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Freestyle – First Breath

The argument will go on forever… coaches want swimmers to SWIM off the walls, while swimmers want to grab some well deserved AIR! All agree, however, that the fastest you’ll be going as a swimmer in a race, is off the walls.

The first breath off the wall after a freestyle flip turn can make, or break, your race. This drill describes three options for taking that first breath, and then you’ll have to decide which is right for you.

Why Do It:
Every swimmer must discover the balance between maintaining velocity… and getting air. This is especially true on each pushoff. Glide too long and you lose velocity (but you get that little bit of extra "down" time). Go to air too soon and you also lose velocity. You have to develop a feel for the timing that gives you the best of both — enough velocity to travel fast and enough air to manage your overall energy throughout a race.

How to Do It:
1. Swim into the wall as you normally would.  In test #1, you’ll be RUSHING to air, which is probably what you normally do when you’re really hurting in practice. When you come off the wall, you’ll be leaning to one side or the other. The side that you’re leaning to will be the side on which your mouth is closest to air.   As you push off the wall, initiate your first stroke with the arm that’s also closest to the surface and take a breath.

2. 
In test #2, you’ll also be rushing a bit, but you’re going to initiate the first stroke with the arm that’s AWAY from the side to which you’re leaning.   In this drill, you’ll be following THAT arm to air. While you’re still breathing on the first stroke, it should be easier for you to maintain a better body line. It should also be easier for you to initiate full-body rotation.

3. Finally, in test #3, you’ll initiate the first stroke with the arm that’s away from the side to which you’re leaning, but you won’t follow that arm to air. Instead, you’ll follow the other arm to air when you initiate your first stroke with it. In a way, it’s still your first stroke (with that arm), but you’ll be maintaining the MOST momentum with this option.

How to Do It Really well (the Fine Points):

Option1 swimmers are in urgent need of air… and they ruin all that great speed for the sake of breathing. What they don’t realize is that if they could go without air for only another few TENTHS of a second, they could maintain a higher speed (hang on to their momentum) for a longer time.

Test #2 is an OK option. You’ll at least have to rotate your body all the way to the other side to catch that first breath. If you’ve been using option #1, then option #2 is MUCH better. 

Option #3 is by far the best. It lets you maintaining the most momentum.  Sure, you’ll hurt for a few tenths longer, but that pain will subside when you see how much you’ve just gained on the swimmer in the next lane.

Funny how winning seems to eliminate all pain.

Originally published on August 18, 2006