If your child is already learning with a BritSwim teacher, you’ll likely have heard us during class talking about bubbles – aka, the importance of exhalation during swimming.

Many of us grew up learning to hold our breath while swimming. Accepted practice is now that it is better to exhale in the water – here’s why.

Swimming is not a natural activity; humans were not designed to move effectively through water. So, in teaching swimming, we are essentially passing on the best way to do this. Often, our actions in the water are exclusive to that environment (think of how often you would move your arms in a freestyle motion on land – we’re guessing never). It’s our job to teach these ‘unnatural’ movements until they feel natural and come easily, and to keep whatever we can as ‘natural’ as possible. Breathing falls into this latter category.


In real life, we inhale and exhale – so in swimming, we do the same, and what that translates into is breathing in when our face is out of the water, and breathing out when it’s submerged.

When we inhale and exhale during swimming, we are keeping things as normal as possible for our body.

Holding the breath, by contrast, sends a message to the brain that something is wrong – that results in the body becoming tense, which is not conducive to a smooth swimming style.

It can also generate a very reasonable anxiety, especially in beginners – not being able to breathe is uncomfortable and scary.

The correction of breathing practice in students who come to us with stroke experience but also a residual fear of the water is very often the fastest path to overcoming this phobia.

It’s quite amazing how often just teaching a student how not to hold their breath will lead to greater confidence in water.

Proper breathing technique affects so many other facets of a good swimming technique.

An example: one student came to the first of her adult intermediate classes with good strokes, plenty of focus, and no lack of confidence, but she couldn’t understand why her legs were constantly trailing downwards towards the bottom of the pool during breaststroke.

The answer? She was holding her breath, which was keeping her top half buoyant, forcing her legs down – and that, of course, was hindering her stroke.

In other words, failure to blow bubbles was effecting her body position, and in turn, her success in effectively moving through the water. She exhaled in the water during her next length; just with a simple change in breathing, her body position was correct and her speed was vastly improved.

Last but not least, exhalation of a constant stream of bubbles will ensure that water can’t get into your mouth, or worse still, up your nose – bubbles thereby help you avoid one of the least pleasant sensations in the world of swimming.

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