Do you need help on breathing when you swim?
Taking that breath can be surprisingly difficult, especially when you’re learning to swim. Even good swimmers can have a difficult time with their breathing.
What we do on land comes natural. But put us in water and it can become much more difficult.
Add deep water, cold water, dark water…it becomes almost impossible.
A lot of swiSm programs gloss over breathing. They will tell you to blow bubbles underwater and turn your head. But this is too simple and not really helpful for most beginners. Even intermediate swimmers make common breathing mistakes.
This blog post will show you seven surprising tips and techniques for making your breath easy. Practice them when ever you swim and you’ll find yourself swimming much easier and further.
Swim breath secret #1. Don’t exhale like a candle. Blow out like a motor boat.
Many swim teachers teach kids to exhale like they were blowing out a candle. This is wrong. The problem is once you fully exhale your mouth and lips are open. The water comes gushing in and you have to stop.
The correct technique is to keep your lips together and push the air out your mouth. Your lips should make a “bbrrrrrppp” sound. When you stop pushing the air out, the lips will seal. And no water will come in!
You can practice this technique at home. You don’t even need a pool. You can do it while your watching TV or when you brush your teeth. If you’re a complete beginner and afraid of the water, practice this with only your lips under the water. You’ll see that the water won’t come in.
Swim breath secret #2. Your goal is ten consecutive breaths on the wall.
If you can’t do at least ten consecutive breaths, then you’re not getting enough air.
What’s a consecutive breath? A consecutive breath is where you inhale, submerge, exhale, rise up, inhale. Repeat.
The mistake most swimmers make is when they come up, they do two cycles above the water. This is cheating! If you find yourself taking two breathes above the water, then stop.
Rest up and try it again.
When you can do ten consecutive breaths then you’re starting to get it!
I recommend practicing the ten breaths every single length for anyone having trouble breathing. Try this:
- Hold the wall with both hands and both feet on the wall and take ten breaths. Work on relaxing. Swim one length.
- Next hold the wall and kick. Put your face in the water and take take ten breaths while kicking. Swim one length.
- Finally, hold the wall, kick and pull with the right arm (or whatever side you breath to). Ten breaths, then swim one length.
Repeat this sequence four times.
Before you know it, you’ll find that ten breaths is easy. Then go for twenty. When you can do twenty breaths you really are able to breath and swim.
Swim breath secret #3. It’s really all about the exhale.
If you’re not able to get the ten breaths or when you swim, you’re only able to get one or two, then 99% of the time the problem is with your exhale, not your inhale.
“You think you’re not getting enough air in…but you’re really not getting enough air out!”
What happens is that you only exhale half of your lungs air. Then when you breath in, you take in more air…and only let out a little bit. And then inhale a little bit more…and eventually you have to stop to fully empty your lungs.
I believe there’s a couple of reasons for this. First, if you’re a beginner you’re probably a little bit afraid of the water. This fear tends to make us hold our breaths. We tighten up in the chest and hold the air in.
I’ve seen very good swimmers do this. One sign of having a breathing problem is they will swim without a breath. They can turn their heads to breathe…but they don’t.
Here’s some keys to making sure you fully exhale.
- Make sure you do “motor boats” under water as in secret #1.
- When you’re doing wall breathing, focus on fully exhaling. Learn how to do it on the wall before you swim.
- While swimming, when your face is in the water you have to exhale forcefully. If you exhale without any power, you won’t empty your lungs.
- Don’t swim in a hurry to get to the other side. Relax and take MORE breaths…not less.
- See swim secret #4
Swim Secret #4. Exhale through the transitions.
The transition number one is when you go from under the water to above the water. You want to continue the exhale as you’re coming up. This does two great things.
First, it blows the water away from your mouth, making it easier to inhale without getting the water in your mouth.
Second, it gives you more time to exhale and clear the lungs.
Transition number two is going from the air back into the water. As soon as you take your sip of air, start exhaling out your mouth with motor boat method. This will give you even more time to exhale. It also keeps the water from rushing in.
Exhaling through the transitions gives you almost twice as much time to expel the air from your lungs. It takes practice to get the hang of it (hence lots of wall breathing) but it is well worth it.
Another benefit that I really love; it makes a great sound that is meditative and relaxing. The sound helps you establish a rhythm which helps you relax and maintain your stroke.
Swim Secret #5. Barely open your mouth when you inhale.
Many swimmers think they have to open their mouths really wide to get enough air in.
You now know that it’s not how much air you get in, its how much air you get rid of.
You really only need a sip of air, especially if you’re working building up your endurance. Your goal is to relax and control your breathing. Taking smaller breaths will help.
Opening up your mouth too wide causes other problems as well.
If your mouth is wide open, it’s very similar to a scream. This will automatically make you tighten up and be afraid. Keep your mouth barely open, almost like you’re going to kiss someone. If you can put your tongue past your lips then you’re opening too wide.
Another problem is that it closes off the esophagus. This makes it even harder to get any air in at all. Keep your mouth barely open and it’s easy to get a lot of air in quickly. Open your mouth really wide and it’s almost impossible.
Try it while you’re reading this. Just don’t let your office mates see you. They will think you’re really weird.
The other problem is that an open mouth tends to get more water in it. It’s not the most comfortable thing to happen and it won’t kill you. Still, I prefer to keep the water out of my mouth as much as possible.
“Getting water in your mouth is not the end of the world”
Try this technique to inhale. When you turn your head, push your jaw to the side. Don’t even try to open your jaw.
This will make a nice small hole for you to inhale and difficult for water to come in. It makes it easy to seal your lips and do motor boats.
And you will turn your head a lot less to get the air.
Which leads us to the next secret…
Swim Secret #6. Roll your body to breathe.
It’s much easier to breath (for freestyle) to the side when you roll your body.
If you turn your head, you tend to lift your head. Lifting is bad.
Turning your body will keep you in line when you breathe, it will keep you horizontal in the water and it will make it much easier to swim faster.
Practice turning your body doing wall kicks. Turn your hips to the side you’re going to breathe on. If you breathe to the right, turn your hips about 45 degree to the right. It should require little or no extra turning of the head to get your breath.
Keep your left ear in the water. If you’re good, you can keep your left eye underwater as well (see secret #5!).
If you want to learn how to breathe on both sides (bilateral breathing), then you almost have to turn your hips. That’s a more advanced technique that I’m not covering in this article, but you can try it if you want. Just before to practice on the wall first.
Swim Secret #7. Breathe every stroke.
The more you breathe in the water the better.
An analogy I use is for jogging. It’s pretty easy for most people to walk a quarter mile.
Now, try it holding your breath. Not so easy is it?
For swimming, you want to breathe every stroke cycle. Pick one side (usually to the right for right handed swimmers) and breathe every stroke cycle.
If this is too fast for you…slow your arms down.
When you pull with your left arm, keep exhaling. Don’t blow it all out, just a slow easy exhale.
As the left arm enters the water you start to pull with the right arm. As you finish the right arm, you will roll to the side. Exhale the water out forcefully to completely empty the lungs. Take a breathe as you’ve learned how to do in this article.
Then relax and repeat.
Swimming is really all about breathing. “If you hold your breath, you’re really not swimming.”
As you get closer to the end of the pool, relax and keep breathing. Some swimmers hold their breath as they get closer to the wall. If you get tired, instead of speeding up, relax and go slower.
Breathing is something swimmers always work on, even Olympic swimmers. As conditions change, the challenges of breathing change. For instance, swimming in the ocean requires different techniques. It becomes much harder to relax.
The time I did the Alcatraz swim (yes, I did do it!), I found it very difficult to breathe. It took me half the race before I could breathe normal and establish a rhythm. I don’t know why and I used every trick I know but I just couldn’t get there.
Do don’t give up. Practice breathing every time you’re in the pool. Always work on relaxing and swimming easy.
Use these secrets and let me know how they’ve helped you.