Breathlessness and breathing difficulties when swimming

One of the best forms of exercises to improve and maintain your fitness levels is swimming. However swimming requires good breathing techniques and an overall efficient lung function. Breathlessness and breathing difficulties occur in swimming at different stages in your life. Breathing problems also have different fitness and health implications that depend on your age and swimming ability.

Basics of breathing

So here is the science. Water is much denser than air which means your chest will be somewhat compressed. To overcome this you need to consciously exhale while under water. You may have a feeling of panic as you may feel constraint while under water but this will pass as you become more confident and you will lessen the likelihood of hyperventilating or holding your breath as a reaction to stress.  By blowing out in the water slowly, immediately after inhaling gives you some sense of control.  By regulating your breathing pattern you will ensure a steady supply of oxygen. This is critical for aerobic metabolism.

Technique-Related Problems

To be able to breathe with ease while in the swimming pool, you need to improve your stroke and breathing technique. This is done by rotating your body in the direction you intend to breathe. By doing this it means your head is in the right position to take a breath – just above the surface of the water.  Do not make the mistake of straining to lift your head out of the water or wait to exhale just before taking a breath in as this will tire you and cause you difficulty taking a full breath. It is also critical that you time your breathing correctly especially if you are swimming freestyle. The correct technique is to take your breath just as your stroke arm leaves the water at your hip.

Fitness-Related Problems

Difficulty catching your breath after a particularly intense set might only mean you need better conditioning. Hypoxic or breath-control training is helpful for the younger racers who are training to withstand race conditions, but the benefits are not so clear for older swimmers. Increased lung function, comes with steady and continued workouts.

Health-Related Problems

Asthma is another respiratory condition which makes breathing difficult. Exercise-induced asthma can result from an aggravation of an existing condition or from sensitivity to the chemicals used in, and produced by, the pool disinfection process. Cardiovascular problems also cause feelings of breathlessness and shortness of breath. Lung damage due to smoking is another cause of having difficulty breathing while swimming. Anaemia caused by vitamin deficiency and other conditions can also result in you having difficulty breathing or getting enough air into the lungs. If you do suffer from respiratory conditions then it is important to learn how to breathe correctly while swimming otherwise it will be a constant struggle.


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