The Air We Breathe

The Air We Breathe

One hurdle every swimmer needs to overcome is how to incorporate breathing into their stroke.  You can have the best technique but if you don’t have breathing incorporated, you won’t go very far or your stroke will stall when you try to breathe.

The first step is to relax and realize the air will always be there.  I’m not saying that some situations won’t be more challenging (i.e. ocean swims, wake swims, etc.) but if you come to this realization, breathing all of a sudden becomes easier.  To get a good breath, you want to breathe in quickly through the mouth and then out through the nose in a controlled exhale.

 For Freestyle, resist the urge to over-rotate and look up to the sky.  When turning the head for the breath, look over the top of the water toward the shoulder keeping the top of the head resting at the surface of the water.  Your head should be horizontal with the water.  If you lift the top of your head, your feet will tend to drop which will slow your stroke.  The top of the head will block the water and a pocket of air will be created between the head and the shoulder.  Once you master these aspects of the breath, move onto the more advanced breath where one goggle, half of the nose, and half of the mouth are out of the water.  That means the breath should be taken out of the corner of the mouth.  I like to think about “Popeye” when doing this breath.

 For Breaststroke and Butterfly, keep the head looking down until the last moment and then bring the mouth up just above the surface of the water to take the breath.  For more advanced swimmers, take the breath with the head still looking down.  When you come up for the breath, a pocket of air will develop between the head and the water and you will be able to keep your head down which will keep your legs from dropping.

 Most people don’t think about breathing in Backstroke but it is just as important here.  Keep the breath consistent and controlled with the face as close to the surface of the water as possible.  The ears should be submerged and the top of the head back so the face is looking up to the sky.

Finally, the more consistent your breathing is, the more your body can use the oxygen.  If you are using short breaths, your body will begin to go into oxygen deprivation mode, could hyperventilate, and will begin to shut down.  Long controlled exhale breaths will keep your body relaxed and working properly.  So, when you feel like you don’t have enough breath, try to prolong your exhale while you relax.  And remember…the air will always be there!

If you're having trouble with breathing during your freestyle, check out the Improve your Freestyle series of online courses offered here and our other breathing blog posts: Making Breathing Easier and Breathing as a Conversation.


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