When you're a long-distance swimmer, you know that losing your breath means you're as good as sunk. Proper breath control is vital if you want to stick it out long enough crank out those long-distance swim sessions, and avid swimmers are often looking for new ways to improve their breathing. Whether you're a "glider" who likes to spend a lot of time under the water, or you're just looking for a way to stay sane while your head is underwater and you're screaming for air, the first steps are to practice good technique both in and out of the water.
Test your breathing technique out of the water. Place your hands on your chest and stomach and start taking your normal, deep breaths. If you feel the hand over your chest rising higher than the hand over your stomach, you're a chest breather, meaning you need to focus on more diaphragmatic breathing.
Practice deep breathing techniques out of the water. Focus on breathing inward and expanding the diaphragm, located just below your rib cage. On the exhale, focus on expelling all of your air from deep down in your diaphragm. In order to get better at deep breathing overall, sign up for a yoga class focused on "pranayama," or yogic breathing, which will help you learn to raise your shoulders, hips and collarbone, as well as pushing out your abdomen and lowering your diaphragm to take a full breath.
Have a coach or trusted friend watch you swim and take note of what you do as you come up for air. If she sees a small spray of water near your mouth when you emerge from underwater, you'll know that you're holding your breath underwater. This is bad for several reasons. First, more air in your lungs makes you more buoyant. If you're trying to swim underwater, you need to avoid swimming near the surface. Holding in that air also causes carbon dioxide to build up in your system, which makes it harder to swim with good technique.
Focus on exhaling during your entire time underwater. It doesn't matter whether you are exhaling with your mouth, nose or both -- just do what feels good to you. The second your head goes back underwater, start blowing bubbles, focusing on a slow, steady exhale. When you feel you've expelled all of your air -- all the way down to your diaphragm -- it's time to come up to the surface for air.
Do core-strengthening exercises, advises the Virtual Swim Coach. Strengthening the muscles of your abdominals and back helps make breathing easier. Three to four times a week, do abdominal exercises such as crunches on an exercise ball or bicycle crunches. Further strengthen your core by doing pushups and pullups.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.