Improve your swim breathing in triathlon training

Are you struggling for air? It's a common problem for beginners – check out these tips


Breathing issues are very common and have a significant impact on your ability to swim confidently in the pool or open water (says Fiona Ford, a BTF level 3 coach and top-10 pro Ironman finisher).

Advertisement MPU article

Getting out of breath very quickly and swimming at a high workrate or stroke rhythm will further compound the situation, so there are a number of exercises you can practise to help improve your breathing and calm down.

1. Start with some pool-based exercises to focus on your exhalation, as this is usually the main issue

Begin with a series of ‘sink downs’ in the shallow end of the pool, aiming to exhale strongly and consistently and reach the bottom.

Progress to a series of 2-3 consecutively, once you can fully exhale all the air out of your lungs. You need to notice how long this takes, as well as having to consciously think about exhaling deeply.

2. Apply this to a set of 8 x 50m freestyle swimming, where you focus on exhaling consistently, rather than holding your breath for any stage of the stroke pattern

Utter the phrase ‘bubble, bubble, breathe’ as you swim, and ensure you’re only breathing in when you turn your head.

>>> How important is bilateral breathing for beginner swimmers?

3. Aim to settle into a sustainable rhythm, and develop this in open-water practice sessions with a ‘bubble, bubble, stretch’ focus

This helps to maintain the leading arm in front of you as you turn to breathe, supporting the head and lengthen the stroke if you feel the ‘frantic’ rhythm returning. Work on endurance sets to improve your ability to sustain this breathing pattern.

4. Another useful way to develop this is to breathe every 3, 2, 3, 2 strokes continuously

Practise this in both the pool and open water, thinking about strong exhalation and controlling your stroke rate. It’s an effective strategy for navigation, too.

>>> Three steps to better swim sighting

5. Gaining some coaching feedback on your body and head position in the water as you swim would also be helpful to minimise drag, if caused by low or sinking legs behind you

The best way to monitor this is to complete a video-analysis session, so that you can see the effect low body or leg position has on your swim efficiency.

>>> How to stop your legs sinking in the swim

By working on the causes of the issue you can then eliminate the effects – this is the most efficient way to improve your swimming.

Advertisement MPU article

For lots more swimming advice head to our Training section