Breathing out Under Water

One of the big challenges with learning freestyle (front crawl) is breathing with your face down in the water. In fact it can be pretty scary swimming face down unsure of how to get some air into your system!

Notice how we said getting air “into” your system and there-in lies one of the pitfalls – which is that it’s very tempting just to think about getting air IN when in fact we should be focusing just as much on getting the air OUT.

What we are going to do is help you develop a good exhalation technique under the water. If we can do that then when rotate to the side to breathe (more on doing that here #link to article 2#) you only have to breathe in, rather than exhale and inhale during that very short time window.

Plus, by breathing out and ridding yourself of the CO2 building up in your system you will feel much more relaxed when you swim!

It’s worth noting that many swim teachers ask swimmers to hold their breath underwater and then blow out at the last moment. The problem with doing this is that it causes more CO2 build up (giving you that panicky feeling) and the excess buoyancy it causes in the chest lifts you up at the front and sinks your legs at the rear causing lots of drag:

So not only will improving your exhalation technique make you feel more comfortable and relaxed, it will also improve your body position.

If you’ve been told to hold your breath underwater, then try this alternative method – especially the contrast exercise at the end. You’ll notice the difference in how it feels and if you suffer from sinky legs then you should also feel your legs lifting that bit higher too.

Developing Good Breathing Technique

To develop your breathing we first need to get you used to blowing out against the pressure of the water – which is harder than it sounds. Water is 800 times more dense than air and it takes a little air pressure to overcome the water and exhale sufficiently in the time available.

In order to help develop your exhalation technique try our “sink-down” exercise. If you are nervous of being out of your depth perform the exercise in the shallow end first but as you get more confident gradually progress to deeper water:


Once you are exhaling strongly enough you should be able to sink down to the bottom of the pool with relative ease. Remember you can exhale through your mouth or nose, experiment with each and see which feels most natural.

Give this a go even if you are a strong swimmer, you might be surprised what you discover!

Bringing This Into Your Swimming

So let’s now introduce this long continuous exhalation into your front crawl. To do this you are going to repeat a famous Swim Smooth mantra to yourself: bubble-bubble-breathe… bubble-bubble-breathe etc.

With every arm stroke we want you to literally speak the word “bubble” in to the water – you’ll need to exhale to do so of course. Then on the third stroke rotate to the side to breathe – saying the word breathe to yourself (although not out-loud!)

Give this a go, you’ll notice you are breathing every three stroke, swapping sides each time. That’s great technique as it helps keep your stroke symmetrical.

Contrasting Breathing out With Holding Your Breath

Once you get the hang of this you don’t need to speak Bubble into the water but keep repeating the mantra in your head for a while, it really helps with the co-ordination of things.

To really prove the point let’s try swimming some lengths of front crawl contrasting deliberately holding your breath with blowing out smoothly and continuously. Swim 25m up the pool blowing out smoothly and continuously into the water (remember as soon as you have taken a breath and returned your head to the water you should be blowing out). Then swim 25m deliberately holding on to your breath before letting it go at the last moment.

Repeat this a few times through. How do the two methods compare? Which feels more relaxed or easier?

One last tip – don’t force the exhalation. Think of it as sighing into the water, the more relaxed and fluid you can be with it the better!

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