Breathing while swimming is the biggest nightmare for starting triathletes

by | Oct 12, 2021 | Triathlon

Swimming pool

Regardless of a person’s athletic background in other sports, the first leg of a triathlon, the swim, can cause quite a number of challenges. I had to face it myself when I started participating in triathlons and I have had many questions about it as well. As, in general, the forward stroke is most efficient for a triathlon, you will have to learn how to breath and that seems harder than it is. Below I share an exercise that has really made me swim better.

Get comfortable in the water first

Before participating in any event, it is advisable to join swimming lessons/trainings in the pool. The swim during a triathlon event is most often in open water, where the visibility is poor and in addition, you are not swimming alone. Therefore, it is best to first gain confidence in the pool.

As a kid I rather early learned how to swim, but to be honest we were mostly swimming classic style. And this is how I did my first triathlon as well. Despite a few weeks of training, I didn’t manage to swim forward stroke more than about 100 meters at once and then I was exhausted. This quick exhaustion was caused by bad breathing techniques.

Learn how to control your breathing

Before you can relax in the water (and then swim fast), you must learn how to control your breathing. It should be just like now, while you are reading this post, just imagine how you inhale and exhale at the moment. It should be a short but steady inhale followed by a short and steady exhale with no pausing, no holding your breath, and no gasping for air. That’s exactly how breathing should be while swimming.

As I didn’t feel comfortable in the water, I did some online searching and then I found the following exercise: jump into the water and find a place where you can stand. While standing in the water, inhale and lean forward, head facing down in the water. While being under water, you need to exhale well, till “empty”. Then you turn your head to your preferred side and you inhale. Turn your face under water again, exhale and repeat a few times. It would be best to start practicing breathing at both sides, as this will be useful when you are swimming open water.

As soon as your face goes under water, start a steady and continuous exhalation. In the beginning I started exhaling just before lifting my head out of the water for the next inhale, causing I still needed to exhale while having my head already turned for the inhale. That is really counterproductive, as this caused a feeling of being “out of breath” which is caused by holding your breath and letting the carbon dioxide build up in your lungs. As my trainers have mentioned a few times, they like to see bubbles coming from the swimmer all the time when the head is under water.

I hope this works well for you as well! Keep up the good work.


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