Barely Breathing: How Air Destroys Your Lap Times

breathe-aholic cartoon
Let’s face it.  Humans are needy.
Food.  Water.  Sleep.  Clothes.  Shelter.  Love
But most of all we need oxygen.
We need it so much that we DIE after only a few minutes without it.
Basically, we are ALL “breathe-aholics”.
But how do we control that urge in the pool?
And how can we stop it from slowing us down in the pool?

The Inhale

Imagine a boat cutting through the ocean waves.  It leaves a wake behind and creates a trough of air around it as it moves.  In other words, it pushes the water out of the way so that all around the boat is just air.
Your body does the same thing as you swim.  You have a pocket of air around your body as you push the water out of the way.  This is the key to inhaling efficiently!
Rotate your head slightly so it’s just above the surface of the water and take a long, relaxed breath through your mouth.
DON’T over-rotate your head, and DON’T lift it up!
Feel the rhythm of the stroke and stop inhaling in time to rotate your body for the next stroke.

The Exhale

Exhaling is arguably the most important part of your breathing.  And it’s the one that most people don’t do right.
The most common mistake on the exhale is not doing it fast enough.
Start exhaling as soon as your head is back underwater.  Exhale constantly and slowly.
The WORST thing that you can do is hold your breath until you’re about to breathe again, and exhale above the surface all at once.
When you let it out all at once and try to inhale quickly, you’re more likely to breathe out more than you needed and breathe in less fully.
Holding your breath also causes tension, increases the amount of carbon dioxide in your system, and throws your body off balance.
So let out that tension, release the carbon dioxide, and keep your body balanced by breathing out the whole time you’re underwater.
Note: Many swimmers feel they do this already, but in reality exhale right before they come up for air.  Do a few laps focusing on your exhale underwater and see if you’re really doing it the way you should!

Head positioning

Head position is the key to a successful inhale.  But the head goes where the body goes.  So you won’t have good breathing form unless you are already rolling your hips on every stroke.
So let’s say you do roll your hips.  Your body turns 180 degrees every stroke.  The beauty of this is that you barely have to move your head to breathe.
Your head is already half-way out of the water!
That is your goal.  Move your head as little as possible while still inhaling fully.
And if you have to move your head, rotate it!  Do not lift it out of line with your body.  This disrupts the pocket of air, forcing you to have to lift your head even more.  It also causes your hips to sink….which you definitely don’t want.


We already talked about the timing of your inhale and exhale.  But how often are you supposed to breathe?
It’s recommended to take 1 breath every 3 strokes.  This forces your body to adjust to breathing on both sides (because let’s face it, we all have one side we’d rather breathe on).
Since most people do have a tendency to prefer one side, some swimmers breathe at a 2:1 ratio during competitions, but train with a 3:1 ratio to maintain balance.
If you’re working on efficient breathing, try a 6:1 ratio (6 strokes for each breath).  Exhale constantly the entire time you’re underwater and inhale calmly even when you feel out of breath.

Your Thoughts

What ratio of stroke:breath do you use when you swim?  And which side do you prefer?

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