Level 3

Swimming Ideas: Level 3

Breathing, Breaststroke, Fly

Download the Level 3 PDF for your own program.

Ages: 5-12

Participants in level 3 should be comfortable going underwater on their own, gliding through the water on their front and back without support, and understand the concept of using their arms and feet to provide propulsion, or forward movement through the water.

Quick Test Criteria:

Can the swimmer turn their head to the side to breathe while doing front crawl? If yes, then likely level 4, if not, but can do front crawl then level 3.

Testable Skills

  • Front crawl 8 meters with breathing
  • Back crawl 8 meters with body at surface
  • Demonstrate “11, Eat, 11”
  • Demonstrate Breaststroke Kick on edge
  • Demonstrate Butterfly Arms

Why are these skills in Level 3?

Front crawl, or freestyle as it is commonly known, is what most people think of as ‘swimming.’ To swim front crawl well requires that the participant needs to maintain a straight narrow body line while kicking and moving their arms in a specific path. The head should be looking down at the bottom of the pool, and only turning to the side to breathe.

When the head lifts to breath, it interrupts the body line, sinks the legs, and ruins the balance of the body. Level 3 is all about instilling the correct breathing technique: to the side without lifting the body.

Check out this video to get a glimpse at what Olympic record holder, Michael Phelp’s coach says about it:

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Additionally, when not breathing, swimmers should be in the habit of looking down at the bottom of the pool, and not forward or lifting the nose. When the head lifts up, the body bows like a banana. Avoid this as much as possible.

Focus on breathing to the side.

Any time spent working on backstroke, either kicking in soldier position, or swimming with the body in a narrow long line while kicking will generate strength for front crawl. Because there is such a crossover of skills between front crawl and back crawl, we include them first devote most of the class time aimed at improving breathing to the side.

Swimming front crawl and back crawl are essential skills for both proficiency (swimming well) and safety. Once we have taught floating and gliding on your back, you can breathe at any time, then rolling onto your stomach to move forward using front crawl. These are established in level 2 after being able to go underwater in level 1. The next logical progression from glides on front and back is actively swimming on your stomach without interruption to breathe (turning to the side to breathe).

Practice swimming front crawl with short distances by using benches, walls, or landmarks with minimal breaths required to traverse the distance:

We introduce “11, Y, Eat, and Reach” as the precursor to swimming Breaststroke. This is more of a simple choreography versus a swimming stroke. Propulsion, movement, and “swimming breaststroke” come later after effective use of the breaststroke kick. Simply ask participants to follow a slow series of arm motions while standing on the deck. This follows the standard, introduce, establish habit of body motion, then layer on propulsion later with repetitive in water practice.

Breaststroke kick is the real second focus on Level 3. The primary focus is on breathing to the side front crawl. Teaching breaststroke kick is extremely difficult for swimmers that don’t know how to do it, or can’t do it well. It will require significant time investment, physical foot manipulation, and  repeated practice opportunities with varied ways of getting the feet to turn out and provide thrust.

Check out this video. It gives excellent images of the ideal breaststroke kick form. Pay particular attention to how the feet and toes flare out to the sides. It is not necessary to focus on the specific angles of degrees.

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Here is a second video with more good images and description of the kick:

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Finally, we introduce butterfly arms like we do breaststroke arms. We want to see a motion done on deck, or in the water with little regard to “swimming” and more focus on the arms traveling through the specific path. Demonstrate and teach fly arms while standing on the deck. You can practice doing the arm motion while in the water, but remember to reinforce that this is not to be “swimming” yet, until the path, the traveling movement of the arms is learned well.

Main activities:

  • Significant repetition of streamline, glides, front crawl arms, and breathing to the side.
  • Repeated attempts at back glide and back crawl.
  • Deliberate practice on breaststroke kick with specific attention on how the feet travel through the water.
  • Multiple and varied tactics to get in the habit of turning to the side versus lifting the head.
    • This can include rotating the body, kicking on side, rolling from front to back, or simply turning head to the side while swimming.
  • Jumps from the side and recovering on own.
  • Various games and challenges to retain or reset interest and make lessons fun.

Special note:

Breaststroke arms and butterfly arms when we are learning it are done as motions, as traveling movements and not actual swimming to make oneself move through the water. Instead, they should be like dance moves, or a choreography where the arms move without providing forward movement. See a video with this being done in the water.

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Continue your introduced format of 3x streamline + something formula we did in Level 2. Simply add a little more complicated thing to it with freestyle breathing specific actions.


3 x streamline + 5 strokes free + 1 breath to the side.

3 x streamline + 3 strokes free with 1 breath to side, then roll on back and kick in soldier

5 x streamline + 5 free without breathing

Better swimming.
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