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Freestyle – No Breathers

For years, coaches have punished swimmers with ‘no breathers’– repeat 25’s with no air except at the wall. These lengths can be slow, fast, butterfly, freestyle, underwater…pretty much anything except full-stroke breaststroke and backstroke, and those can also both be done if the swimmer is really honest.



No breathers were originally thought to be about increasing lung capacity, and getting the swimmers used to swimming without the need for oxygen. While these are great things to practice, no breathers can also be used to key you in on your stroke.

Why Do It:
Anything that gets you to focus MORE about moving forward in an efficient manner is a good thing. Understanding that there is a trade off in energy usage based on how fast, or how far you plan on traveling without the opportunity to grab air, helps swimmers learn more about their strokes. Also, a bit of duress never hurt anyone…OK…maybe it did.

How To Do It:
We’ll go through a few different ways to work no breathers, to give you some ideas on how you can incorporate them into your practice.

1. Easy 25s. This is a standard way to do no breathers. They give you an opportunity to swim, focusing ONLY on what moves you forward. By taking away the thought of breathing, you can begin to think about how you roll, how you reach, how you catch the water, and, basically, every aspect of your stroke. These shouldn’t be too taxing — as long as you get enough rest in between each one, and as long as you relax. Pick something specific to think about prior to leaving the wall, and focus all your attention on that. Before you know it, you’ll be at the other end.

2. Fast 25s. Usually, no breathers get caught somewhere between the easy 25s, and these FAST 25s. Those medium-speed no breathers are usually to force the athlete into that nice LUNG burn that feels so good. These ultra-fast 25s are really just SPRINTING. For most athletes, depending on age and ability, there is really no reason to breath during sprint 25s. Yet, for some reason, too many swimmers feel they have to take a breath — just because. In reality, you’re going without air for something like 10 to 17 seconds. If it takes you much longer than that to do a 25, then you probably SHOULD be taking a breath, and you should take it just a bit past half-way. In true 25-yard sprint, you just don’t have time to breathe, and shouldn’t.

3. 50 No Breathers. By lengthening the distance between breaths, you begin to learn about energy usage, and how to strike a balance between speed, and efficiency. There are a few ways to complete the entire 50. If you’re really fast, it’s not a big deal, because you’ll be back to the wall in about 25 seconds anyway. But for MOST people, it takes a bit more planning. Most swimmers who attempt this for the first time should begin with a semi-relaxed, smooth stroke. You need to focus initially on that balance between speed, and making sure you don’t use up the oxygen you already have in your system.

The tricky part about the 50 is the turn. During most flip turns, swimmers blow out a majority of their air to make sure water doesn’t go UP their nose. In a 50, however, you have to make sure you control how much air you release. This is a GREAT technique to learn because it can also help you store more oxygen in your lungs during your regular swimming, allowing for maximum push offs.

The final 25 usually shows a bit of pace quickening as the swimmer gets closer to the end. This encourages the swimmer to learn good finishes as well. All in all, 50 no breathers are a GREAT educational tool.

How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
No breathers aren’t just about pain. They’re also about learning. If you’re new to this sort of thing, start with just short distances, and in the shallow end. Try 4 strokes, then 5, and so on. Don’t start with the 50s. Make those a target for the future. For now, choose a goal that’s challenging but obtainable. To use no breathers to help swim better, it’s not about the pain, but about the opportunity to focus on just the stroke, without having to worry about breathing.

Of course, another way to accomplish this would be with a center-mount snorkel, but what fun would THAT be?