One of the aspects of swimming which is not often mentioned or emphasized in swim lessons, is how to keep a relaxed breathing. All good instructors will of course teach you how to breathe by turning your head, without lifting it, to stay as much as possible in alignment. As exhaling and inhaling are natural skills, we are not really thinking about it. Often, I see a new swimmer swimming a perfect freestyle stroke, until I notice that they are not breathing. In the middle of the pool, they of course have to take that breath, and everything falls apart. Some will also hold their breath and not exhale in the water, which will prevent them from taking a fast breath and may lead to side ache since they are not inhaling and exhaling completely. In backstroke, it is easy for me to see whether they are holding or not holding their breath.
Here are a few tips for a more relaxed breathing style in swimming:
- You need to exhale completely underwater in order to be ready to inhale quickly when you need to take a breath. Exhale from both your nose and your mouth. Under water it is about 30% from your nose (to avoid getting water in it, for it is not pleasant, and will make you panic) and 70% from your mouth (you need to see those bubbles). On land, you exhale probably 70% from your nose and 30% from your mouth (unless you are a big snorer or have a cold!)
- You should breathe on a regular basis, every two or three strokes for a relaxed breathing during practice. Never hold your breath. Holding your breath automatically puts you in a stressful, panicky situation, especially if you are not yet comfortable in a water environment. You can suspend your breath as you need to time it with your breathing pattern, but you should never hold your breath or have finished exhaling before it is time to take your next breath. As everything else, this does take practice. Learning to time your exhaling, and do it slowly, will help you alleviate that fear of being trapped underwater. Practice at the wall if needed. It will help your swimming tremendously.
- Keep a relaxed breathing in all the strokes, have a pattern, and stay with it, even in backstroke! You may change that pattern if you are sprinting. But if you are a novice swimmer, it is important not to wait too long before breathing, and to breathe consistently. You will have to experiment yourself, in order to determine what the best pattern is for you. As a fitness swimmer, it should probably be every 2 or 3 strokes in freestyle. Some like the 3-strokes pattern, for it teaches you bi-lateral breathing and can better balance your stroke. It is however, harder to master. For some, breathing every two seems like over breathing and can make you dizzy. If you are a new swimmer, I would never recommend more than four strokes, as it might create an oxygen deficiency and will prevent you from doing a quick, efficient breath without getting out of alignment.
- Breathing is an in-born mechanism that our body has to control stress. It is a key element in yoga and relaxation exercises. In Quebec, Canada, they have an expression, when somebody is in rage, to tell them “respire par le nez” or breathe by your nose. Stay in control, practice relaxed breathing, so you can feel comfortable underwater and focus on your stroke. If you are new to swimming, practice blowing bubbles at the wall, do some bobs (immerse your head in and out of the water). Experiment with breathing on one side and the other to see which one feels the most comfortable to you.
Once you can master a relaxed breathing pattern, you will automatically be able to swim more relaxed, and for longer periods of time. It will alleviate your eventual fear of the water, and send you on the way of being a true mermaid. This is one step of the swimming process that is sometimes ignored but should not be, as it is the key to the enjoyment of the water, to the enjoyment of learning how to swim, and to the enjoyment of becoming a master swimmer.