How to Increase Lung Capacity for Swimming

Swimming can certainly feel exhausting. A lot of that fatigue comes from oxygen deprivation. Even if you breathe frequently, your body is always demanding more air! It makes sense, though, since swimming is such an extremely cardiovascular sport. This guide is packed with tips for breathing easier during your swim sets.

Breathe Correctly

The first aspect of your stroke you should analyze is your breath. When breathing in freestyle, fully exhale before you turn your head to take a breath. Also, think about if you feel like you’re taking in enough air. For more tips on proper breathing, check out the related iSport guide on How to Side-breathe.

Kick Light

Kicking lighter than normal can help conserve oxygen. Your quadriceps — or thigh muscles — are the largest muscles in your body. Therefore, they demand the most oxygen. Taking it easy on kicking will help you save oxygen.

Breath Control Sets

The purpose of breath control sets is to aid in proper breathing, good technique, and augmented lung capacity. There are two common ways to approach a breath control set. You can hold your breath for a long duration, or you can practice a low-frequency breathing pattern.


No-breathers can help increase your lung capacity. Swim a 25 of freestyle without taking a breath. Remember to kick lightly as you do this. The less you kick, the easier the no-breather will be. Also, take it easy. If you try sprinting the 25, then you’ll be expending your oxygen quickly. Instead, find a steady pace during the set.


Hot Tip: Exhale Slowly
Exhale slowly as you swim your no-breather. This will help avoid oxygen depletion during your lap. Blowing air out too quickly might force you to take a breath before you want/need to.

Completing the entire lap without a breath can be difficult. If you can't make it the whole way, see how far you can go before taking a breath. As you repeat the 25, try to make it further on your next lap. Give yourself plenty of rest between each lap. 20-30 seconds will allow your lungs to get a break before you make the next attempt.

You’ll start to feel better and better on each repeat as you do this set. On your first day, start with a set of 10 x 25. Then increase your number of repeats every few days. If you do this set for a week, you'll likely be surprised at how much better your lungs will feel. This will carry over to your other sets as well.


Believe it or not, some people find it easier to do no-breathers butterfly. You can get into a nice rhythm and use your body — instead of your oxygen-burning legs — to move through the water. If you feel comfortable with your stroke, try holding your breath for some 25s of butterfly.

Under Water


Hot Tip: Do Some Bobs
The burning sensation that you get in your lungs is from lactic acid. To clear out the lactic acid between sets, bob up and down in the water. As you dip under the water, blow out all of your air. As you reach the surface, take in more air, and repeat. This will help get rid of that burning feeling in your lungs between repeats.

Another way to practice breath control is to swim laps under water. There are many variations that you can do under water: Kick in a streamline, perform breaststroke pull-downs, or even make up your own method. See if you can complete the whole lap under water. If you can’t make it, see how far you can go without taking a breath. Repeat these 25s after catching your breath.

Breathing Patterns

Get into a breathing pattern during a set. There are two ways you can approach this type of set. You can challenge yourself by trying to breathe every five, seven, or nine strokes. This will help build your lungs while you get into a pattern.

Alternatively, you can breathe every three strokes and focus on balancing out your stroke. Try to smooth out your swimming, which will in turn help you with your breathing.

Be Careful

While doing any of these sets, be extra careful! Do not push yourself so hard that you pass out in the water. Be aware that a burning feeling in your lungs is normal while practicing breath control. You produce lactic acid in your body when you hold your breath, which causes that burning sensation.

However, if that burning feeling becomes severe, you should take in some air! Further, you should always take a break if you’re feeling light-headed. Passing out in the water is highly dangerous. Always practice breath control at a pool where you can be supervised.

Build up Slowly

If you’re unsure how far you can swim while holding your breath, take it easy the first few times you practice. With a bit of patience, you’ll feel better in the water. It won’t be long until you’re no longer gasping for air during sets!

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