Rollover breathing: What is it, and why do it?


Today we want to talk about a skill that forms the foundation of both safety- and technique-oriented teaching. Sometimes this technique seems a little unusual to swimmers and their families at first, so we thought you might be interested in reading about it before classes begin! Rollover breathing is when a swimmer rolls to their back to rest and breathe instead of lifting their heads. In many traditional swimming programs, young children are taught to lift their heads out of the water when they need a breath. This is not efficient -- or even safe! -- for many reasons. Prior to the 4th birthday, most children are not developmentally able to lift their heads in this manner without assistance. Even if they are able to do so, this impedes correct body position and water balance, as well as reinforces bad swimming habits that must be corrected later. More importantly, lifting the head to breathe requires substantial energy for young, new swimmers. Even if a swimmer can lift their heads for a brief period of time, most will tire quickly. This is why teaching "treading water" techniques, especially in young children, is outdated. The alternative to lifting the head is rolling to the back. The benefits to this are two-fold: 1.) It's safer! Back-floating requires little to no energy compared to lifting the head or treading water. It can therefore be performed for long periods of time while calling for help, and is much safer in the event of an aquatic emergency. 2.) It's encourages proper technique! Rollover breathing is a crucial precursor to rotary ("side") breathing because it teaches body alignment and balance. Young children who learn rollover breathing first will find it very easy to transition into side breathing when they become more advanced. In contrast, lifting the head serves no technical purpose in learning proper freestyle form and can encourage bad posture, making it difficult to learn proper form later. There is no reason for young children to be taught to lift their heads until they are learning breaststroke. All of EZ Swim Schools learn-to-swim lessons are centered around performing a "swim-float-swim" sequence: i.e., a child swims on their stomach with their head down in the water, rolls to their back to rest and breathe, then rolls back to their stomach to swim again. This process can be repeated many times without tiring, as the child can always rest on their backs. This allows children to swim much greater distances, gaining confidence and independence as well as becoming much safer. Teaching rollover breathing can be challenging, so make sure you have the supervision of a trained instructor before you attempt to practice it with your child. This summer, make sure that any swim lesson program you're considering is built on a "swim-float-swim" philosophy and does not utilize head-lifting for a breath in young children.

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