Beginner swim training
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Treading water pt2: mastering front crawl breathing

Now into her second month of training for her first open water event, digital journalist and beginner swimmer Abi Whyte reflects on the last few weeks working on her front crawl breathing and body position in the water

I’m now entering my second month of training for my 4-mile swim the River Arun in September and I’m surprised at how much I’m enjoying it. I thought I’d find indoor pool-training dull, but there’s something very satisfying and meditative about completing measured laps in warm water. I’m not getting too comfortable though – I’m still doing my cold-water lake dips once a week!

Despite initial plans to do just one 1-hour pool session a week, I’ve managed to up this to two sessions a week so far, occasionally even three if I jiggle work around a bit.

Read part 1 of Abi’s training blog

Unilateral vs bilateral

As the weeks go by I find myself having a preference for unilateral breathing (breathing every other arm stroke). I just find I get into a good rhythm with it, and my rotation feels better. I swap sides every length so that my stroke is balanced, and mix it up with some bilateral breathing too, usually when I’m warming up or cooling down.

A swimmer in a neighbouring lane noticed I raise my head a bit too much, which creates drag, so he suggested I tuck my chin in and engage my core by pulling my belly button in. I gave it a try and immediately noticed I was more streamlined and horizontal in the water. Thanks, whoever you are!

Next few weeks of training

Near the start of my training in January I timed how long it took me to swim 1km, which was 28m. I timed myself again last week and it was 24m. The window for doing the 4-mile swim is 2 hours, so if keep up my training and hone my technique, hopefully I’ll speed up a little more and be all set for the Arun swim.

While I feel good about my front-crawl breathing and arm strokes, I have no idea what I’m doing with my legs. So far I’ve not really been using them much – whenever I do try to kick, it feels very uncoordinated and doesn’t make me any faster. In Simon’s recent Winter Freestyle Refresher: Unleash The Power of Your Legs, he recommends some drills to improve your kick, so I’ll give these a try in the coming weeks.

If I do an average of two sessions a week, in session one I’ll focus on technique, and in session two I’ll focus on speed or endurance.

Next month, open water temperatures should start creeping up again, so I hope I’ll be able to take my training into the lake and start incorporating sighting into my front crawl.

Other issues to work on

I’m easily distracted, and perhaps a little self-conscious, lane swimming in a public pool. I need to get more in ‘the zone’. Jonathan likens it to being in a zen-like state in his article about how to have a happy public lane swim, so that’s what I’ll try to channel more from now on – to focus on my own swimming and not worry about being too slow in my lane. Basically I need to banish my imposter syndrome!

An interesting incident happened recently – an impressively fast head-down breaststroker overtook me but it was near the end of the lane and she crashed into an oncoming swimmer. They started having a row with each other so I continued on my merry way. Best not to get involved. Very zen, don’t you think?!

I just want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who’s donated to my fundraiser for Aspire so far! It’s wonderful to have your support, and for such a great cause, too.

Would you like to join Abi for a 4-mile swim in the River Arun, raising money for Aspire? There are still places left! Find out more: donate to Abi’s fundraising page for Aspire, go to

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Abi writes swimming news stories and features for the Outdoor Swimmer website and manages the social media channels. She loves to swim, run, hike and SUP close to her home in Herefordshire. While she’s a keen wild swimmer, Abi is new to the world of open water events and recently completed her first open water mile. She has previously written for The Guardian, BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC History Magazine and Ernest Journal.