Learn to Control your Breathing (Drills to improve your lung capacity in swimming)

Be a Safer Swimmer - 360swim SaferSwimmer

Nov 13, 2005

Learn to Control your Breathing (Drills to improve your lung capacity in swimming)

It is not a secret that a swimmer has one of the best lung capacities from all athletes or at least should have. :) . Here are a few ways how you can improve your breath holding ability during every day practice.

1. Lungbuster - exhale all your air and when no air is in your lungs, push off the wall and either sprint fly or free for a 25 or sprint fly kick underwater while in streamline with maximal speed of undulation.

2. Good ol' underwater swims - 40x25m underwater on 40 etc.

3. Hypoxic swimming - do a set of your chosen distances (3x400 or more) and vary your breathing by 50s or 100s as follows. 1x50 breath every 3, 1x50 every 5, 1x50 every 7, 1x50 every 9 and repeat all over again.

4. Fast fly kicks on your back - do a set of sprint fly kicks in the streamline, head alined with eyes looking up (not behind you), fast undulations coming from the bottom of your ribcage. Why on your back? Answer: To even out your kicking muscles due to the fact that majority kicks are on your front and also, because it is harder to keep the air in. If you can't keep the air in and it is escaping through the nose, use a nose plug (don't be afraid - top athletes do it). That is the last thing you need, air bubbles coming out of your nose.

5. Underwater turns - pick a favorite distance (not below 300) and have a set where you swim from inside the flags-to the wall-to the flags underwater, so only the section in the middle of the pool between the flags is above the water, the rest below.

6. Front snorkel - one of a great ways to work harder in the water is to limit your oxygen intake. Front snorkel is a wonderful tool which will do just that and it will help you with your head and body position. The frontside snorkel is also used for training your proper head position. Even David Marsh, a head coach at the Auburn University in Alabama, is fond of this simple tool and describes its use in his DVD set The Auburn Way .

7. Not taking breaths into the turns and off the turns. This practice is perfect for training to help you get out of it as much as you can. Take one stroke into the turn and one stroke out of the turn without breathing.

8. Breathless relays - Sprint fly or free as a relay, however, without breathing. If you are not skilled in non-breathing swimming, start with 25's, if you are more advanced I'd do 50's to make it more challenging. There is a catch though. If a person takes a breath during their part of the swim, the relay is penalized by one more swim or by time or any other penalty you can think of to make it interesting.

As Richard Quick, former Stanford's Women's Swimming Coach, mentions in his Championship Winning Swimming Videos, underwater swimming is a 5th stroke and up to 60% of your races can be swam underwater. So here you have it.

One last note, remember that when racing, it is not good to go into an oxygen debt, that is why you'd want to incorporate some of these excercises into your training. And also keep in mind that while in competition, if you have a perfect stroke and body/head position, you can take as many breaths as you want without impacting your speed (there is nothing wrong with that). You will swim faster with more oxygen.

For helping your breathing, you can use Power Breathe (just 2 times 30 breathes a day and you'll see a difference within a week).

Feel free to leave a comment if you know of any other interesting ways to help your lungs get fit.
Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.


Kelley said...

What an awesome site-swimming is my favorite sport-thanks for the great tips

chuck said...

...and every now and then swim simply for the deliciousness of it...it can be MAGIC...

>>>}=O >>>}=o
>>>}=o >>>}=O

EmailHosting.com said...

Is it good to hold your breath for long periods of time?

JAYT said...


If you hyperventilate before going under you will artificially reduce the CO2 levels in your blood.

CO2 is the trigger that makes you want another breath.

If your O2 level in your circulation goes below the level required for consciousness before the CO2 trigger kicks in... you are in real trouble.

I hope the exercises suggested on this blog would only be attempted in a pool attended by a lifeguard.

In answer to your original question, though I'm not a medic, I don't think there's any long-term damage from short-term hypoxia. As long as your brain gets enough O2 within 8 minutes you should suffer no long-term damage.

Swimator said...

Well, holding breath for long time could be good and bad. It depends how far you are willing to go and what do you want to achieve. Of course, you should not hold your breath until you see stars in front of your eyes. Just long enough to feel a little discomfort. The positive side of the story is that you will increase your lung capacity by using your lungs more and more.

Hyperventilation is good, but only in moderation. I'd suggest to take only about 2-3 deep breaths before attempting to hold breath for a long period of time. Any more than that is not a good practice.

As suggested in the comment above, if you are not a skilled competitive swimmer (who this post was meant for), please do not attempt to hold your breth for a long period of time in a pool without proper supervision (lifeguard, swimming insructor etc.).

Good luck

Anonymous said...

I was trained to breathe per stroke. When I started swimming I used to do like 5 strokes then breathe. Definately not good, I was dead by the end of the lap.

By breathing once per stroke, I kept my heart rate down, could do slower and more powerful strokes.

Jono said...

Hypoxic= the word every swimmer fears his coach will say.
15x100m on 1:15
breathing 5, 7 and 9

Swimator said...

nice set. Keep it up Jono. Try it backwards, 9,7,5 and see how it goes.

andrew webber said...

I disagree with the whole article, it's totally false. The fact it mentions 'improve lung capacity' in the title tells me enough. You can improve lung function, but, surprise surprise, not by holding your breath.

andrew webber said...

I agree with this bit though....' also keep in mind that while in competition, if you have a perfect stroke and body/head position, you can take as many breaths as you want without impacting your speed (there is nothing wrong with that). You will swim faster with more oxygen.'
But it's not just in competition, we all know you're not going to do something on race day you haven't done in training.

Swimator said...

to andrew webber: thanks for sharing your criticism. Fair enough, the title is unfortunate as one cannot increase lung capacity in a physical sense. However, the outlined exercises are just a few of many which can help increase lung efficiency, so it is not as misleading if you don't take it literally. Since you mentioned you disagree with the entire article, would you have some suggestions on improving the contents? I always want to learn more, so please don't be shy.

Swimator said...

to andrew webber: you are spot on regarding the need to practice race technique and race conditions during practice.