Posted in Swim
image of man leaving swimming pool

Your breathing technique has a huge impact on your success in the water. It’s important to focus on overall kick and pull strength sure, but one of the fastest ways to shave seconds off your time is by improving your breathing technique.

We’ve picked some top tips from Speedo’s elite swim coach Fred Vergnoux to help you to enjoy a faster freestyle, mainly by working on your exhale and using fins.

Why work on your breathing?

Without wanting to point out the obvious, breathing supplies your body with oxygen. The human body cannot survive without oxygen; each cell needs a certain amount of oxygen just to function. When you push your body with exercise, you’re making your cells work even harder so you need even more oxygen - it’s their energy source. You know when you’re panting, after hard physical exertion? That’s your body trying to get in more oxygen.

Fred also says that from an efficiency point of view, working on your breathing pattern can give you a lot more fluidity; your stroke will become smoother if you breathe at the right point.

A swimmer emerging from a pool

How can you improve your breathing technique?

Work on your lung capacity

Fred suggests underwater swimming as a useful method to improve your lung capacity. You can use fins for your underwater sessions to help provide momentum, so you can focus on breathing rather than also having to think about moving forwards! Remember, any underwater swimming should always be performed with caution: lung training takes time and you should not push yourself to the point where you feel dizzy or light-headed.

An underwater photo of a woman swimming breaststroke

Focus on exhaling properly – and practice doing it

A lot of swimmers just focus on breathing in. But what about the exhale? Breathing is a two-way process – in and out. Try Fred’s drill either in the water or on land during your warm up:

  1. Take a deep, relaxed breath.
  2. Hold it for a slow count of four.
  3. Exhale to a slow count of four. Blow long and controlled.
  4. Stop when you’ve “puffed out” all of the air and hold.
  5. Repeat this exercise three or four times.

We’d also suggest complementing your training with conscious breathing throughout the day. Simply “tune-in” to your breathing for five breaths:

  1. Place your hand on your abdomen.
  2. Take a long breath in, until you feel your abdomen rise.
  3. Take a slow breath out.
  4. Repeat five times.

Did it feel like you had to inhale a lot more air than usual, to get that deep breath? This exercise will probably make you realise that a lot of the time we take short, shallow breaths. Making an effort to breathe more deeply in general won’t just give your body more energy for the pool, it’ll also give you more energy for your daily activities.

Don’t turn to exhale

Fred points out that during freestyle, you should exhale when your face is in the water. If you’re trying to breathe both in and out when you turn to the side, your head is out of the water for twice as long as is necessary. This creates a brake and slows you up.

A swimmer diving into an outdoor pool

Know when to breathe

In freestyle, breathing every 3 strokes is the optimum because it allows you to spend as much time as possible in the water. Bilateral breathing (breathing to both sides) also means that you can avoid over-straining one side of your body.

If you want more information about how to improve your swimming, take a look at our Get Speedo Fit Guides, for Beginner, Improver and Performer levels.

Elite swim coach Fred Vergnoux is no stranger to steering swimmers to Olympic glory and world champion status. A former head coach to the Spanish Olympic team, he’s seen more than 244 records broken under his tutelage, including world and national record-breaking performances from Spanish number one, Mireia Belmonte Garcia.