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Learning Freestyle


When starting to teach children freestyle arms and breathing could I please have your opinion whether we should teach 2,3 or 4 arms.

Is there any reason why all swimmers should bilateral breath? Or can they breath two & four strokes and  be just as strong and smooth in the water as a bilateral swimmer?  Any feedback back would be greatly appreciated.  Regards K


Hi K, When teaching children freestyle I believe when armstrokes are introduced that 4 strokes is a good number to start with.  The reason for this is that it will often take them one, two or even three strokes to get the stroke pattern right each time.  If they only do 2 or 3 strokes they may struggle to do it correctly or make any necessary changes in just a few strokes.  I would also just practice 4 strokes with the right arm OR 4 strokes with the left arm initially before beginning a combination of one arm after the other.

In regards to breathing, I believe that they should learn to breath on both sides.

Drill 1: An initial drill would be freestyle kick with the board with the right hand holding the board and left hand by their side.  Ask them to do freestyle kick whilst blowing out bubbles and then turn their head to the left side to breath in and then turn it back down, then repeat each time they need a breath.  This can also be done with the left hand holding the board and breathing on the right hand side.

Drill 2: A similar drill can be used next with the right hand holding the board out in front and the left hand sitting out in front under the board, ready to pull through.  Every time the child needs a breath they should begin an armstroke with their left hand and turn to breath on their left side and then place their head back into the water until they need another breath in.  This can be practised on both sides of the body too so that the child learns to breath equally on both sides.

Drill 3: Single arm freestyle is a good drill to do next.  This can be done initially with the left arm and breathing on the left hand side and then with the right arm breathing on the right hand side.

When a child starts swimming at least 15 to 25 metres freestyle, they should learn to breath with various breathing patterns.  This includes breathing every 4 strokes, both on the left hand side and the right hand side.

It also means introducing breathing every 3 strokes so that they learn to alternate which side they breath. Bilateral breathing is a good skill for swimmers to be able to do as it teaches them to rotate equally on both sides of the body and to breath on both sides. It also means that if they choose (or their teacher/coach chooses) to breath on one side only, they can put in a 3 stroke breath every now and then to see what is happening on the other side of the pool.

Over time young children will like one breathing pattern over another.  Some will choose breathing every 3, others will choose every 2 or 4 (I prefer breathing every 4 for young children as it helps them to keep their head still rather than moving it all the time, and also helps to build up their lung capacity and breath control) and some will do a combination eg 4 4 3 3 4 4 where they will do a majority of breaths on the one side but still stick some 3’s in every now and then to provide balance.

Overall, a swimmer who breaths on one side can be just and strong and smooth as a swimmer who breaths bilaterally so it is worth teaching an experimenting over time with both.




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