Find out your optimum breathing pattern for Freestyle swimming

Hi Sheng  Jun,

I would like to know what kind of breathing pattern you use in training and in your longer distance races (800m/ 1500m) when swimming freestyle?
I am a distance swimmer and I have been breathing every 3 strokes (bilaterally) during most part of my races as I was taught that way and it felt comfortable.
Recently, I have made some changes to my stroke and am experimenting with varying my breathing patterns. It would be great to get some insight and tips from a top swimmer like you!

pang sheng jun freestyle

Breathing patterns for Freestyle swimming

Hi there!

As you should know there are a few different breathing patterns for Freestyle, swimmers mostly breathe every 2 or 4 strokes. In some cases, swimmers breathe bilaterally.

Well the most important question I would have to ask is this: are you a guy or a girl? Because if you are a guy, I’d recommend either the 2 or 4 stroke breathing pattern, whereas if you are a girl, I’d recommend sticking to your bilateral breathing pattern. I’m not saying that only girls use the bilateral breathing pattern, but allow me to elaborate further.

Almost all guys are more dominant on one side of their body, therefore we tend to have a loping Freestyle stroke. Not sure what a loping Freestyle stroke is? You can take a look at this video: 

I have a loping Freestyle stroke as well, so it’s best that I stick to a 2/4 stroke breathing pattern so that my strokes will flow well. I tried doing bilateral breathing before but I couldn’t maintain a good body position in the water as my left hand catch for Freestyle is not as good as my right, therefore my body position drops a little every time I do bilateral breathing which made me swim slower.

Having a loping Freestyle gives you a good rhythm, and having a good rhythm is important when it comes to distance swimming as it is efficient and less effort is used.

pang sheng jun freestyle swimming

Since I’m more of a distance swimmer, I stick to a 2 stroke breathing pattern as I find that lactate kicks in later in the race as compared to a 4 stroke breathing pattern. That is because having a 2 stroke breathing pattern allows me to get the maximum amount of oxygen consumption I need for the whole race, thus carbon dioxide levels are kept low during my race.

In a distance race, it’s more about focusing on consistency rather than speed, so there is no point in sacrificing your oxygen consumption by doing a 4 stroke breathing pattern as the speed:effort ratio is just not worth it in my opinion.

Remember in distance races, consistency is key, so I would recommend using a 2 stroke breathing pattern. 


For all the distance guys that are training with me, we are using the 2 stroke breathing pattern as we find that it’s the most efficient way to swim fast without having too much of a lactate build up.

To elaborate more about bilateral breathing, most girls in the National training squad are using a bilateral breathing pattern when swimming. I guess the body mechanics of girls and guys are slightly different and the dominance on one side of the body is less prominent for girls, so most of them breathe every 3 strokes and they find that that works best for them.

All in all, though I recommend the 2 stroke breathing pattern, it really depends on what kind of Freestyle stroke you have. If it’s a loping stroke, then 2 strokes per breath is great. If your Freestyle is a catch up stroke, then you may stick to your bilateral breathing pattern.

I would advise that you just try all the various breathing patterns out and see which gives you the best consistency in timings.

Most importantly, stick to what you are comfortable with because each breathing pattern would suit different individuals. Hope this helps!

Drop me a question at Ask.PSJ and it may appear on my next blog post! 


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One Reply to “Find out your optimum breathing pattern for Freestyle swimming”

  1. Hi Sheng Jun! I am the asker of this question… Thanks for your detailed reply. I am a girl which probably explains the breathing pattern that I developed but I gonna heed your advice and experiment to see what suits me best. Now that you mentioned, I do agree that many guys have a fluid loping stroke and less so for us girls…. Thank you for enlightening me and wish you all the best in your upcoming competitions 🙂

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