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How to learn breath control when swimming?


Hi Gary,

I am fit 40 year old that has been a runner and cyclist but hated swimming all my life so avoided the pool like the plague.

Injury has meant I am now advised that swimming is all I will be able to do for the foreseeable future.  I am a very, very weak swimmer (for someone who used to run half marathons no problems this is very hard to admit).

For the last 3 weeks I have tried swimming freestyle in my gym’s 25m pool 3 times a week.

I am only able to manage at best 50m without becoming breathless.  I then stop and go again.   I manage to do 40 laps of this very poor swimming but at least I get from one end to the other.

My question is should I persevere like this?  What sort of improvement in cardiovascular fitness should I expect (ie should I be expecting to swim 100m without stopping in a month)?

Is there something I can read to improve my stroke technique and improve efficiency?  My hips sink like a stone so I have been swimming with a buoyancy device between my legs which means at least I can complete 25m without running out of puff.

Many thanks, Emma


Hi Emma,

Becoming breathless whilst swimming is one of, if not the most common problem for most people when they swim.

For young children, swim schools spend alot of time teaching children how to control their breathing and this enables them to swim good distances at a relatively young age.

When adults take up swimming or look to improve it, the lack of breath control is a critical skill to overcome and it is often overlooked until adults can swim no further than 25m in one go.

Yes, you should definetely perserve, and with some subtle changes to your breathing you will be able to swim 100m without stopping within a month.

The key is…

1. to exhale (blow out) all your air from your mouth and/or noise underwater before you turn to breath in;

2. when you turn to breathe in, open your mouth and take one deep breath in and then turn your face back into the water;

3. proceed with a slow blowing out again until you have exhaled all your air and then turn to take one breath in again.

If you are finding this hard with your swimming, try holding onto the edge of the pool, blowing all your air out, then turning your head to breath in on one side, take one breath in and then turn your head down and exhale again.  You can build up to doing this for 2, 3 or even 5 minutes and then go back to swimming with the same breathing pattern.

Many swimmers do not fully exhale, turn their head to breath in but have to exhale first then breath in quickly and then feel like they didn’t get any air and so on.

In regards to your stroke technique and some hints, have a look at the free eBook www.50SwimTips.com.  Whilst it is directed at Junior and Age Group swimmers, swimmers of all ages will benefit from the stroke tips.

Also have a look at the other questions that have been answered on www.TheSwimmingExpert.com as these may help you as well.

Finally, in regards to your hips sinking, try kicking a bit harder and closer to the surface in freestyle.  Ask someone to have a look at your head position too, as often if your head is too high, your hips and feet will drop low in the water.

Let me know how you go Emma.



The Swimming Expert

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2 Responses to How to learn breath control when swimming?

  1. Emma May 10, 2014 at 1:19 am #

    Ok gary. Its been 3 months of me now applying your thoughts. I am now swimming without a buoyancy device. I swim 50 laps of my 25m pool stopping every couple of laps. From where I was when I wrote to you though. I feel so empowered. I know this isn’t amazing standard of swimming but to such a non swimmer I feel fantastic. I now want to get faster (I am so slow). Thanks so much for your help. Kindest regards emma

    • Gary May 10, 2014 at 1:24 am #

      Thanks so much Emma for your feedback and congratulations on your improvement. I have actually just put up a video about breathing that you may be interested in too at https://theswimmingexpert.com/learning-to-breath-in-swimming/.

      The easiest way to get faster is to make sure you get a good hold of the water as you pull under the water and then accelerate your hand through the water towards the end of each arm pull so that your body moves faster forward on each pull through.

      Keep up the great work Emma.

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