Bow Wave Breathing

One of the major challenges when swimming freestyle (front-crawl) is breathing. Swimming facing downwards in the water can feel a little scary because it’s not obvious at first how to take a breath in!

When breathing, many swimmers take what they feel is the safe option and try to completely lift their head clear of the water to make sure they find air. Unfortunately doing this lifts the front of the body and sinks the legs, creating huge amounts of drag:

See this in action here:

As you move forwards through the water your head creates a “bow-wave” – lifting slightly in front of the head and then dropping downwards forming a trough as it passes by your ears and neck:


When we rotate the head to breathe we want to keep the head low so that the bow wave is maintained – if we lift the head clear of the water the bow-wave instantly disappears!

By maintaining the bow wave, the trough of air stays besides your head and we can breathe into it. A good visualisation for this is to aim to keep your lower google in the water using that little pocket of air by your head to breathe:

Here’s Swim Smooth Head Coach Paul Newsome explaining this further:

Give this a go the next time you swim and notice how much more easily you move through the water when you get it right.

To make things a little easier, we suggest you swim with a pair of swimming fins (flippers) on to give you additional propulsion and support in the water so you can swim more easily and focus more on breathing correctly.

Jono Visualisation

To finish off, take a watch of this clip of Olympic swimmer Jono Van Hazel in action. Jono has brilliant swimming technique – notice particularly how low he keeps his head when he breathes and how quickly he gets that breath before returning his head to the water. Brilliant technique!

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