The Right Way To Breathe While Swimming Laps

Photographed by Caroline Tompkins.
Getting water up your nose feels about as good as hitting your funny bone or having a piece of sand in your eye. But if you're swimming laps in a pool or the ocean this summer, and your technique is a little rusty, you might find yourself in this predicament. Remembering to breathe is hard work — especially if you're submerged underwater.
There's a bit of skill involved in breathing while swimming, and it's a good idea to learn the right way to do it for your own safety and enjoyment. Swimming is an excellent low-impact cardio activity, meaning it works your heart and lungs and strengthens your muscles without putting stress on your joints. Once you figure out the whole breathing and stroking thing, swimming could become your go-to workout when you get bored with the stairclimber or elliptical. "Your swimming will improve drastically once you nail the correct breathing pattern," says Elizabeth Beisel, a two-time Olympic medalist swimmer and a USA Swimming Foundation ambassador.
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Need a refresher on this important swimming skill? Here, Beisel and Tom Gill, a United States Lifesaving Association spokesperson, provide your step-by-step guide to breathing while swimming.

Use your mouth.

If you try to breathe using your nose alone, you're more likely to get water up your nose, Beisel says. "When swimming, it's much safer and more efficient to breathe out of your mouth," she says. Instead of trying to inhale and exhale when your head is above water, you should exhale your breath underwater, and inhale when your head is above water, she says. "I prefer exhaling underwater through my nose, but it all comes down to personal preference," she adds. Stand by the wall of the pool and inhale through your mouth, then drop under water to exhale through the nose until it feels natural, Gill suggests.

Move your head smoothly.

"Whatever you do with your head while swimming, your body will follow," Beisel says. Many people have a tendency to jerk their head back and forth when they swim in an attempt to breathe out of the side of their mouth. But your head should only turn to the side enough to get a breath in through the mouth, and then turn back down, and exhale through your nose slowly, Gill says.
While on land, practice moving your head side to side, looking straight past your shoulder, Beisel suggests. "Once you are comfortable with this motion, bring it into the water and practice by lying face down in the water and turning your head slowly to each side," she says. You should only allow one eye to rise out of the water — the other half below should be below the surface.

Try practice drills.

Swimming in a lap pool can be intimidating, so take some extra time to practice this skill before you venture out. Start by grabbing onto the wall in a horizontal "superman" position, and moving your head side to side as mentioned, Beisel suggests. "Try to keep the waterline right down the center of your face while you breathe in air," she says. "This eliminates looking forwards or backwards, which interferes with your body line in the water." Then, once that feels good, transition to holding a kickboard instead of the wall, Gill says. And, keep in mind if you're a beginner, all of this should be done under the watchful eye of a trained swim instructor, coach, or lifeguard to maximize your potential, he says.
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