As a swimming coach I’m always asked a lot of different questions about improving technique, increasing speed, learning the correct breathing method, etc.  It got me wondering what the biggest challenges everyday swimmers are having.

If there was one thing which if you could get right, you know your swimming would improve dramatically, what would it be? Leave a comment below and let me know!

I know when I was  first starting out I always had trouble finding a rhythm in freestyle. My stroke would constantly feel messy and I could never swim long distance events because I had no momentum. After much experimenting, I discovered the way to find a rhythm in freestyle is to choose a breathing pattern and stick to it. That doesn’t mean you MUST breath every 3rd stroke or every 4th stroke, it means whatever pattern you choose for one lap, you stick to it. For example in a 25 meter pool my breathing pattern is now 2/3/3/2 for one lap. I have found this to be the best rhythm for me.

So if there was one thing which if you could learn, you believe your swimming would improve dramatically, what would it be?

Leave your answer by leaving a comment below and I’ll do my best to get back to you 🙂

Happy swimming, Brent

44 Responses

  1. Hi Brent,

    Thanks for the great tips! Keep them coming.

    I got your Mastering Freestyle program last week and I’ve been blown away by the results after only a couple of day. So far I’ve gone from 1min 10 secs to 58 seconds for 50 meters! Not only that my freestyle is looking much better and it feels a lot smoother. Thanks pal 🙂

    My question is:

    What’s the quickest way to knock a few seconds off my breaststroke time?

    Thanks, Chris J

  2. How is “effortless swimming” the same as and how is it different from “total immersion” teachings? I am 58 and started to swim within the past year. Thanks in advance for the reply.

  3. I breath every 4th stroke, but can’t seem to get a comfortable way of breathing. Should I breath out through my nose or blow out my mouth when under water and do I hold my breath until 3rd stroke and then blow out before taking next breath?

  4. I have for the past year been struggling with swimming a long freesyle. Swimming a mile almost seems impossible, how ever at the health club i belong to, i see people much older than me swim that effortlessly. I have purchased programs on line before and not usually been happy with them, so I am a bit sceptical. I currently run 6 miles everyother day, bike 20 miles a few times a week. I could go a mile with breast stroke an such, but the freestyle swimming just tires me out. Even swimming 50 meters gets me tired. Very frustrated. I think it was hit on the head when someone related it to golf. Trying to remember to many things all at the same time.

  5. Thanks Chris,

    Great to hear you’ve had some really good results.

    In breaststroke make sure during the glide phase your head is down between between your arms. Too often swimmers look forward and create a lot of drag which slows them down substantially.

    Regards, Brent

  6. Hi Mike,

    Great question. Some of the things we teach in our Mastering Freestyle program are similar to the Total Immersion teachings (which are awesome by the way and I highly recommend all swimmers to watch their Freestyle DVD). We teach the importance of progressively learning the stroke through a series of drills, but we slightly differ because our program teaches quite a few different drills and training techniques which Sam Ashby and a number of other elite swimmers do at training. Our program isn’t for beginners though, we recommend it to people who can swim at least 50 meters with out stopping.

    I hope that answers your question Mike and all the ebst with your swimming 🙂

    Regards, Brent

  7. Hi Bill,

    I can understand your frustrations. What swimming programs have you tried?

    You sound like a fit guy so I think if you are able to get your technique down you could be a very good swimmer.

    Regards, Brent

  8. Hi Brent, I enjoy swimming a lot. I swim 5 days a week but i am very slow. I have had numerous private instructors, attended clinics, bought DVD’s, etc. I am still very slow. I swim 1500 meters in open water without a wetsuit in 36:00 minutes. In the pool i am even slower. I have been trying to work on bilaterial breathing and find that after about 50 meters i am out of breath, (i forget to exhale and hold my breath on my weak side). I am a strong, runner and cyclists so i no it is not a stamina thing. People tell me that swimming should be effortless. It is not effortless for me. In a wetsuit it is effortless but still slow. 39:00 minutes 1.2 miles. How do i learn to relax in the water and breath better? Some coaches say more conditioning. Suggestions drag a 5 gallon bucket behind me through the water. additionally a lot of hypoxic breathing. I always disagreed that my problem is fitness. Any ideas? I tried swimming flatter, i have tried swimming with stacked shoulders, 45 degrees , etc. I am also a sinker at 5’6 and 140# I can take a big inhale of air and sit on the bottom of the pool without exhaling. I hope that someone will help me figure this problem out? You are number 9 in the coaching series. I love open water swimming but only swim in open water during races. Any help would be great!! Jon

  9. I have never tried a swimming program, only other programs on line. I have tried a personal trainer at a health club, but only once and it is very expensive. I was thinking that your program might give me the drills I need to set goals to become a better swimmer. I think it is natural to keep going back to the things we are good at. I really do want to be a better swimmer.

  10. well im a 11 years old boy ,im 147 cm and 39 kgs
    i do train 3 times a week and i need to go faster
    my sprint time in 50 meters freestyle is 36 secs
    100 medley-1:25
    50 breastrokes=41 secs
    25 meters freestyle =14:37
    100 freestyle =1:17
    i would like to know how much i should swim a week and if i can exercise drylands thank u

  11. Brenton,

    I am a triathlete who has been trying to improve his stroke since 2003. I have tried total immersion, private coaching, video analysis and tips and advise from good swimmers. The result has been virtually no improvement whatsoever. I am a strong swimmer and have done 10k swims and multiple Ironman’s but only seem to have one speed and that is slow…

    I recently did Ironman Louisville and was 1,406th (1:27 swim) out of 2,400 out of the water. My bike and run is solid and finished 132nd overall but sadly 8 minutes outside of a Kona spot.

    I used to enjoy chasing people down after a slow swim but it now has mentally worn me down to the point where I am on the verge of packing it in and just being a duathlete.

    I can send you a video of my stroke but giving you some faults that I have they would be:

    1) Only breath to my right. Cannot breath to my left without completely losing my balance in the water.

    2) I cannot shake the dead spots in the front of my stroke. Tend to reach and hold and cannot get myself to stop this.

    3) I have a virtually (stiff ankles from marathon running) non productive kick.

    Any advise to the desperate?

  12. Hi Jon,

    Great question. Allowing yourself to relax in the water is something a lot of swimmers have trouble with.

    It sounds as though your fitness isn’t the problem, and using resistance training such as swimming with a bucket and any hypoxic training won’t help until you swim slowly with ease.

    I’d suggest working on stroke length and keeping your body long and streamlined throughout the stroke. If you can increase the distance you travel each stroke, you should find your times improving without a big change in your exertion. Two drills which help with this are:

    1. ‘Reach for the wall’ freestyle – This is the same as normal freestyle except each stroke you should extend your hand forward during the glide as though you were reaching to touch the wall at the end each stroke. This drill forces you to hold the glide an extra second or two and focus on keeping the body long.

    2. 6 kicks/3 strokes drill – In this drill, begin by kicking on your side with one arm extend out in front. After 6 kicks, take 3 arm strokes and then go back into kicking on your side, but this time you’ll be on your opposite side. Take another 6 kicks and then 3 arm strokes and repeat until the end of the lap. This drill helps by making you get good rotation through the shoulders and extending your reach forward during the glide phase.

    I hope that helps in some way 🙂

    Regards, Brent

  13. Hi Tarek,

    Keep up the good work buddy. They’re some quick times you’ve got there.

    I’d recommend training 3-6 times a week if possible, and the best dryland exercises to do are ones which focus on core strength (ie. pilates). If you can find a good pilates dvd and work on your core strength for 5-10 minutes before bed each night, you should definitely see an improvement in your swimming.


  14. Hi Brent
    I am an assistant coach with a group of young club swimmers . A common error in their freestyle is to drop their elbow on the pull through. Any suggestions on good drills to overcome this?

  15. Hi D,

    A good drill to work on pulling through with a high elbow and strong catch is Single Arm Catch Drill.

    Get the kids to kick on their front (with fins if needed) with both arms in front, shoulder width apart. Next, pull through with one arm, working on keeping the elbow high and near the surface of the water throughout the pull through. Complete the pull through with one arm and then return to the starting position. Do the same with the opposite arm and repeat until the end of the lap. It’s good to do something like 6×50, every odd one doing the drill and every even one doing normal freestyle swim.

    The drill gets the swimmer to focus solely on getting a high elbow catch. It’s always great to hear from another coach!


  16. As a not so young, very persistent, and slowly advancing swimmer, my trainer suggested using flippers on & off within my routine. Whether or not a coincidence, my already weak paddling has gone from bad to worse. Whereas I could just paddle a 25m pool length with a herculean effort, now I poopout entirely at under 10m. Here I am left paddling away like a fool, almost stationary until I tire out !!! Obviously my paddling style is totally ineffective, but I can’t seem to get the “click” of advice to correct it. Magic bullets are required please !!!

  17. Hi Anthony,

    I understand what you mean. Flippers can be useful when learning to kick and to get a feel for the correct body position, but if used too much they deter from your pull. If your trainer is in the water with you, get him to hold onto your hand out in front while he pulls you through the water and you take one stroke at a time. So you’ll be doing catch up freestyle but your trainer will hold each hand when it reaches the front. This should help you concentrate on each arm catch individually, and get a feel for what its like to travel smoothly through the water.


  18. Hi Brent

    I am learning to swim free style, started last July.68 years young.
    Can’t get coordination to achieve breathing. My kicking is weak.
    I would appreciate any tips you give me.


  19. Hi Brent
    I have a question about the Freestyle kick, I consider myself to a strong swimmer, but not so strong with the Freestyle kick. I have had any years of swimming training. I have always struggled with kicking, how do you get to be a strong kicker, has it got to do with the flexiblility with the ankles, I would love to find the secret to be a great Freestyle kicker.


  20. @JMac – To help with coordination and breathing, try kicking while holding a kickboard out in front. Then pull through with one arm at a time and practice breathing during the recovery phase. This helps single out the breathing during the stroke and makes it easier to focus on getting that right.

    Kicking – Practice vertical kicking. This helps strengthen the legs and get the used to kicking hard. If you need, hold a kickboard to your chest for extra buoyancy.

  21. @Lisa – Practice vertical kicking. It’s the quickest way to get better at kick. Try a set of 3×1 min of vertical kick to start out with, then increase duration or intensity as you get better. Flexibilty is a big factor too. Stetch your ankles, hamstrings and most importantly your glutes (butt).

  22. My feet are like anchors. Since my youth, I have not been able to straighten them out. They hang down like rudders. Should I be stretching them to develop a “ballerina” toe point flexibility. My current freestyle kick is a scissor-like kick, but I am at my limit on speed progress.

  23. Hi Steve,

    It helps to have flexible ankles so if you stretch them for a few minutes before and after each session, in a few weeks your flexibility should improve. The idea of stretching out your akles should be to reduce the drag they create (they create drag if pointing down when swimming) and increase the power from your kick. Good luck with it 🙂


  24. I started freestyle about a year ago so I could participate in triathalons. I have to take a breath every stroke. Is that bad? How can I train to be able to breath every other stroke? Should I worry about it?


  25. Hi John, Do you mean you need to breath EVERY stroke or every second stroke? Try relaxing in your freestyle and lengthening out your stroke as this can help reduce oxygen usage. Also practice breathing every 3 strokes when possible, and experiment with breathing every 4 strokes of possible. Breathing to one side isn’t bad, as long as you can occasionally breath to your opposite side when required.

  26. Hello, I am currently trying to master the combat stroke and I have a few questions. First of all my scissor kick feels a little weak, And second I keep swollowing air. I’m not sure what experience you have with the navy seal combat stroke but I’m sure these are common problems with other strokes also.


  27. If I could learn to grab water with my left arm like my right arm, I know that my swimming would drastically improve. Ordinarily, my left arm limply moves through the water without generating any pull. In contrast, my right arm often feels very powerful. If I could make my left arm 75% as effective as my right arm, I know that I would get better.

    By the way, I use a wheelchair and am unable to kick. Instead, I use pull buoy. Therefore, my arm pull is my main focus.

  28. Hi Brent. I train with a masters club here in the UK so we are well looked after in stroke terms.What I do lack, is dry land training. Most gyms only seem to be concerned about general fitness, and when you say you are a swimmer and need to improve strength, on all four strokes, they go blank and say whats Fly! Do you have any tips or routines?


  29. @Dan- To fix your breathing, roll onto your back after each stroke. If you’re struggling with scissor kick it might be a hamstring flexibility issue

    @Chris – Practice single arm drill with your weaker arm. It’s very hard to get both arms pulling with the same strength, instead use one arm as the side you glide more with, and your other arm as the power

    @Brian – The main things to work on are core strength (pilates, prone hold) and shoulder and back strength. Exercises using body weight and swiss balls are really good. There’s a chance I’ll be bringing out a dryland workouts video program in the next few months. Keep an eye out 🙂

  30. I have 2 questions that are holding me back from being near the top of my age group 40-44.
    1) I have trouble breathing if I don’t breath every other stroke, I am always breathing to my left, problem is in some open water swims the waves are breaking on that side.

    2) Weak kick, I don’t move if I just kick. Of course I’m a runner.

    Any help would be appreciated.

  31. Hi Tom,

    It’s okay to breath every second stroke, particularly in open water. I’d breathe every 3 strokes now and then if the waves make it hard to breathe.

    Practice vertical kick to improve, and ankle and hamstring stretches will help with that.

  32. Hai Brenton,

    I have a unique problem in my freestyle technique. I am not an advanced swimmer. When i swim i dont tread straight instead i go crosswards. My body also twitches sometimes and i am not able to have a freeflowing momentum. And how to use the arms like an ‘S’ while swimming(many say this)

  33. Hello Brenton.

    this is the most important tips.
    “As you go to breath again let all your air out quickly through your nose and mouth just before you take that next breath”
    my question is: where should this last breathing out be ? under water or out of the water?

    thank you sir in advance.

  34. Hello Brenton,
    While using ‘free-stroke’ what % of forward motion comes from the kick and how much comes from the arms? I ask this because l’m beginning to realise that my kick is non-existent. How to correct this?
    Now about turns,a really basic question,how to turn?
    Thanks a lot. Frank

  35. Hi Brent,

    I am 25 years old. Have been swimming now for 2 1/2 years and been competing for 2 years now. I competed in a 100 metre freestyle event and knocked 1 second off my P’B and achieved a time of 1.00.04. However i am struggling with my breathing patterns and wondered if you could help me out?. I find when i hit my third length i really feel as if im losing my stamina and when i hit my fourth length i am breathing every 2 strokes- do you have any drills i could try to control and improve my breathing and stamina?

    Thanks Brent



  36. hey brenton

    what tips do you have to building and achieving a high and consistent stroke rate and what benchmarks do you set for younger swimmers say 9-14 years

  37. I’ve studied the kick of good swimmers but it doesn’t seem to take. Mine’s very weak, although I’m in good shape and fairly strong. I’d love to improve it.

    And, Bilateral breathing. Your diagrams and explanations are excellent, but I still tend to get water instead of air about 50% of the time on my left (unused) side.

  38. @Frank – Long distance (over 200m) doesn’t use much leg propulsion, it’s only in sprinting where kick power is highly important. Shoulder rotation and your ‘catch’ are more important in anything over ‘200m’.

    Video on how to flip turn –

    @James – Great effort with your results. To improve your stamina in the 100m, breath control sets will help. An example set would be 8×50 on 2 mins where you don’t breath at all for the first 15-25m, and on your last 50m see how far you can go without breathing.

    @Vince – Explosive swimming helps increase stroke rate and build up fast twitch fibers in the body. An example of an explosive set would be 6x15m sprinting with a stroke rate higher than you normally would in a race.

    @ Stephen – Vertical kick will improve your kick –
    Ankle, hamstring and lower back flexibility is important too.

    How to stop choking on water –

  39. I’m a life long swimmer with little flexibility in my ankles…so I kick minimally on freestyle. Question…should I continue with kicking drills which I use fins with? Is there any hope in my kick improving? I love backstroke as well and seem to have even better body position so I do kick a little more.
    Any help??

  40. How can I improve my butterfly kick. I am 10 years old and my 50mtrs pb is 39.9 and this is ok but I have trouble maintaining my strength after the first two lengths and my 200 fly pb is 3.40…how can I get two kicks in on every stroke?

    Also, is there a swimming improvement DVD I can ask my parents to buy for my birthday?


  41. Hi Brent

    My name is Kian and I’m 10 years old and I’m having problems on my breaststroke legs. My body is strong but my legs are weak. Can you please help me to know how to swim propper breaststroke.

    Thanx Kian

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *