One of the most important skills for fast swimming is effective breathing. Breathing keeps you alive, it fuels your efforts, and it helps you maintain your position in the water.

Unfortunately, the breathing action can really slow you down when performed poorly. Poor breathing skills can disrupt your alignment by pulling your head up and out of position. It’s like putting on the brakes while you swim. Slow breathing can also slow down your arm speed, which can slow down your swimming as well.

If you’re having trouble understanding how to breathe effectively, and struggling to do so, I have a simple strategy for you that can be really powerful. In a previous article, I showed you how to use a snorkel if you’ve never worked with one before. Once you’re comfortable with a snorkel, let’s put it to use to improve your breathing.

What to do 

If you’re struggling with your body position or controlling you breathing, this exercise will be more effective if you work on those first. Perform some ball floats…

… and bobs, to improve those skills.

Once your set, using a snorkel to improve your breathing is simple. You’re going to swim a repetition or two with a snorkel, then a repetition or two without a snorkel. Then repeat! Either of the sets below fulfill these requirements.

5 x [2 x 25m freestyle; with a snorkel; 2 x 25m freestyle; without a snorkel]


10 x 50m freestyle; ODD with snorkel EVEN without snorkel

Of course, you can use whatever type of set you’d like. The important concept is to alternate between swimming with a snorkel and swimming without a snorkel and do so frequently.

Once you get the hang of it, you can make it more difficult by changing your breathing pattern when you’re not using the snorkel. You can breathe to the left, then the right, breathe every 3, or breathe every 5.

They key is to pay attention to what it feels like to swim with the snorkel, without the presence of a breath. Then, you’re going to swim while breathing, aim to make the entire stroke feel as similar as possible.

Will you be able to match it? Probably not. However, if you can get slightly closer, that’s real progress, and the closer you can get over time, the better.

Why it works

Using a snorkel is effective because it provides you with a sensory goal to achieve. It allows you what it feels like to have an effortless breath. No matter how skilled a coach is, it’s very difficult to accurately describe what a given movement should feel like, or what you have to do to execute that skill well.

When you use a snorkel, you avoid those problems. You can feel what it’s like to have a perfect breath because your head isn’t moving. Then it’s just a matter of figuring out how to mimic those sensations while breathing.

Over time, the difference will get smaller and smaller, and your breathing will get better and better.

Top image credit: Getty Images

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