathe is important no matter what kind of freestyler you are.
But to excel at sprint freestyle – 50s and 100s – you have to take it one step further. You have to learn how often to breathe, and then train for this at every practice.
First, let’s take a look at when to breathe -- and this is a timing thing.
I like to start the breath the moment my opposite hand enters the water.
And then finish the breath by the time my recovering hand is just about to enter.
By being patient and waiting until my hand enters, I can hide the breath behind the bow wave.
Because I wait for the bow wave, only a slight turn of the head is necessary in order to catch a breath.
Let’s watch it again from another angle. The breath starts here…and the breath is connected to the hands.
If we freeze-frame it right here, you can see the lead hand extended in the water…the bow wave just above my head…and the breath.
When you look at my stroke from head on, you can just barely see the breath, and this is something I work on every day.
When I breathe, my goal is to keep one goggle eye in the water. If we freeze it right here…you can see that I do this by keeping my head low and by looking slightly back when I breathe.
Here you can see it again – the water covers exactly half of my head.
From under water, you can see that the breath does nothing to upset my horizontal balance. Even during the breath, you could run a straight line from my fingertips to my toes.
This kind of low breath is essential in sprint freestyle because you don’t want to do anything that makes you deviate from traveling in a straight line.
Which brings up the topic of how often to breathe.
When I race the 50 free, I take only one breath, and it happens right about…here.
In a 100, I try to breathe every 3 for the first half of the race, which helps me stay in control during the second half of the race.
In the second half of my 100 I breathe whenever I need to – probably every 5 or so – and then not at all the last 15 meters.
In this underwater clip, try to ignore my pull and kick and focus just on my nose and the bubbles that are coming out.
In sprint free, it’s very important to be constantly breathing out. The urge to breathe comes from the build-up of CO2, not from the lack of oxygen. So if you are always exhaling, and getting rid of CO2, you have a better chance of delaying oxygen deprivation.
It can take many years to learn to control your breathing in this way. My coach works on hypoxics a lot with me in practice because for the races I swim it’s important to be able to control my breath.
We do drills where I breathe every 3 strokes all the way up to every 9 strokes.
I also do a set of 50s after practice a few times a week where I don’t breathe at all. I try to lower the interval every time it gets comfortable for me.
And on race days I usually do some laps under water, kicking with no air just to get my lungs ready and expanded for my race.
Always be cautious when you add any type of hypoxic work to your training. Don’t do too much at once.
But the one thing you can focus on during every length of freestyle is the timing of your breath, and keeping one goggle in when you breathe. That’s the starting point for a really fast freestyle.