Breathing in Freestyle with The Side Glide – Technique Overview

While you observe your little ones learning to swim freestyle (also known as Front Crawl), you will appreciate the many challenges they face. If you are not a swimmer, it may be difficult to fully appreciate the many fine details these little swimmers are trying to master. Early swimming skills such as floats and glides are reasonably manageable for most children to learn and master. However, when arm circles, kicking, and breathing are introduced, many children’s coordination and skills seem to fall apart dramatically.

Side Glide

One of the methods our highly trained swimming instructors will use to combat the loss of coordination when learning to breathe during freestyle is the side glide. Picture a standard kitchen butter knife. Now, turn that knife on its edge. This is the side glide position. Your little one will need to be streamlined in this knife-like position; one arm is stretched out straight in front of them, with the other arm being straight and glued to the side of the body. Think of one hand reaching toward one end of the pool while the other hand is reaching toward the other end of the pool. The ideal body position is streamlined, straight, and knife-like during the side glide.

This streamlined position requires a great deal of body control; every muscle will work as it fights to maintain this edge as the water buffets it constantly. Once the glide can be held for several seconds in ideal form, and their instructor assesses that they are ready, the roll to breathing will be added, followed by adding the flutter kick.

Breath Roll & Flutter Kick

When the breath roll and the flutter kick are added, you may notice a slight regression in your child’s abilities. No worries! Each time a new skill is added, the mind and body must adapt by making alterations to the coordination and movement patterns needed by the skill. Consider that their brains need time to process all this new information and translate that into movement. Our instructors are always ready to guide your child to success!

Perfecting The Breathing Cycle

Once side glide and side glide with a flutter kick have been mastered, swimmers have the ability to dig in and perfect their breathing cycle of exhaling into the water through their mouth and nose and inhaling with just the mouth nose, and lower face out of the water. While holding the side glide position, swimmers will roll from a face-down position and back to the side glide while breathing rhythmically.
If needed, they can maintain the side glide position for a bit in order to catch their breath, all while keeping their flutter kick going in order to propel themselves through the water. Many common errors may arise during this phase, such as rolling right onto the back or allowing the body to ‘snake’ through the water rather than staying straight. However, our expert and enthusiastic instructors are ready for these challenges!

Arm Circles

Arm circles will be added to increase the propulsion and build the swim toward the recognizable freestyle stroke. Now that the individual skills of breathing, kicking, and arm circles have come together, the finer details of the stroke can be fine-tuned through practice and regular, consistent swimming lessons.


The side glide skill is critical to learn as it facilitates breathing while swimming. It’s important to remember that if breath control is absent or if your child is struggling with the rhythm of breathing in and out of the water, nothing else matters. This is because it is profoundly challenging to think about kicking or using your arms if you feel like you cannot breathe! Our learn-to-swim curriculum is tried and true and has been developed and perfected over several decades by our family and those that we have identified as outstanding instructors!

Come learn to swim with the best at Steve Wallen Swim School in El Dorado Hills and Roseville!

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