In the Water, we Learn How to Breathe Easy

If we want to KEEP MOVING, stay in longer- feel more relaxed and confident, go further and generally get more out of every lesson or trip to the pool, one thing is guaranteed to spoil the party.

Erratic, hesitant and interrupted BREATHING.

To get the most enjoyment and satisfaction from swimming, our breathing needs to be:

  • Relaxed
  • Controlled
  • Timed
  • And coordinated with our other moving parts…

The alternative – as many know – is holding our breath, getting out of breath and having to keep stopping to get it back.

It’s most definitely a ‘Swimming Thing’.

Imagine if you had to ‘learn how to keep breathing’ for everything you do in a day…!

I have asked experienced, competitive swimmers how they breathe when they swim.

But after scratching their heads thoughtfully, most of them can’t tell me.

What is more, they can’t really remember learning to do whatever it is they do now, either…
It almost certainly involves BUBBLES and exhaling by TRICKLING air out or blasting it out EXPLOSIVELY.

Getting it right is a bit like learning to drive a car, or even ride a bicycle.
Eventually we end up doing them automatically or ‘naturally’ with hardly a second thought.

We can drive home safely at the end of the day while keeping an eye on the traffic and on the road, briefly checking our ‘bearings’ so we don’t get lost, planning our next meal, recalling stuff from our working day and listening to the radio.

But…. It wasn’t always like that – was it?

Once upon an anxious time, we stressed about how we would ever be able to take our right foot off one pedal and simultaneously, missing out the next pedal – depress the pedal next to that with our left foot, keeping both eyes on the road, holding onto the steering wheel with one hand, steering in a straight line, avoiding collisions with other vehicles and pedestrians, selecting the correct gear with the other hand… releasing the pedal with the left foot and smoothly depressing the one furthest right with the other foot…
It’s pretty much the same story for everyone when they started!

It’s the same with AQUATIC BREATHING, timing our breaths with all our moving parts.

Except the best TIME to start is usually when we are quite young and long before we even think about taking our feet off the bottom of the pool.

That all important start will almost certainly involve putting our face in the water and BLOWING BUBBLES.

If you think about it – and how often do we ask our beginners to do that? – blowing bubbles, or blowing out in the water is the best way to discover that as long as you are blowing air out, then water doesn’t get in. “Simples”.

That’s not to say that we can’t keep water out of our mouth or nose completely.

SO…. Hands up who thinks it is a good idea to get rid of it by swallowing it?

Ask regular swimmers what they do – they definitely don’t swallow it; they ‘ship’ or ‘spit’ it out.

😝I know – but it’s OK. 

Chlorine does a great job of keeping us safe by killing bacteria as well as germs that cause viruses. Really!
Everybody does it. Join the club.
Just don’t dwell on the thought too long though….


In my lessons I encourage children to explore and discover different ways to blow out with their face in and under the water and then come up for a breath before trying again. Many work it out for themselves.[1] I want them all to discover their own way; to know it’s OK to ship water and get rid of it from their mouths and noses.
I want them to join the ancient order of successful Secret Dribblers!!


Firstly, we don’t only blow out through our mouths; try blowing out through your nose as well, if you can. When it all feels blocked up and you get worried about your breathing, it’s an amazingly effective and ultimately liberating experience.
Don’t let your imagination loose on that one for long either…

Secondly, explore and discover what swimmers mean by ‘explosive’ breathing and ‘trickle’ breathing. It’s noisy, messy sometimes, and often produces an amusing assortment of sound effects, curiously hilarious- and enjoyed by- adults and children all over the world.

Long story short: it’s all about learning the best way to get air OUT quickly…
Clear your airways…
So that we can take IN that all important breath when we need it and without hesitation but regular repetition.

After that it’s about finding our own rhythm and timing to suit whatever we want to do in the water.

Swimming different ‘Strokes’ is where it comes in most handy; but rhythmic and controlled breathing is critical to a lot of other aquatic activities

Finally – like learning to drive or ride your bike…it involves lots of not too stressful practice in lots of different situations.
Some people get it quickly and some take a little longer.[1]
When you are 5 or 6 or 7 years old, there’s no hurry and short cuts are definitely not recommended.

It’s worth getting it right…


Easy when you know how…

[1] There will always be those children who adapt quickly, take it all in their stride and are then ready to move on. The swimming teacher’s role is certainly to enable them to keep progressing. However, it is often the case that a swimming teacher’s knowledge and experience is most needed for those children who, for all sorts of reasons, progress at a much slower pace.

[2] Some ideas and activities to support these are covered on the card for ‘Aquatic Breathing’ found in the Small Steps to Successful Swimming resource.