Note: This swimming tip article may contain affiliate links. Please read the disclosure for more info.

It is no secret that a swimmer has one of the best lung capacities from all the athletes or at least should have. :) .

Having to be accustomed to not be able to breathe whenever you want takes some time getting used to.

Here are a few fun ways how you can improve your breath holding ability during everyday practice.

1) Lungbuster

Exhale all your air and when no air is in your lungs, push off the wall and either sprint fly or free for a 25 or sprint fly kick underwater while in a streamline with maximal speed of undulation.

2). Good ol' underwater swims

40x25m underwater on 40 seconds (or your interval of choice).

You will soon notice that it gets easier.

Or alternatively, you can do some underwater technique work which will also train your lungs.

Underwater freestyle technique drill
Swim slow motion freestyle underwater

3). Hypoxic swimming

Do a set of your chosen distances (3x400 or more) and vary your breathing by 25s, 50s or 100s as follows.

1x50 breathe every 3 strokes (stroke being one arm movement)   1x50 every 5 strokes   1x50 every 7 strokes   1x50 every 9 strokes and repeat all over again.  

4.) Fast fly kicks on your back

Do a set of sprint fly kicks on your back in the streamline, head aligned with eyes looking up (not behind you), fast undulations coming from the bottom of your ribcage.

Why on your back?

To even out your kicking muscles due to the fact that the majority of kicking is done on your front and also because it is harder to keep the air in.

If you can't keep the air in and it is escaping through the nose, use a nose plug (don't be afraid - top athletes do it) OR learn to make the human nose plug.

That is the last thing you need, air bubbles coming out of your nose.

5) Underwater turns

Pick a favorite distance (not below 300) and have a set where you swim from inside the flags-to the wall-to the flags underwater

So only the section in the middle of the pool between the flags is above the water and the rest below.

6.) Front snorkel

One of the great ways to work harder in the water is to limit your oxygen intake.

Front snorkel is a wonderful tool that will do just that and it will also help you with your head and body position.

The frontside snorkel is also used for training your proper head position. Even David Marsh, a head coach at the Auburn University in Alabama, is fond of this simple tool and describes its use in his DVD set The Auburn Way.

If you do decide to get one for training your lungs, you can check out this BornToSwim snorkel which has a smaller diameter tube, so the lung training is much harder.

7.) Not taking breaths into the turns and out of the turns.

This practice is perfect for training to help you get out of the session as much as you can.

Take one stroke into the turn and one stroke out of the turn without breathing.

8.) Breathless relays

Sprint fly or free as a relay, however, without breathing.

If you are not skilled in non-breathing swimming, start with 25's, if you are more advanced I'd do 50's to make it more challenging.

There is a catch though.

If a person takes a breath during their part of the swim, the relay is penalized by one more swim or by time or any other penalty you can think of to make it interesting.

As Richard Quick, former Stanford's Women's Swimming Coach, mentions in his Championship Winning Swimming Videos, underwater swimming is a 5th stroke and up to 60% of your races can be done underwater.

So there you have it, a few fun ways to help with improving and therefore also controlling your breathing while you swim.

One last note, remember that when racing, it is not a good idea to go into an oxygen debt, that is why you'd want to incorporate some of these exercises into your training.

And more importantly, learn a proper bilateral breathing rhythm.

And also keep in mind that while in competition, if you have a perfect stroke and body/head position, you can take as many breaths as you want without impacting your speed (there is nothing wrong with that).

In fact, the more oxygen you get in (the more breaths you take) the better.

You will swim faster with more oxygen.

PowerBreathe - the gym for your lungs
PowerBreathe is basically like a gym for your lungs

For helping your breathing, you can use the simple tool Power Breathe (just 2 times 30 breaths a day and you'll see a difference within a week).

Or a newer more tech version, the AiroFit

Feel free to leave a comment if you know of any other interesting ways to help your lungs get fit.

Swim Advice Topics

Learn To Control Your Breathing (Swim Sets To Improve Your Lung Capacity In Swimming) is part of the following categories: Drills-Tips, Breathing and is meant for swimmers in: Level 3 - Intermediate, Level 4 - Advanced

Swimming articles you might also like:

Comments (12)

Kelley said...
What an awesome site-swimming is my favorite sport-thanks for the great tips
chuck said...
...and every now and then swim simply for the deliciousness of can be MAGIC...

>>>}=O >>>}=o
>>>}=o >>>}=O
Reply said...
Is it good to hold your breath for long periods of time?
JAYT said...

If you hyperventilate before going under you will artificially reduce the CO2 levels in your blood.

CO2 is the trigger that makes you want another breath.

If your O2 level in your circulation goes below the level required for consciousness before the CO2 trigger kicks in... you are in real trouble.

I hope the exercises suggested on this blog would only be attempted in a pool attended by a lifeguard.

In answer to your original question, though I'm not a medic, I don't think there's any long-term damage from short-term hypoxia. As long as your brain gets enough O2 within 8 minutes you should suffer no long-term damage.
libor said...
Well, holding breath for long time could be good and bad. It depends how far you are willing to go and what do you want to achieve. Of course, you should not hold your breath until you see stars in front of your eyes. Just long enough to feel a little discomfort. The positive side of the story is that you will increase your lung capacity by using your lungs more and more.

Hyperventilation is good, but only in moderation. I'd suggest to take only about 2-3 deep breaths before attempting to hold breath for a long period of time. Any more than that is not a good practice.

As suggested in the comment above, if you are not a skilled competitive swimmer (who this post was meant for), please do not attempt to hold your breth for a long period of time in a pool without proper supervision (lifeguard, swimming insructor etc.).

Good luck
RyanB said...
I was trained to breathe per stroke. When I started swimming I used to do like 5 strokes then breathe. Definately not good, I was dead by the end of the lap.

By breathing once per stroke, I kept my heart rate down, could do slower and more powerful strokes.
Jono said...
Hypoxic= the word every swimmer fears his coach will say.
15x100m on 1:15
breathing 5, 7 and 9
libor said...
nice set. Keep it up Jono. Try it backwards, 9,7,5 and see how it goes.
andrew webber said...
I disagree with the whole article, it's totally false. The fact it mentions 'improve lung capacity' in the title tells me enough. You can improve lung function, but, surprise surprise, not by holding your breath.
andrew webber said...
I agree with this bit though....' also keep in mind that while in competition, if you have a perfect stroke and body/head position, you can take as many breaths as you want without impacting your speed (there is nothing wrong with that). You will swim faster with more oxygen.'
But it's not just in competition, we all know you're not going to do something on race day you haven't done in training.
swimator said...
to andrew webber: thanks for sharing your criticism. Fair enough, the title is unfortunate as one cannot increase lung capacity in a physical sense. However, the outlined exercises are just a few of many which can help increase lung efficiency, so it is not as misleading if you don't take it literally. Since you mentioned you disagree with the entire article, would you have some suggestions on improving the contents? I always want to learn more, so please don't be shy.
swimator said...
to andrew webber: you are spot on regarding the need to practice race technique and race conditions during practice.

Speak your mind