Breathing during swimming is one of the most important skills that provides a solid foundation to a swimmer. Breathing is an inhaling and exhaling process, or an exchange of air in the lungs. Beginners are taught inhaling from the mouth and exhaling from the mouth. This is easy to impart to kids who are young or adults who are new to swimming.
Ideally, breathing during swimming is to inhale from the mouth and exhale from the nose or both nose and mouth. The exhalation from the nose prevents water from flowing into the nasal cavity, which may cause discomfort in sinuses.
How to teach breathing on dry land?
Imagine you are about to blow out the flame of many candles on a cake. You need to take a deep breath through your mouth.You inhale and exhale by engaging the diaphragm.
As you inhale from a standing position, look at your tummy. Your tummy is inflated. As you exhale, your tummy deflates. For a better experience, try lying on a flat surface and place your one hand on your tummy. As you inhale, the tummy rises, resulting in your hand moving upwards. As you exhale, the tummy falls, resulting in your hand moving downwards. During this diaphragmatic breathing exercise, your chest should not move at all. If it does, you are doing it wrongly. You are using your muscles around your chest to breathe. Most people, especially adults, have not maximised their breaths.
Look at how a newborn or a young one breathe; they use diaphragmatic breathing. Due to social criticism (“You are fat!” or “Tuck in your belly!”), some people become self aware of a bulging belly. As a result, people learn to tuck in their belly, taking short breaths using the chest without even realising they are altering their breathing habit.
As you are now learning to breathe under water, the inhalation is from the mouth.
This is a YouTube video demonstrating diaphragmatic breathing.
How to teach breathing underwater?
Imagine blowing out candles again. Exhale from your mouth in a long and slow breath.
Place a floating toy on the surface of the water and blow on the floating toy. This is a visual feedback for you. As you blow on the floating toy, it moves.
The next step is to blow under water. Take a deep breath and inhale through the mouth, then submerge the mouth in the water. Blow out from the mouth slowly – you should see yourself creating lots of bubbles.
The “Up, Down, 1, 2, 3” technique is adopted:
- Up – Open mouth and take a breath (suck in air).
- Down – With mouth closed, go under water and blow out through the mouth. Advanced swimmers may progress to submerge under water and exhale from the nose.
- 1, 2, 3 – blow bubbles in the water for 3 counts (silently count “1000, 2000, 3000”) and raise your head above water. You can vary the speed of the count. The 3 counts provide a long enough time for the carbon dioxide to be expelled from the lungs.
The cycle repeats. Inhalation must be through the mouth, as this is the most efficient way for the lungs and diaphragm to be filled.
This regulated breathing teaches the individual to control their breathing. And this is one of the reason why swimming is prescribed for asthmatics who usually have shallow, irregular breathing.
There are beginners who complain about water going up their nose. The water in essence does not go up the nose. It is only when the swimmer inhales in the water will water go up the nose. During a swimming lesson, swimmers are made aware of their breathing, and a more efficient method of breathing during swimming is taught.