How to breathe while swimming?

July 7, 2021

Сorrect breathing is the primary task when learning to swim in any of the styles. A swimmer who has mastered this aspect will handle the swimming technique much faster. In the article, we will consider the general rules of breathing, features of this process in each sport style.

How to breathe properly when swimming

The technique of breathing while swimming is significantly different from other sports. 

Here are the details that you need to know:

Where to breathe

Inhale with the mouth over the water, exhale into the water.

How to breathe

Inhale through the mouth, and exhale through the nose and mouth. Exhaling through the mouth allows you to quickly release a large amount of exhaust air per unit of time. It is permissible to exhale only through the nose when performing light loads when the body's oxygen consumption is low.

The power of breathing

The water pressure on the chest is stronger than the air pressure. The inhalation and exhalation during swimming should be deeper than on land. Inhale with such force that you can hear its sound and exhale with all your lungs. Over time, this skill will become automatic.

How quickly do you need to inhale

When swimming in all sports styles (except for back crawl), the swimmer's face is almost always under the water surface, so the breath is faster than on land.

How to exhale correctly

Breathing should be rhythmic. Do not hold it! After you have inhaled, immediately begin to exhale. It removes carbon dioxide, which accumulates in the body and leads to fatigue and headache after exercise. The air trapped in the lungs negatively affects the position of the swimmer's body (the legs are lowered in contrast to the chest), which increases the water resistance.

Breathing and coordination of movements

Only breathing coordinated with movements can be considered correct. While working on the technique of strokes, kicks, and body position, do not forget about proper breathing.

Let's recall the synchronization of breathing and swimming movements in different styles.

How to breathe when swimming freestyle?

In this style, the swimmer's head is constantly underwater, and the breath itself is very close to the surface. That is why breathing is more complicated.

It is consistent with the movements of the hands. To perform the inhale, you need to turn your face towards the hand, ending the stroke at this moment, while the other hand makes an entrance. The head moves simultaneously with the shoulder. The inhalation is carried out by the mouth and lasts 0.3-0.5 seconds. The inhale ends at the beginning of the hand's passage through the air. The head returns to its original position without delay. Plunging the face into the water, the swimmer begins to exhale.

Speaking about breathing in swimming freestyle, it is necessary to mention two concepts: breathing inside the anterior wave and bilateral breathing.

Proper breathing here implies inhaling from an air pocket. What is it? 

When swimming freestyle, the so-called front wave is formed at the top of the swimmer's head, its curvature creates a decrease in the water level near the face. Thus, the air in the access zone is lower than expected; this phenomenon is called an "air pocket". You can breathe inside it.

To inhale from the air pocket, you need to keep your head while swimming horizontally along the axis of the body (the eyes look at the bottom directly in front of you). Do not raise your head, as some do. Lifting the head leads to lowering the legs and creating an increase in water resistance. Prolonged swimming in such a way leads to neck pain.

If you lack a small turn of the head to take a breath and have to literally twist your neck to grab the coveted breath of air, then most likely you are not rotating the body enough.

Another mistake is an excessively strong turn of the head - when your gaze is directed upwards instead of looking to the side. This leads to an excessive turn of the body, loss of balance. You overexert your neck. This technique is not correct. The fear of not swallowing water is quite understandable. But we must remember that when inhaling, the water line passes over the swimmer's face along the edge of the mouth. To get rid of this mistake, try to hold your head so that one eye is underwater and the other is above it.

Breathing when swimming freestyle can be unilateral (on one side - right or left) or bilateral (on both sides). With bilateral breathing, the swimmer breathes first under one, then under the other arm. 

How to learn bilateral breathing when swimming freestyle?

 There are different schemes of bilateral breathing:

  • alternate breathing in both directions, when a swimmer breathes for every 3 strokes.
  •  a swimmer produces breath twice in a row on one side, and then makes three strokes, followed by a change in the side for the next two breaths.
  • the swimmer swims a lap, breathing in one direction only, and after the turn - in the opposite direction.

Why is it significant to master the technique of bilateral breathing?

 In short, such breathing naturally makes the movements in the water symmetrical, leveling the rotation of the body and improves the grip during the stroke. There are also additional bonuses: during the competition, you can see rivals from both sides. The ability to breathe in any direction allows you to avoid waves and the blinding sun.

 How to breathe when swimming breaststroke?

There are different coordination schemes in breaststroke. Classical breaststroke technique assumes that at the moment of completion of the push-off with the hands (the fastest and most powerful part of the stroke), the shoulders are quickly raised above the water. The swimmer energetically brings his chin forward and begins a deep breath through the mouth. After completing the inhale, the athlete directs the shoulders after the hands forward, while the face is immersed in the water. The exhalation is done during the legs' movement and sliding.

How to control your breathing when swimming breaststroke

There is a technique of breaststroke "with a delayed breath". Swimmer using this method keeps the face lowered into the water during the entire stroke, which allows him or her to perform it more effectively since the body is in a horizontal position. To take a quick breath, the athlete raises the head after the end of the stroke, simultaneously bringing the arms forward and lifting the legs. When the kick begins, the swimmer's face is lowered into the water, the exhalation starts. The exhalation in this version is often strengthened at the end to make the stroke even more effective. Also, this technique is characterized by significantly less sliding, which is characteristic of a conventional breaststroke. Another feature is the almost separate coordination of hands and feet: first, stroke with your hands and then with your feet.

How to breathe correctly when swimming butterfly?

In this style, breathing is coordinated with the cycle of hand movement. The most favorable moment for inhaling is the end of the stroke and the movement of the hands above the surface of the water when the head and shoulders are at the highest position. The inhalation is carried out during the exit of the hands from the water; after the hands pass the shoulder line, the face is immersed in the water. Thus, inhalation should be made before the hands touch the surface of the water. The duration is about 0.4 seconds. Exhalation begins immediately after inhaling and continues for the rest of the cycle of hand movements.

As a rule, one breath is taken in and out for a full cycle of hand movements, but well-trained swimmers can take one breath in and out for two full cycles.

How to breathe better when swimming back crawl?

Back crawl is the only way of sports swimming when breathing can be accomplished arbitrarily since the athlete's face is above the water

In practice, to establish a certain rhythm of breathing, inhaling is done when carrying one hand and exhaling – when carrying the other. The inhale lasts about 0.4-0.5 seconds.


To master any sports style of swimming, you must find out how to breathe when swimming. It is not easy for all novice swimmers to manage the proper breathing technique and coordinate it with movements. The formed skill will become automatic and lead to excellent results on a stopwatch.

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