Should You Blow Bubbles When Swimming?

Female swimmer taking breath, close-up
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When you are swimming with your face in the water (that means when you are not doing backstroke), do you hold your breath or not? While doing a swimming workout, do you blow a continuous stream of little bubbles or do you hold your breath until it is time for the next inhalation?

Both types of breathing (or not breathing) techniques are employed by swimmers. Some of those swimmers have no problem doing long swims or workouts, some have a lot of trouble making one length of the pool (even though they were fit enough to do so). What is the problem? They feel like they had no air, or they were running out of air or they could not get a good inhalation. Why do they face these challenges to breathing while swimming?

Swimmers need air to swim; they need to get rid of the "bad" air and take in the "good" air. They have to do this a lot during a long swim. What is the trick behind some swimmers' ability to go long distances without breathing problems while other swimmers have challenges from the start? There's no known scientific reason for it—maybe it has something to do with keeping enough pressure in the airway to trigger or not trigger some response—but we do know that swimmers of both types—bubble-blowers and non-bubblers—both can be successful swimmers.

Breathing While Swimming

What is the basic breathing cycle in swimming? Breathe in, blow out; you knew this already.

When does it occur? That might be one of the tricks—the blow out part, not the breathe in. Breathe in is always going to occur when the entrance to the airway (that is, the mouth) is above the water. The blow out part, as already mentioned, might be happening continuously via blowing small bubbles, or it might not happen until just prior to the breathe in.

These are the basic steps to breathing while swimming:

  1. Breathe in.
  2. Face back into the water.
  3. Blow bubbles or don't blow bubbles.
  4. Blow out forcefully just prior to raising/turning the face out of the water for the next inhalation—this is one of the tricks— an explosive exhalation just prior to the mouth exiting the water. This explosive exhalation gets rid any remaining"bad" air, can create a pocket of water-free space in the mouth so the next inhale is easier, and can pre-load the ribcage for the inhalation so the ribcage is ready to expand for that breathe in once your mouth clears the water.
  5. Bring face out of the water.
  6. Breathe in.
  7. Repeat.

If you don't use an explosive exhale while you swim now, try it during your next swim workout. You should find it helps you swim better.

To Blow or Not to Blow Bubbles

The answer for this one is very simple. If you are having trouble with breath control, and explosive exhalations while swimming are not helping (or not helping enough), then think about what you are doing and do the opposite. If you are a bubble blower, stop blowing bubbles. If you do not blow bubbles, start blowing them (little ones; you are not trying to turn the pool into a bubble bath). Some bubble blowers hum during the bubble blowing process. Really, they do. And it helps them keep a steady, small stream of bubbles going.

Give explosive exhaling a try first, then test the bubble or no bubble tactic. We bet you will have found a solution. One more thing to try is the actual structure of your workout. You might be trying to do too much at one time. You may need to build-up to longer swims.

Updated by Dr. John Mullen