Tips To Improve Breathing Underwater While Swimming

Underwater Breathing Tips For Swimming

If you find yourself out of breath when you swim or unable to get to the next level with your swimming, your breathing technique could be out of whack. Practice with some yogic breathing on dry land, perfect your technique with a drill while standing in waist-deep water, and learn bilateral breathing. Whether you’re doing the breaststroke, freestyle, or butterfly stroke, the right way can improve your efficiency and reduce oxygen demand for breathing so it can be used to power your swimming.

Are you a beginner who’s trying to master the art of breathing right while swimming? Or are you a regular swimmer who wants to improve the energy expenditure and efficiency of a swim and go further, faster? Either way, breathing techniques could change the way you swim. In fact, correct breathing has the potential to improve your efficiency as a swimmer. It can even improve your timing by as much as 33 to 66 percent when you are snorkel surface swimming or underwater scuba swimming.


Why Is Breathing Right Important When Swimming?

For any kind of exercise, your body needs more oxygen and higher ventilation or breathing volume. To be able to breathe better, the muscles around your lungs have to work well so your lungs can, in turn, be at their best. The more intense your workout, the better these respiratory muscles need to be. For instance, if you intend to swim longer distances or more laps, or take on more challenging strokes in the pool, the muscles surrounding the lungs must contract faster and with greater force to keep up with the sudden rise in metabolism and demand for oxygen.

By boosting the stamina or strength of your respiratory system, you will use less energy for the actual breathing. This can then be diverted to powering your motor muscles which actually do the swimming. You will be able to breathe deeper and slower and inhale more oxygen, without needing to take multiple breaths to get that same level.

Breathing Techniques And Tips For Swimmers

You can make use of some simple tricks to get you breathing right. This includes land practice and tuning in on your own breathing technique before you begin to combine it with different strokes.


1. Count Or Use An “In/Out” Rhythm

It is important to get the carbon dioxide that builds up in your lungs when you breathe out of your system. And that’s often as important as inhaling enough oxygen. Counting can help ensure you inhale and exhale regularly. You could try mentally thinking the words “in” and “out” to remind you to breathe in and out. Another option is to simply count, exhaling on even counts. If you do this, small “sips” of air should do because the next one isn’t far away. Contrast that with the “gulping” needed if you wait too long between breaths.

2. Don’t Hold Your Breath

If you forget to exhale and you’re underwater, you could end up getting water in your sinuses. Inhaling water isn’t just unpleasant, it could also slow you down if you’re doing the backstroke or flip turning. If you don’t exhale, you also feel out of breath because of the carbon dioxide build-up from holding your breath.

3. Practice Breathing Before You Actually Swim

To understand your own breathing better and perfect your technique, start by learning to breathe properly with the aid of a kickboard. That way, especially if you’re a beginner, you can focus on the breathing rather than trying to simultaneously get your arm and leg movements right too.

Alternatively, stand by the edge of the pool and hold on to the edge with your hands. Simultaneously, turn your head to breathe and practice counting to keep the rhythm.


4. Try Yogic Breathing For Improving Technique

If you’re looking for ways to work on your breathing even when you’re not in the pool, try this dryland breathing exercise for swimmers. This is an exercise derived from yoga, designed to help you get accustomed to the quick inhalation and long exhalation needed when you swim.

Once you have learned this technique of nasal breathing, try it out in water. But be prepared that you may end up exhaling through both your nose as well as your mouth in water. This is absolutely fine, so allow your lips to part to exhale when your face relaxes.


5. Learn Bilateral Breathing

Bilateral breathing is a useful skill to add to your repertoire. Simply put, it means you alternate which side you breathe on when you’re doing a stroke like freestyle. In actual races and sprints, pro swimmers have been spotted sticking to one-side breathing to give them better speed. However, if you plan on swimming numerous laps or long distances, it is better to balance the load between both sides to reduce the wear on one shoulder. If you aren’t careful, one-side breathing can also cause your stroke to become asymmetrical and even lopsided.

Besides this, if you are swimming in open water, bilateral breathing allows you to look on both sides to check that the water is clear of obstacles. No nasty surprises on the non-breathing side!

To do this, breathe on odd number strokes when you swim freestyle or crawl. This will ensure you take turns coming up for a breath from your left and right side and don’t only breathe from one preferred side. Simply count numbers in your head, breathing on every third, fifth, seventh stroke and so on. It takes practice but you may find it actually improves your form overall.

Adapting Breathing For How You Swim

Depending on what kind of stroke you favor, your breathing technique too must change. Here’s a look at what works best for some of the most popular swimming strokes.

Freestyle Or Front Crawl

With freestyle, ensure you do not take your head out of the water and lift it up to breathe. Instead, the ear and cheek on the side you are not breathing must remain in water.

The inhale-exhale swimming drill can help you with your breathing, aligning it with the natural roll of the stroke. Here’s what you need to do:


Once you master this breathing technique, give it a test run with an actual lap in freestyle.



With breaststroke, you must take care to raise your head above water adequately so you can actually inhale. Also remember to breathe out when you are gliding. If you don’t do this, you will not be able to actually inhale when you need to and will interrupt the forward motion of the stroke. Here’s a technique/drill to teach you to inhale at the “high point”:

This breathing method allows you to make use of the natural movement of your body without expending additional energy to push your mouth out of the water or to return into the water.


Butterfly Stroke

Although a more difficult rhythm stroke, this should work fine if you are able to synchronize the breathing with the movement of your head. Here are some things to keep in mind:



With the backstroke, there are numerous ways people choose to breathe since the face is exposed throughout, potentially allowing you to breathe whenever you need to. Some may breathe with every stroke, others with alternating strokes. Here’s how to breathe right for the backstroke:

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