I am sure you have all tried it, holding your breath (be it underwater or above the water) as long as you can.
I used to practice holding my breath to break my own personal records during my English classes :).
I guess this shows you how much interested I was in English, so if you find any errors in my post, just think ahh right, he must have been holding his breath when they were studying that stuff.
The teacher probably wondered why I was so red in my face all the time hehe.
An average human being should be able to hold his/her breath for approximately 2 minutes.
According to Dr. Ralph Potkin, a pulmonary specialist who prepared David Blane for his world record in holding breath, the 2-minute mark is just a starting point.
It is possible to train your body to hold your breath for a much longer period of time.
Check out this amazing video of Herbert Nitsch (one of the best freedivers in the world).
And here is one more of Johanna Nordblud, who holds the longest swim under the ice world record. Brrrr :)
Isn't it amazing what a human body is capable of?
The world record in breath holding is now set to over 24-minute mark, which at first glance seems just incredible, however, let's examine one important rule that the Guinness folks put into place.
The breath-holding competitor is allowed to breath pure oxygen for 10 minutes before the actual breath holding event, so you can imagine how much more oxygen does one have in their bloodstream after such a pure oxygen kick.
Nevertheless, over 20 minutes without breathing, pure oxygen or not, is still quite an amazing feat.
Now what does a world record in breath holding has to do with swimming?
Well, breathing is a very important aspect of learning to swim.
Many beginners, especially if they come from a running/cycling background, have a problem adjusting to the breathing rhythm in swimming.
In running, one can breathe basically any time it is needed.
Of course, there are some basic breathing techniques and patterns as well, but they greatly differ from swimming.
During swimming, you have to have your breathing pattern even more fine-tuned. This is why many people feel out of breath while swimming as they feel they do not get enough oxygen in their lungs.
It is not because they are out of shape, it is merely the fact that they haven't discovered the right breathing pattern for them yet.
So if you are one of these swimmers who feel out of breath all the time while doing your laps, don't fret, you can fix it with some minor adjustments of your technique and breathing pattern.
Here are a few tips on how to improve your breathing during a swim practice:
If your freestyle coach or swimming lesson teacher tells you to breathe every 3rd stroke (meaning you breathe to one side, do a full stroke and then breathe to another side), they have a reason for this and it usually is to keep your body in symmetrical alignment.
This type of breathing is also referred to as bilateral breathing.
When you learn to breathe to both sides, you are evenly rolling on both hips, etc. etc.
However, as far as breathing is concerned, you do not need to wait that long to breathe. Your body needs oxygen and if it doesn't get it, fatigue sets in.
You can breathe every other stroke (meaning: you breathe on one side, take a stroke and then breathe to the same side again) and rotate the breathing side per lap.
Alternatively, one pool length you breathe to the left and the other to the right and this way you keep your oxygen intake appropriate and you are still practicing both sides of your body symmetrically.
If you are a bit more advanced and you have the right head position during your freestyle stroke, you can try 2 breaths to one side, then right away rotate your head to the other side and then 2 breaths to that side. So it looks like - take 2 breaths every stroke to the left, breathe the same stroke to the right and then take 2 strokes to the right). This is a bit more challenging because if you breathe directly from one side to the other, your head and body position needs to be right in order for you not to lose your speed.
If you breathe every 3rd or every 2nd stroke, you can start slowly exhaling right after you take your breath and your face is back in the water.
This will help you in 3 ways:
a) Your breathtaking activity will take a much shorter time, so you can, as we call it, "sneak a breath in" very fast without spending too much time with your face out of the water. If you wait until the last minute to exhale, you can feel the stroke stop until you finish taking your breath and thus totally throwing off your rhythm.
b) You will be more relaxed and feel less in need of oxygen, due to the fact that if you hold your breath, you start to accumulate CO2 in your blood and you are also tenser.
In other words, continuous exhalation will gradually let out the CO2 build up and will also relax you a little.
c) If you incorporate proper gradual exhalation into your swimming stroke, it could serve as a great stroke rhythm holder.
In this way, your rhythm will be to inhale, slowly exhale, inhale, slowly exhale, inhale, etc. etc.
For example, you can set a goal in one practice that you will do 5 dolphin kicks off each wall and in between you swim slower to catch your breath and recover.
This will help you in breathing + you are also practicing your underwater kick which is priceless.
You can also set a goal to breathe one lap every 5th stroke and then the second lap every other stroke, then every 5th stroke again, etc.
These types of breathing drills will help you to get adjusted to the breathing pattern in swimming.
To get a bit more out of your lungs, see the post on lung capacity increase drills to help you master breathing during swimming.
But then again, is it all about your lungs or can a spleen play a big part in what you are capable of doing underwater?