The first lesson when you’re taking swimming as a career or hobby is learning how to breathe. One may ask why. The answer is already in the question… the better you can breathe, the better you can swim.
The proper breathing techniques are related to more than just swimming. You need to increase lung capacity to become a better sportsman.
According to Statista, there are approximately 4.7 million regular swimmers in England. That’s 9.4 million lungs, with a capacity to hold around 28 million liters (or about 14 million large soda bottles) of air, entering the pool weekly!
People with better Lung Capacity – Swimmers
Did you know swimmers generally have a higher lung capacity than land-based athletes? A research paper in ScienceDirect found that swimmers’ lungs have higher values of vital capacity, forced vital capacity, and expiratory volume.
You might think this is due to a genetic predisposition, but this is only partly correct. A swimmer’s high lung capacity is also partly attributable to the special way in which swimming trains the lungs through specific breathing patterns, specific training positions, and the specific surrounding medium.
In fact, swimming is often regarded as the sport with the most profound and beneficial effect on your lungs.
It takes decipline to build lung capacity
Every swimmer knows the importance of breathing for improving your strokes and keeping you afloat in dangerous situations. Swimming is an intensely cardiovascular sport, and breathing is the engine that drives our movement through the water.
But if you have weaker lungs or struggle with getting into a rhythm while swimming, you’ll know that breathing isn’t something you can improve overnight. It is something that takes discipline to build up.
So, how exactly can we develop our breathing skills? Here is a practical guide on breathing and boosting your lung capacity in and out of the pool.
Yogis and Zen masters have known the power of mindful breathing for centuries. Regular breathing exercises will not only help you achieve soundness and stillness of mind (before a swim competition, for example), but they will train your lungs and help you feel less exhausted and oxygen-deprived in the pool.
Try the following breathing techniques once a day:
Pursed lip breathing
Inhale air through the nose to push out abdominal muscles and exhale through pursed lips, taking twice the inhalation time. You can try this exercise both underwater and outside the pool.
Take a deep breath, count to 20, and then exhale slowly. Enhance this exercise by a few seconds, and you can eventually hold it for a long count of seconds.
Hold your breath
Try to hold your breath underwater according to your ability and under supervision. NB: Lactic acid is generated in your body when you hold your breath, so a little burning sensation is normal for you to experience.
These exercises need patience and practice to get good at. Don’t rush them. Remember, you should exhale slowly to reduce the speed of oxygen depletion. Otherwise, you may be caught gasping for air frequently.
Don’t push yourself too hard, or you may get fatigued or develop a serious condition. Give yourself breaks if you feel light-headed or experience a highly uncomfortable burning sensation.
Think for a moment about how you breathe while swimming front crawl. Do you fully exhale before turning your head to take a breath? Do you feel like you take in enough air? It’s worth asking a swim coach to help you analyze your breathing while swimming, as they may spot something you are doing wrong that you may have missed!
Here are some other Master The Art of Breathing in Swimming to try which will help you improve your breathing:
Light kicking movements.
Physical exertion in the water depletes your body of oxygen and energy, especially if you are flapping your limbs around excessively! Your thigh muscles are the largest in your body and thus demand the most oxygen. Try kicking lighter than usual to help you save oxygen.
No-breath and limited-breath lengths.
Challenge yourself by doing a length of front crawl without breathing (remember to kick lightly!). If that is too tricky, see how far you can go, extend the stretch, or hold your breath over time. Time and count the breaths that you take in different strokes per length:
- Try breathing every 3 strokes per length.
- Breathe every 5 strokes.
- Every 7 strokes, etc.
- Breathe in and breathe out.
At the end of every set, when you stop to breathe before going for your next length, stay there and do the following: breathe in through the mouth and out through the nose 5-6 times in a row. This can massively improve lung capacity!
Breathe better – Look after your lungs
As well as breathing and swimming techniques, be sure to take care of your lungs by taking the following steps:
Stop smoking to breathe freely!
Smoking (and second-hand smoke) damages your airways and the alveoli in your lungs. So stay away from smoking and smokers as much as possible.
Improve the air quality in your home:
You can easily do that by removing dust, mold, and artificial fragrances. If you want, you can get an air filter or purifier.
Eat antioxidant-rich foods and breathe healthy.
These include (among many others) berries, nuts, grapes, coffee, green tea, dark chocolate, spinach, artichokes, red cabbage and beans!
Hydration is Key:
Water plays a vital role in almost every function in the body, including your lungs. Staying adequately hydrated can thin the mucus lining your airways and lungs. Dehydration can cause that mucus to thicken, making it more difficult to breathe. Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.
Engage in Regular Exercise:
Apart from swimming, other forms of cardiovascular exercise like walking, running, and cycling can contribute to increased lung capacity. Make sure to include at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week to maintain optimal lung function.
Watch Your Posture:
Believe it or not, the way you sit or stand can affect your lungs. Sitting up straight allows your lungs to fill up more easily, facilitating better oxygen flow to your body. Try to maintain good posture throughout the day, and especially when you’re engaged in breathing exercises or swimming.
Limit Exposure to Pollutants:
Outdoor air pollution can adversely affect lung capacity. If you’re jogging or cycling, try to stick to routes away from heavy traffic. Similarly, avoid exposure to harmful chemicals like cleaning agents and fumes from paint.
Monitor Humidity Levels:
Too much or too little humidity can affect your breathing. Aim for a home humidity level of about 40-50%. A dehumidifier or humidifier can help you maintain the right indoor climate.
Common allergens like pet dander, pollen, and dust mites can impair lung function. Using hypoallergenic bedding, regularly vacuuming, and keeping pets out of certain rooms can help mitigate these risks.
Get Regular Check-ups:
Although self-care is invaluable, it’s crucial to consult healthcare professionals for regular lung function tests, especially if you’re serious about swimming or have a history of lung issues. This can provide a more comprehensive view of your lung health and any areas that might need attention.
Enhance Your Diet:
Expand your intake of foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids like fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts. Omega-3s have been shown to reduce inflammation in the lungs and may help improve lung function over time.
Keep abreast of new research and studies related to lung health and swimming. This not only helps you stay updated but can also offer new perspectives or techniques that you might find useful.
Furthermore, if you are particularly susceptible to lung infections, be sure to get flu or pneumonia vaccinations to promote your lung health (especially in the winter time).
The Bottom Line:
You can train your lungs by using the tricks and tips shared above. It takes only practice and dedication to get there. And if you want more practical advice, you can get it here.
Thanks for reading. We hope you found some valuable tips here. Let us know your top breathing tips in the comments below!