How to Hold Your Breath Longer

Practicing your routine is the easiest way to train to hold your breath longer, simply because of the demands of your choreography. But more specific workouts like breath-holding laps, routine drills, and full routine rehearsal will help you improve faster. Here are some suggestions.

In Your Laps

A great time to focus on improving your breath-holding ability is during your laps, because you don't have to worry about choreography or pointing your toes. Here are some ideas.

Hypoxics or Lung-Busters

Do 8 to 12 laps (a 200m or 300m) of freestyle. On the first lap (25m) breathe every third stroke. Every lap after that increase the number of strokes you do between breaths by two until halfway through the set. Then, decrease the number of strokes between breaths by two until you’re back to three.

This is called a “ladder” which means the difficulty of the workout goes up and then back down.

For example: In a 200 hypoxic, the number of strokes between breaths would be 3, 5, 7, 9, 9, 7, 5, 3 for each lap. In a 300 hypoxic, the number of strokes between breaths would be 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 11, 9, 7, 5, 3 for each lap.

Underwater Laps (Unders)

Swim underwater from one end of the pool to the other, or as far as you can go, before running out of air. Start by pushing off the wall, then use long breaststroke kicks.

Try to relax. The more anxious you are, the faster your heart rate will be, and a faster heart rate will cause you to run out of air more quickly.

Variations on Underwater Laps

Once swimming 25m underwater becomes comfortable, add variations to make it more difficult.

Here are some options:

  1. Swim 50s, or two laps, at a time. The first lap is an under and the second lap is freestyle. Rest between each 50. This is called an "under-over."
  2. Change how you swim underwater. Complete the lap using only your legs, with flutter, breaststroke, or dolphin kick. Or, try to eggbeater underwater on your stomach or upside-down.
  3. Incorporate boosts, rockets, elements or figures to the unders during or at the end of the lap.
  4. Include underwater laps in sets of laps that include eggbeater, sculling, ballet legs or other synchro skills.

Using the Routine

The routine in itself is a good work out, but by breaking it down into sections you can improve your breath control faster.

Hybrid or Small Section

Hot Tip: Bonus Skill

Because of the repetition it requires, this drill is also good for memorizing new choreography while you build endurance.

Choose one hybrid or small section of the routine that has about 30 seconds or less of choreography. Repeat it with enough time in between each repetition to get a few corrections, take a short rest, and get ready to do it again.

The number of repetitions you perform should depend on the length of the rest and the difficulty of the section.

Laps of the Routine

Synchro routines are naturally broken down into laps. This makes it easy to break up the routine into fewer and bigger sections during practice.

Repeating just one of those laps, in the same way you do with hybrids and small sections, is another good way to increase breath control. Repeat the lap with rest in between each rep. The more endurance you build, the more repetitions you can do with the same or less rest.

Swim the Whole Routine

You can’t put off learning to swim the whole routine all the way through until the week before the competition. Without performing all the pieces together, it can be hard to know which parts will be the most difficult to complete underwater. And you definitely don’t want to be surprised, or wishing you’d taken a bigger gulp of air!

At the end of a difficult routine, even 10-15 seconds underwater can feel like a long time. So always remember to swim all the way through routines regularly at practice.

Word of Warning

Practicing breath-holding should be done with caution and taken seriously. Training alone or pushing yourself past reasonable limits could cause you to lose consciousness or even drown. According to the Aquatic Safety Research Group, shallow-water blackout is a condition that occurs when swimmers are practicing breath-holding and don’t realize when they have pressed themselves too far.

One reason for the confusion is that when your oxygen levels get to low, your brain starts sending out endorphins (your body’s natural painkillers). These endorphins can disguise the typical warning signs that occur when you are running out of air.

So be aware of the risks before practicing this skill and take the necessary precautions. Never swim alone regardless of how good of a swimmer you are, especially if you are training hard on this aspect of your performance.

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