Pucker Up – Better Breathing When You Swim


A problem with having learnt stuff decades ago, is that you tend to forget the learning process – what you have learnt has become intuitive. So when you try to explain a particular technique to someone – you can forget some of the nuances of the leaning process.

I had an interesting instance this morning when I went swimming. In my youth I was a competitive swimmer: breaststroke and front crawl. One of the key aspects of good swimming technique is effective breathing. Now, I don’t think I specifically learnt this technique for swimming when I was younger – it was probably the result of lots of trial and error.

My wife was trying to swim front crawl and having difficulty getting enough air, so she wasn’t getting very far.

Her stroke was good, her position in the water was good, her head position was good, but what I noticed was she was just opening her mouth wide and sucking air in. And here’s where there is a little nuance that I learnt, and also know from my Tai Chi training, that can make a big difference.

You may be aware of breathing in through your nose and out through your pursed mouth when practising abdominal breathing – it smooths your breathing very nicely.

For effective breathing when swimming, I tend to breathe in through my mouth and out through my nose and mouth. The difference is that when you breathe in, if you pucker your lips and drop your jaw, it kicks off a deep breathing reflex.

You can try this easily on dry land to practise. In the water it’ll be the same mouth shape for breaststroke, but for crawl, I tend to pull my jaw down to one side to create  a streamlined breathing mouth shape. i.e if I breathe to the left the left part of my jaw drops lower. The right part of my mouth is effectively closed and I don’t need to lift my head so far up out of the water. Try it – you might  just be pleasantly surprised!

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