How To Breathe While Swimming: An Ultimate Guide For Beginner Swimmers.

Hi, I am Dan, owner of the NYC-based swim school and a former professional swimmer. I've been sharing swimming tips for beginners for over 10 years, and today, we will talk about breathing while swimming.
Danila Novikov
All-American swimmer and founder of NYC based swim school.
Even though breathing is a natural ability we have on the ground, it's one of the biggest challenges for beginner swimmers to learn in the water.

In this blog post, you'll learn:

  1. Should I hold my breath?

  2. Should I exhale?

  3. Are there different swimming breathing techniques?

  4. And more pro tips from me.

Firstly, let's talk about breathing basics.

Firstly, your lungs have limited capacity. Unless you let the air go out of your lungs, you won't be able to inhale.

Let's experiment.

Inhale and hold your breath. Now try to take another inhale on top of your previous one. You can't, right?

You have to exhale first.

Learn to exhale by blowing the bubbles in the water. You can blow the bubbles with your mouth. In this case, leave a tiny gap between your lips and push the air out of your mouth as if you are blowing soap bubbles or trying to whistle. Try to hum to let the air out to blow the bubbles with your nose. Pretend to sing a song with your mouth closed, see how you hum, and push the air out of your nose.

Master swimming breathing technique with the following exercises.

swimming breathing pattern

Exercise #1. Learning to inhale and exhale slowly.

1. Get into starting position.

Get your body into starting body position, where your chin stays above the water, and your arms stay slightly spread in front of you.

2. Inhale & submerge.

Take a deep inhale with your mouth only! Hold the air inside of your lungs with your lips sealed. Submerge your entire face in the water.

Make sure that your eyes are open and your chin is tucked while you look straight down to the bottom of the pool. It is crucial to keep your forehead pointed downwards. This prevents the water from going inside the nose.

3. Exhale underwater.

When you have your entire face submerged in the water - slowly exhale the air out of your mouth and/or nose. Do not open your mouth wide while letting the air out. Leave a small gap in between your lips and blow tiny bubbles through the gap.

Listen and observe yourself, to manage a decent breathing technique inside the water. You want to be able to hear the bubbling water sounds and see bubbles around your head. Keep your face in, until you let the air out of your lungs.

4. Come up.

Come up above the surface and inhale with your mouth. Go on and perform your inhale above the water and exhale completely underwater water continuously.

Exercises #2. Rhythmic breathing.

1. Get into starting position

Get into the initial body position and prepare to take a deep breath in with your mouth. After you get your lungs full of air, put your entire face in the water between your arms and exhale.

2. Start walking

As you exhale, start walking forward. As you start walking, make sure you're blowing bubbles to let the air out of your lungs.

3. Use your arms

Move the water with your palms and forearms, and get your head up above the water to inhale with your mouth. Make sure you pick your chin up as you come up and look in front of you. Keep moving forward as you repeat that exercise over and over.
breath control swimming

When should hold your breath?

You don't always have to blow the bubbles while swimming. Sometimes it would be best if you considered holding your breath.

Let's say you are trying to swim under the water from point A to point B. In this case, consider holding your breath to stay buoyant. Your breathing plays a huge role in your ability to stay afloat.
bilateral breathing in swimming

What you need to know: Every Stroke Requires a Different Breathing Technique?

Different swim strokes require various swimming breathing techniques. However, the idea for all swim strokes is the same - exhale in the water before you can come up and take a breath.
breathing properly while swimming

Freestyle breathing.

It would be best to exhale in the water before you come out on your side and breathe. To get on your side, try to make a one-arm stroke cycle and rotate your hips to the side simultaneously. Ideally, you want to float on your side with your head supported by the water. Your ideal head position should allow your ear and cheek to touch the water while the nose and mouth are out.
freestyle breathing

Breaststroke and butterfly stroke breathing.

Exhale before coming out for air. Compared to freestyle, breaststroke and butterfly work differently. Get your head out of the water while pressing both of your arms against the water, which helps you to leverage the time your head stays above the surface.
breaststroke breathing

Backstroke breathing.

Backstroke breathing is a whole different animal, compared to other swim strokes. When you swim on your back, you have access to all of the air in the world. Make sure you are not holding your breath and continue breathing while floating on your back.
backstroke breathing

How to increase lung capacity for swimming.

You must first master comfortable breathing in the water to naturally increase your lung capacity and work your breathing muscles in the pool. Once you know how to breathe while swimming, practice swimming and breathing less.

The more you swim, in general, the longer you can hold your breath.

Ensure you are under a lifeguard's or friend's supervision when trying to swim and hold your breath for your own safety.

FAQ about swimming breathing technique

breathe underwater

What is the best way to breathe while swimming?

The best way to breathe is with your mouth. It doesn't matter if you swim freestyle, butterfly, or backstroke, inhale with your mouth.

Why do I struggle to breathe when swimming?

Because you are not exhaling before coming out of the water to breathe. Make sure you blow bubbles (exhale) in the water before coming up to breathe.

Do you exhale through your nose or mouth when swimming?

Either one works. Practice exhaling with your nose and mouth. Use your mouth if you want to exhale more air and have less time to do it. Use your nose if you stay in the water for longer.

How do I stop gasping for air when swimming?

Make sure you exhale before coming out for breathing. Don't try to inhale all the air at once. The faster and harder you breathe, the higher your heart rate.

How can I breathe easier underwater?

Let 60-80 % air out of your lungs. Inhale smaller breaths. Make sure your diaphragm is working less hard. Pay attention to how you breathe while walking. Nice and calm, right? The goal is to breathe the same way while swimming.

How many strokes before breathing when swimming?

It depends on your goal. If you want to swim for an extended time, inhale every other stroke while swimming freestyle. Breathe every stroke while swimming breaststroke. If you are trying to sprint, you should break every 3rd or 6th stroke.
common mistake swimming

How do I overcome swimming anxiety?

Spend more time in the water practicing different swim strokes. Practice on the shallow part of the pool and be patient.
swimming technique front crawl breathing

How do you breathe while swimming freestyle for beginners?

Try to pull and turn on your side simultaneously. Make sure you initiate the rotation with your hips. You want your entire body to turn. Make sure to exhale in the water before coming up for breath.
breathing swim workout

Now I want to hear from you!

Are you struggling with getting enough oxygen while swimming?

Want more exercises to improve your breathing pattern?

Let me know in the comments down below!