This post is courtesy of Abbie Fish of RITTER Sports Performance. From qualifying for the Olympic Trials to working at USA Swimming’s headquarters, Abbie has been on all sides of swimming. Abbie is a stroke mechanics guru and believes anyone with the heart to train can benefit from technical advice! [CLICK HERE] for a FREE stroke technique lesson from Coach Abbie!


Welcome back to our last and final segment of our Backstroke Series!

Last time, we dove into the  MAJOR  difference between Backstroke and Freestyle. This week, we are going to discuss when to breathe during backstroke, and the benefits of a consistent breathing pattern.

In case you missed last week’s post, click here to learn about the major difference between the long-axis strokes!

Otherwise, let's get started!

Most swimmers think that the best Backstroke breathing pattern is to breathe  whenever  they need to. This  misconception  comes from the fact that the Backstroke stroke allows a swimmer to breathe whenever they want, because it's the only stroke where a swimmer's face spends more time above the water, than under.

This common misconception has lead to many frustrations among swimmers, and the development of some technical bad habits.

The  general  rule  for breathing during Backstroke is a swimmer should correlate their breathing pattern with their arm strokes. What this means is that when a swimmer is either pulling or recovering, their breathing will follow pattern of their arm cycle—similar to  three  other strokes.

In my opinion, the  best  backstroke breathing pattern is when a swimmer starts inhaling right before pinky entry on their right arm and continues inhaling through half of the right arm pull and then, they start exhaling (at that same point with their left arm)-- right before entry and through half of the left arm pull. The swimmer should alternate between inhaling and exhaling at the same  point, but on different arm strokes.


A3 Performance On Deck Blog Best Backstroke Breathing Pattern

P.S. It does NOT matter which arm you chose to inhale of exhale with.


The reason I prefer this breathing pattern over others is for a few reasons:

  • It promotes consistent breathing cycles
In every stroke we swim, we are consistently breathing at a regular rate. There is  NO  reason Backstroke shouldn't be the same. As humans, we must shuttle lactate out of our body and the only way to do that is by breathing. If you want to swim fast, you also need to learn the best pattern to breathe – for every stroke.


Not sure what lactate is, find more information on breathing cycles here

  • There is less probability of water molecules getting into your mouth

Due to surface tension and the fact a swimmer’s face is out of the water, Backstrokers are always at constant risk of getting extra water into their mouth or nose. For a few brief moments after the arm exits the water (into the recovery), the water molecules will stick to the arm due to surface tension and then abruptly fall off. I’ve read and been instructed by many articles to breathe similar to how I described above--but only during the recovery phase. This breathing pattern does  NOT  account for surface tension.

Because surface tension is a real issue for Backstrokers, I advise my swimmers to  wait  until the hand has passed their head/mouth/nose (i.e. right before pinky entry) to inhale or exhale, so   there is no added risk of getting water into their mouth, while they are trying to get air.

  • It’s a great pattern for any Backstroke distance

A 50 Backstroke tempo is very different than a 200 Backstroke tempo. By sticking to this   breathing pattern, a swimmer will consistently get air,  AND  shorten their inhale/exhales to adjust to their higher or lower tempo.

By shortening their inhales/exhales during shorter Backstroke events, this promotes a swimmer to not only have a consistent gas exchange, but to keep air in their lungs. This will help with body balance and leg lift while swimming.

Some of the other breathing patterns like--either inhaling or exhaling on every recovery of your right arm  ONLY —doesn’t promote enough gas exchange and causes the swimmer to sink while swimming.


A3 Performance On Deck Blog Best Backstroke Breathing Pattern


Overall, breathing consistently and in correlation with your arm strokes is the  BEST  breathing pattern in Backstroke. A swimmer should  always  wait to inhale or exhale until their arms have bypassed their mouth or nose to avoid inhaling any extra water.

Be sure to stay tuned for next week, as we finish up our Backstroke series discussing many of the common technical errors seen in this stroke!

Thanks for tuning in!

Until Next Time,

A. Fish


Learn more from A3 Performance Partners Abbie Fish and Ritter Sports Performance on Social Media:

The [Best] Backstroke Breathing Pattern Is... @AB Fish & @Ritter Sports Performance
The [Best] Backstroke Breathing Pattern Is...  @afish1 & @rittersp
The [Best] Backstroke Breathing Pattern Is...  @theafish1 & @rittersp
October 04, 2017 — A3 Performance

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