Swimming Techniques: How to Properly Breathe When Swimming

Did you know there is a certain breathing technique that swimmers can use to improve their performance? Much like biking and running, swimming requires a steady rhythm of breath, but unlike those land sports, improper breathing techniques while swimming can fill your lungs with water, put a much greater strain on your muscles, and really slow you down.

In this article, we’ll teach you how to breathe while swimming so you can make the most of every lap and greatly improve your performance in the water.

Before we dive right in, it’s important for you to understand that breathing while swimming is a skill. Learning how to breathe while swimming requires patience, practice, and perseverance.

One of the hardest steps to mastering these breathing techniques is to overcome your natural and instinctive fear of drowning. When swimming, the proper form that enables optimal performance is often difficult for swimmers to master.

swimming techniques
Photo Credit: MaloriMay

Why? Because this proper form brings you face to face with the water, causing a knee-jerk reaction to hold your breath or raise your head higher above the surface. Both reactions are completely normal. You would have to be crazy to expose your airways to a rush of water like that without finding some level of discomfort. Regardless, these survival instincts will most definitely slow you down and hinder your performance.

As you practice proper form and breathing techniques for swimming, don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t come naturally to you. Be patient with yourself, reward your best efforts, and stick with it! Once you’ve learned how to breathe like a champion, the rest will come fairly easy to you.

Now, it’s time to learn how to breathe while swimming. Use these tips and best practices to master the art of breathing to become a better and more confident swimmer.

Keep Your Head Down

As we mentioned earlier, you may feel the instinctive urge to raise your head high above the water while you train or turn your face away from the surface of the water. Doing this will result in poor performance and can even lead to injury.

When you raise or turn your head while mid-stroke, not only do you strain the muscles in your back, neck, and shoulders, but you also cause your hips to drop. Raising your head and lowering your hips in the water will increase resistance and muscle strain, which will make every stroke a lot more difficult for you. Use these tips to keep your head down while you swim:

  • Focus on the black line that runs along the bottom of the pool in the center of the lane.
  • Invest in a pair of comfortable goggles that really keep the water out.
  • Fight anxiety with reassuring pep talks and reminders that the edge of the pool is never too far away.

Time Your Breathing

For a truly effective breathing routine, you must learn how to time your breathing with your swimming. Every breath and every stroke must be perfectly in sync to the same rhythm to ensure a proper flow of oxygen. Common stroke-to-breath combinations are 2 strokes per breath or 3 strokes per breath. Find what you are comfortable with to start, and maybe increase your strokes-per-breath as you get stronger. A swim instructor can really help with your breathing rhythm.

It’s also important to exhale as soon as you finish inhaling—this means exhaling while your face is in the water. It is natural for us to hold our breath when our face dips below the water, and this is the most common and difficult habit to break among beginners. Many beginning swimmers hold their breath underwater and try to catch up with a quick inhale and exhale when they emerge for that brief moment before dipping below the water again. This leads to an accidental dose of water through the nasal passages and a debilitating buildup of carbon dioxide in the lungs.

If you really want to master the right breathing technique for swimming, you must learn how to retrain your brain to accept the fact that you can exhale when your face is underwater. Take a deep breath in when you turn your head, and exhale completely while your face is below the surface of the water while you turn your head to the other side.

Practice Practice Practice

Remember that breathing is a skill, and just like any other skill, it will require plenty of practice to master. Don’t give up! Fight your fears and develop a smooth rhythm to breathe while you swim. For extra help, check out SwimJim’s classes for all ages and skill levels!