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Swimming and proper breathing: How can we breathe properly and swim?

How can we teach children how to swim and breathe properly?

A mother of a five-year-old boy approached me saying: “You know, we have a big problem with breathing. He always has the water coming into his nose and because of that he can’t put his head underwater and hold his breath. What should we do?” I asked the boy: Do you breathe while you’re running? Do you breathe while you’re cycling? Do you breathe while you’re sleeping? Yes. The same you should do while you’re swimming!

It's time to learn to breathe properly while you’re swimming!

Many children who are beginners have difficulties in realising how to breathe properly before they even start with swimming … It might sound funny to a layman, but it’s true.. It’s a usual thing and it takes some time and exercises before one learns how to breathe properly while swimming.

Proper breathing is a true skill in swimming, but it can be mastered. Children who have been in the water since early age master this skill much faster. Yes, it takes some time to relax your head and adjust your body for proper breathing in the water. With proper exercises, of course. Once you begin to feel relaxed, you will stop paying attention to breathing itself and you will start breathing properly which will also make your swimming easier.

Why is it so important for children to learn to breathe properly while swimming? Because once they master the breathing technique it is much easier for them to master any other swimming technique. They will move through the water much easier, faster, with self- confidence, which will make them synchronise the moves they make with their arms and legs, once they breathe properly.

What happens when we don’t breathe properly while swimming? Improper breathing makes swimming hard. The body gets tired, you lose your breath easily, the heart starts beating hard and there is panic in the child’s head as the body is tense. You can easily get dizzy as there is no regular oxygen flow which makes swimming impossible…

How can one swim and breathe properly?

What is more important than the swimming techniques at the very start is that the child learns how to breathe properly in the water. And all this should be learnt through a play and fun. How? How can children learn to breathe properly in the water and blow the air out through their nose? Quite easily! We can start by blowing the air out and making bubbles on the surface, underwater, making quiet and loud bubbles, by shouting and singing underwater, and finally while we’re swimming, sometimes we even learn how to sneeze underwater!

What is the best way for your child to learn to breathe properly while he/she is swimming? Even though there are rules on proper breathing for easier swimming, they don’t have the same effect on every child. Every child has his/her own personality, both on the dry and in the water. Some children are more scared than others, they just feel uneasy about having their head in the water, getting splashed in the face, not to mention making bubbles in the water by blowing the air through the nose…

Effective exercise, based on my own experience: How to teach the children to breathe as they’re learning how to swim?

  • 10 bubbles: The best and simplest exercise for bubble-blowing is done by holding at the pool’s edge. Practically, try to take in the air and dive ten times in a row with blowing bubbles through your nose. In this way, the children will properly and timely learn how to take the air in and out in a synchronised way, without holding their breath, as if they’re swimming…

  • A kangaroo hop: I can tell from my own experience that the water exercise called “a kangaroo hop” is the exercise children find the most interesting one, and therefore the most effective one when it comes to learning proper breathing and preparing for swimming. This is what it looks like: It is done in the shallow part of the pool, ideally in the depth up to the instructor’s waist. Children do this exercise one by one by hopping into the pool from the pool’s edge. You catch the children at their armpits helping them jump through the water by pushing against the bottom of the pool and jumping above the water. It is necessary to make 5-6 related jumps while breathing properly. In this way we harmonise breathing and jumping through the water.

  • Making a storm: We often use toys and water props and improvise to make the thing interesting to children. By blowing through the nose while keeping the mouth closed, we make a storm for the small rubber boats, waves for the fish and ducks, and in this way, we move the floating toys up to the pool’s edge… At first, the children usually blow the air both through the nose and mouth which is not that bad, but with this exercise, the corrections we make and the instructions we give the children eventually learn how to do it with keeping their mouth closed, which then brings to the desired results.

  • Swimming with a dolphin: We often use this exercise as a reward for children who behaved well in the class and all the kids love it! It is also done in the shallow part of the pool, when you take a child on your back, the child hugs you around your neck and you practically pretend to be a dolphin jumping up and down in the water carrying the child on your back. This is how we teach the children how to take a breath on time and breathe properly in the water.

  • A string of bubbles: We compete with each other in making the longest string of bubbles by blowing the air underwater through our nose. This is how we teach the children not to blow the air all at once, but to do it steadily and slowly making a string of bubbles, which makes them stay longer underwater while they’re blowing the air through the nose. They also learn how to control the so-called “plug” between the mouth and the nose.

On the other hand, bear in mind that there are various breathing techniques, depending on the swimming technique itself, but they are used for the more advanced levels! So, once you master the basic techniques of breathing in the water, it will be much easier to master certain swimming techniques too. The same principle applies here, just the position of the head and the body may differ.

Basic tips for easier breathing and swimming:

  • In swimming, it is important to keep the breathing rhythm smooth and calm, which is practised from the very start.

  • In swimming, you should never keep your breath while having your face in the water or your head underwater.

  • You should constantly breathe out in the water. If you’re doing it properly, your lungs should be almost empty at the moment your head is going through the water surface to catch a new breath.

  • Breathe in the air fast, once your mouth is above the water surface. This should be done easily if you have already emptied your lungs while your face was still in the water.

Unlike other “dry” sports where breathing goes naturally, the breathing technique in swimming requires breathing in and breathing out at certain points during the swimming cycle.

It is also necessary to follow certain rules in order to increase the efficiency of breathing without hampering the rhythm of swimming. Along with all other technical obstacles, this makes it clear why it takes some time to get to the point when you master proper breathing and proper swimming techniques..

Once your child feels relaxed in the water, he/she will master the proper breathing technique, through a play and with ease. Trust me, he/she will swim and love it!


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