Intro to Interrupted Breathing

Interrupted Breathing Introduction

Once you have learned Streamline Position, we may next introduce you to Interrupted Breathing (a.k.a. Sweet Spot Breathing). Interrupted Breathing is a way of turning to breathe from Streamline Position, while keeping a low-effort position in the water.

The intention behind this breathing position is to ‘interrupt’ the stroke but maintain long, balanced, streamline body, parallel to the surface, that is immediately ready to resume swimming when you are. It is the rest position that requires the least amount of effort to hold – lower heart rate, calmer breathing.

For this reason we teach it as a highly useful, if not essential self-rescue or self-calming position for children and adults, open-water swimmers and triathletes. Counter-intuitively, it works very well in rough water because you are staying down in the water, moving with the surface of the water as it moves, rather than going vertical and trying to lift your head above it, fighting its motion.

Interrupted Breathing is suitable:

  • when using during drills that have you pause in Streamline Position
  • when doing drills over a full length of the pool and stopping in the middle is disruptive to other swimmers
  • when swimming whole stroke in the pool
  • when in the middle of a race or rough water and you need to recover your breath and composure

You are encouraged to practice this breathing position and use it frequently because the better you can do this the easier it will be to develop Rhythmic Breathing – the skills for each overlap a great deal.


Lesson for Interrupted Breathing

This is an outline of the main drills, cues we may use while introducing you to the Interrupted Breathing skill.



Here are some demonstrations of how to practice…



Here are the main cues to help you with critical parts of body position and movement…

  • Turn towards open side (‘through the window’)
  • Rotate head first – the turn of the head encourages the torso to turn
  • Rotate with the Hip
  • Keep head underwater as you turn
  • Turn on the ‘shishkabob’ spine – keep head perfectly aligned with spine
  • Bubble out from the nose until nose and mouth breach the surface
  • Keep lead arm anchored deep as is comfortable (in Backstroke Streamline position)
  • Keep the smallest face out of the water while breathing
  • Relax head and neck once in neutral
  • Water should brush the top of your goggles
  • Exhale from nose as face rotates under
  • Relax head and neck once in neutral

Practice Set for Integrated Breathing

Practice Sets for Integrated Breathing

Skills To Build

•  To maintain the First Connections

•  To turn and return the head without disrupting that ideal stroke pattern

•  To feel as little disruption to The Frame and Streamline Shape as possible

•  To make breathing feel the same on either side

Breathing easily depends greatly on the strength of your stroke skills which support it. You want to feel your body long, straight, and firm in Streamline as you turn and return the head from breathing. The turning of the head should not disrupt the position of the body, nor force the movement of the recovery arm. Use the thrust of the catch and aim your body in Streamline to slide the upper body near the surface so the head is right there at the air already.


Practice Set for Integrated Breathing

Choose 2 or 3 of the cues from the lesson to work on today.

Then, for each cue, work through these activities, as far as you can go successfully. Take one cue and work through the list. Then take the next cue and work through the list again, and so on.

•  4 to 6x, for each side, Balance Position to Streamline with ‘Nod’

•  4 to 6x, for each side, Balance Position to Streamline with ‘Split The Face’

•  4 to 6x, for each side, Balance Position to Streamline with ‘Hooked Fish’

•  4 to 6x, for each side, 3 Strokes To Streamline

•  4 to 6x, for each side, 3 Stroke, 3-Part Breathing, 3 Strokes

•  4 to 6x, for each side, 6 Strokes with 1 turn to breath (no pauses)

•  4 to 6x, for each side, 9 strokes with 2 turns to breath along the way

•  2x length of pool, for each side, turning toward air on every 4-2-4-2 strokes

•  2x length of pool, turning toward air on every 3 strokes

Lesson for Integrated Breathing

Lesson for Integrate Breathing

When we are following a standard freestyle lesson series, in the first two or three lessons we build the Four Essential Features of the freestyle stroke, and then come to Integrate Breathing, which depends on those features.

Below is the outline of the skills, drills and cues, with links to video demonstrations of the drills. The following lists of activities and the lists of cues may contain more items than you experienced in your lesson. The instructor will watch the time and your pace of learning and choose a certain sequence of activities and the few most relevant cues for you to work with.


Integrate Breathing


Skills For Integrated Breathing

1. Position of Head and Lead Arm

2. Timing of Turn

3. Air Management (exhale/inhale)



These drills are listed, starting with easiest, in order of increasing complexity:

•  Standing rehearsal, Turning the Head with arms moving from Balance Position To Streamline Position

•  Balance Position to Streamline with Nod

•  Balance Position to Streamline with Split The Face

•  Balance Position to Streamline with Hooked Fish

•  3 Strokes To Streamline, with Turn to Breath

•  3 Strokes, 3-Part Breathing, 1 Stroke

•  Whole Strokes with Nod

•  Whole Strokes with 3-Part Breathing

•  Multiple strokes – breathing every 4 strokes (breathe to one side on each length)

•  Multiple strokes – alternate Interrupted Breathing and Rhythmic Breathing

•  Multiple strokes – breathing every 3 strokes (alternate breathing sides)


We may also do some Air Management drills to help with exhale and inhale:

•  Standing rehearsal – Bubbles from nose

•  Standing rehearsal – Clear The Airways

•  Standing rehearsal – Quick Sip of Air


In each drill we may use three stages for developing the head position, starting below the surface and gradually working to a ‘sneaky breathing’ position with half the head still in the water…


First, Nod to the side, both goggles underwater, looking directly at the wall, then quickly turning back to face-down position.

Next, Split The Face, and keep the shishkabob underwater pointing straight ahead. One goggle underwater and one goggle above water. The mouth is half in, half out of the water.

Next, reach the cheek and the lips up to the air. Kiss the air with the lips. You may not attempt to breathe during the first tries of this just to make sure you can touch the air. Then, when you feel more confident that air is there, you may attempt a quick sip of air.


Cues For Position

•  Keep head in line with spine

•  Tip of the head is underwater

•  Turn head on spine axis (shishkabob spine)

•  Head remains flat (on pillow) while turned toward air

•  Keep extending lead arm while turning/returning the head

•  Cheek up, forehead down (you don’t breathe with both goggles out of the water)

•  Tilt head down further than you think (your sense of ‘flat’ may not be truly flat)


Cues For Timing Of Turn

•  Turn head right with start of the catch

•  Turn head right with start of entry (turn away from entry arm)

•  Turn a bit faster than torso is turning (but not whiplash)

•  Touch the air just long enough for a quick inhale

•  Return the head to face-down immediately

•  Return the head before recovery arm comes over head


Cues For Air Management

•  Steady bubbles from the nose

•  Burst of air as mouth touches air, to clear the airway of water

•  Emphasize the exhale – body needs to rid of CO2, not need more O2

•  Squeeze out with abdominal muscles

•  Partial, frequent air exchange (rather than massive, complete empty/fill)

•  Quick sip of air

Intro to Integrated Breathing

Integrate Breathing Introduction

In order to work on Breathing skills, we have first worked on establishing the Four Essential Features of the freestyle stroke:

1. Build The Frame

2. Form Streamline Shape

3. Generate Forward Momentum

4. Make First Connections

These four features create the foundation upon which you may perform easier breathing.

Previously you learned how to pause the stroke and roll onto your back to breathe in the Interrupted Breathing position. In Integrated Breathing, you turn only half-way, where the here the breath is integrated into the stroke rhythm rather than pausing or disrupting the stroke.

Though absolutely necessary to swim more than a few seconds, breathing is an advanced skill because it is a dependent skill. It is dependent on the foundation features of The Frame, the Streamline Position, and the First Connections. When these features are in place learning to breath rhythmically is much easier. When these are absent breathing will challenging to learn.


Integrated Breathing

There are a lot of little details to making breathing rhythmic and easy – there are so many details it can feel overwhelming to work on all at once. To make it more manageable we’ve arranged them into 3 categories and you work on them in this order of priority, so the skills come together more easily.


Skill Categories for Integrated Breathing

1. Positioning of Head and Lead Arm

2. Timing of Turn

3. Air Management (exhale/inhale)



The two main features of Positioning are the head position and the lead arm position.


Head Position


Head position is absolutely critical – the more you trust and lay that head down flat, the easier it is to get the mouth to air. This is counter-intuitive to the land-mammal brain, which urges you to tilt the head up above the surface of the water. But you don’t need the head to be out of the water to breathe – actually you just need the side of the mouth to  reach up into the air.

The more of the head you can down in the water, the less you provoke gravity, the less drag created from the act of breathing. And more, by keeping the head down in the water (as seen in the image above) the head pushing through the water creates a bow wave which then creates a trough, or dip in the water right where the mouth is so that you can actually keep the mouth even lower. This is called ‘sneaky breathing’.

However, this is an all-or-nothing situation – if you tilt your head even just a little bit, that removes the bow wave and the trough and then you have to lift the head even higher out of the water to get the mouth clear. In our lessons we work on getting you into that sneaky breathing position. If it is too difficult at first to get into this position, then we’ll help you keep the head low in the water and turn the face farther up, toward the air, rather than tilt the head up.


Characteristics Of Best Head Position

•  Head is in line with the spine (no tilt)

•  Side of head is laying on the ‘water pillow’

•  Half the face is underwater while turned

•  The chin and mouth are reaching farther sideways, above the surface


Lead Arm Position

And, while turning to breathe and returning the head to face-down position, the body remains extending in Streamline Position. In particular, you must keep that lead arm extending forward.  Again, the land-mammal instinct is to push down on the water with that lead arm in order to push the head up above the surface. The drills are meant to give you the opportunity to resist and override that old instinct.



Timing Of The Turn

The turning of the torso creates the window of opportunity for turning the head to that side to breathe. But that window is much wider than you need. You could turn early in that window of time, in the middle, or later. The best moment to turn is as soon as possible, and come to the surface as soon as possible, and return to face-down position as soon as possible – to take advantage of the moment of the stroke where there is the most acceleration, the most lift.

The later you turn, or the longer you stay, the more problems there will be because later in that window there is no more propulsion, the body is decelerating, the body is dropping lower in the water and the recovery arm is starting to come over the body, increasing the press of gravity on the body.


Characteristics Of Head Turn

•  Begin turning right with the start of the catch

•  Turn a bit more aggressively than the torso is turning (but not ‘whiplash’!)

•  Touch the air with the mouth just long enough to make a quick sip

•  Return the head immediately to face-down weightless position


Air Management

In freestyle there is an asymmetric pattern to breathing, which is not normal for humans. There is a long period of time in the non-breathing strokes where you are exhaling, and then a very brief moment where you inhale and refill the lungs.

You need to avoid two extremes:

1. Holding the breath on the non-breathing strokes (no exhale underwater)

2. Massive exhales (or emptying the lungs completely)

Rather, to stay most comfortable, aim for a partial air exchange, using only about 1/3 to 1/2 of your perceived lung volume. Always keep a portion in reserve. The goal is to take smaller but more frequent breaths, so that you could afford to skip one from time to time as interruptions in your access to air is common in pools and open water.

As breathing skill increases, it will feel easier to get to air, and it will be less disruptive to your stroke rhythm so you will feel like you can afford to take breaths more often.


Three Parts Of Breathing

1. Exhale underwater

2. Clear The Airways

3. Quick Sip Of Air


Exhale Underwater

You control the volume through the exhale underwater. When swimming is light to moderate in intensity, you aim for exhaling from the nose only, mouth closed. As intensity increases you may add exhale from the mouth as well.

On the first non-breathing stroke, you may hold the breath for a moment or give the smallest bubbles from the nose. Then as you take the second and third stroke, anticipating the upcoming breathing stroke, you may start to gradually increase the intensity of the exhale, measuring it so that you come to the right volume just as your face breaks the surface to begin inhaling.


Clear The Airway

Let’s use a little technique from our aquatic cousins.



As the face is turning toward the air, right at the moment the nose and mouth are about to break the surface, you compress the diaphragm to send a blast of air out the nose and mouth to push water away from those openings.

This will help the brain feel more comfortable immediately taking an inhale. The compression of the diaphragm will prime the lungs to immediately start pulling air back in without you having to forcefully do it. 


Quick Sip Of Air

The time that your face is out of the water is brief and precious. Do not waste any of that time exhaling, since you can do all of that underwater. When the mouth clears the water, everything needs to be ready to inhale immediately.

And, you are aiming to take just a quick sip of air, to top off the lungs… if you’ve carefully exhaled just a partial amount. Then turn the face back down immediately. Do not linger with the face at the surface.

Keep in mind that the farther you turn your mouth away (above) the surface of the water, the farther the head turns, the longer it will take to turn the head up and the longer it will take to get the head back to face-down weightless position. If you need to take a longer inhale, you may turn the face farther up toward the air, and be aware that you may need to pause the stroke briefly to allow for this extra time, without disrupting the stroke overlap once you resume the arm movements.