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How To Improve Your Breathing For Swimming In 5 Easy Steps

Posted by Alex Clasper

Knowing how to improve your breathing for swimming is essential for giving your body more oxygen so that you can perform better. It will not only make you feel more comfortable in the water, it could also shave seconds off your best time if you’re training competitively. You can start improving your technique today with the following breath control exercises for swimming:


Exhale Forcefully

When thinking about how to improve your breathing for swimming, focussing on exhalation is just as important as focussing on inhalation. When we inhale air, we breathe in carbon dioxide. If we do not exhale properly, then the carbon dioxide is left to build up in our lungs which can cause the feeling of being winded. In order to check if you are exhaling effectively, you can do a simple drill. Find a position in the pool where you can sink to the bottom safety and are able to regain a standing position. Hug your knees to your chest so that you are bobbing on the surface before taking a normal breath, submerging your face and continuously ‘sighing’ to exhale as much air as possible as you sink to the bottom. If you sink to the bottom easily when exhaling, this indicates you are breathing effectively. If you find yourself hovering near the surface, you may need to spend more time practising exhaling until you find it easy to sink to the bottom.


Practice Your “Bow Wave”

The “bow wave” is the small wave that your head creates when you swim on the surface of the water. The wave curves along your head, giving you a clear space to breathe in without inhaling water. This is a crucial part of perfecting your overall technique in the water and a particularly important part of how to improve your breathing for swimming. In order to create this wave when swimming, you need to ensure that you’re looking approximately one metre ahead of you, rather than looking straight down. The aim is to create a small channel beside your face where you can inhale air clearly. When you practice your bow wave, you need to resist the urge to lift your head out of the water when you breathe, but rather turn your head 45 degrees as your body rotates. This will enable you to breathe effectively without disrupting your stroke.


Practice Bilateral Breathing

A key part of how to improve your breathing for swimming front crawl is practising bilateral breathing. This means alternating the sides on which you take a breath. Perfecting an effective bilateral breathing technique allows you to create symmetrical and balanced strokes. This makes it easy to maintain a straight line when swimming in open water. Being able to breathe comfortably on both sides is also beneficial in case of unforeseen circumstances, such as the sun shining too brightly on one side. If you’ve not practised bilateral breathing before then start by incorporating breathing on your least favourite side during your warm up or cool down. As you start to get more confident you can begin to experiment with patterns such as  3-2-3-2 i.e two breaths on one side then two breaths on the other. Practising this technique will make your swimming more comfortable and confident. 


Use A Respiratory Training Device

When discussing how to improve your breathing for swimming, it’s important to highlight that there are useful exercises you can do outside of the pool, lake or ocean. Using a respiratory device is one of the best (and simplest) ways to improve your breathing away from the water. Designed to strengthen your breathing muscles, a respiratory device is made up of a plastic tube, a mouthpiece to inhale and exhale, and dials to adjust the resistance. Incorporating this into your dryland training could drastically improve your ability to breathe in the water. This could put you steps ahead of your competitors, whilst making your time in the water a whole lot more comfortable and enjoyable. 


Perfect Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is a useful breathing technique that’s used to help ease anxiety and stress, however it’s also used by athletes to improve their performance. Diaphragmatic breathing or “belly breathing” as it’s sometimes referred to involves fully engaging the abdominal muscles, stomach and diaphragm when breathing. This means actively pulling the diaphragm down with each breath. This helps to fill the lungs more efficiently,  and can be used to train swimmers in how to control their inhalation and exhalation while breathing. Practising this technique on land can help you build up your technique before translating it for use in the water. 


When training at the pool, or in open water, it’s always important that you have the best gear to train safely and effectively. Make sure to browse our range of swimming clothing and accessories and open water swimming equipment that includes waterproof changing robes, waterproof bags and our ultra lightweight microfibre towel.

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