If you finish every lap completely exhausted, your breathing could be to blame! 

Your breathing technique plays a major role in your swimming efficiency, which directly impacts how quickly you get tired. 

So, stop holding your breath and try our favorite swimming breathing drills to transform your stroke and make every lap easier!

How Often Should You Breathe?

Depending on the distance you’re swimming, your pace, and what feels most comfortable to you, your breathing pattern will vary. 

During moderate swimming, we recommend breathing every two or three strokes. You should not try to hold your breath for extended periods. Instead, stick to a specific breathing pattern to ensure your body gets a consistent flow of oxygen.

When racing, we recommend these breathing patterns:

  • 200 meters or more: Breathe every 2-3 strokes
  • 100 meters: Breathe every 2-4 strokes (beginners will breathe more than advanced swimmers)
  • 50 meters: Breathe every 4 strokes (or more! Some elite swimmers don’t breathe at all.)

Whichever breathing pattern you choose, make sure to master your technique. That’s the most important thing! 

5 Breathing Technique Drills to Try

Try these freestyle breathing drills during your next workout to refine your technique and make it easier to breathe. For an in-depth breakdown of proper breathing technique, check out this post.  

1. Rotisserie Kick

This drill is a great challenge for your breath control and core stability. Maintain a tight streamline and slowly rotate 360 degrees while kicking. Think about maintaining a neutral head position, with your biceps squeezing your ears. 

Rotate nice and slow here. Try not to do more than two or three full rotations per 25.

2. Both Arms at Wall

This drill is great for beginners. Start holding onto the wall with both hands, and start kicking. Look straight down. Do one arm stroke with your right arm, and breathe to the right. Place your right arm back on the wall, and repeat with the left arm. 

Be patient here! Focus on keeping one eye and one ear in the water every time you breathe.

3. 12 Kick Switch

12-Kick Switch integrates rotational momentum into your stroke and helps you find stability while breathing to the side. Take one stroke and turn toward that extended arm. Balance on your side for 12 kicks. Take a stroke with the opposite arm and repeat! 

To take a breath, turn your head away from your extended arm. When you aren’t breathing, make sure to look straight down at the bottom of the pool.

4. Paddle on Head 

This drill is a fun challenge! Place a paddle on the crown of your head and swim freestyle. Your goal here is to keep the paddle on your head no matter what…even when you breathe! That means you need to maintain a neutral head position. 

Focus on turning your head to breathe without lifting it up. The paddle will come off your head when you deviate from proper head position. The faster you swim, the easier this drill will be.

5. Single Arm Freestyle

This drill is a great chance to work on rotation, and incorporate your breath into that rotation. Swim freestyle with one arm, keeping the opposite arm tucked in to your side. Focus on rotating to both sides, and when you need to breathe, turn your head away from the moving arm to encourage a nice rotation.

Think about driving your rotation with your legs. We recommend wearing fins for this drill. 

5 Ways to Improve Your Breathing Outside the Pool

1. Breathe Through Your Nose 

During the day, try to keep your mouth closed and breathe through your nose as much as possible. The nose is the filter for the body, heating, pressurizing and moistening the air we inhale. When you breathe through your nose, your lungs can absorb up to 20% more oxygen.

2. Slow Down Your Breathing

Most people take 12-15 breaths per minute while at rest. With some conscious effort, you can likely reduce your breath rate to about 8-10 breaths per minute. Breathe deeply and exhale fully to signal to your body that you’re relaxed and safe. 

3. Improve Your Lung Capacity

The number one marker of longevity isn’t genetics or diet, it’s lung capacity. As you get older, your lungs shrink, especially after the age of 35.

The larger your lung capacity, the more efficient you will breathe. Work on your lung capacity with hypoxic swim sets, breath control exercises and tools like the Airofit Breathing Trainer.

4. Train Your Breath

Your lungs can be trained, just like any other muscle in the body. When your lungs are used to tolerating higher levels of carbon dioxide, you’ll be able to hold your breath longer in the pool.

This is a mental and physical challenge that takes time. Try inhaling for a count of four, holding for a count of seven and exhaling for a count of eight to start practicing breath control. Avoid pushing yourself too hard, though – if you feel lightheaded, stop and breathe normally.

5. Stretch Your Breathing Muscles

Your respiratory system isn’t just your lungs – your diaphragm and intercostal muscles play a role in how well you’re able to breathe. Work on mobilizing these muscles to increase your lung capacity. Try this quick stretch:

  1. Stand up tall with your arms by your sides
  2. Inhale deeply and slowly raise your arms overhead
  3. Think about breathing down into your belly. Let your chest and belly expand!
  4. Exhale and lower your arms.

Mastering proper freestyle breathing takes lots of practice, so stay consistent! Incorporate the drills and tips we shared here into your routine for a few weeks, and we’re confident you’ll start to breathe a little easier. For more technique tips, plus personalized workouts and Training Plans, download the MySwimPro app!



  1. A few months after getting into swimming I learned to freedive. Freedive incorporates a lot of breathing and breath hold training. I was not expecting this, but after a couple of months of consistent freedive practice and training, suddenly (it felt like overnight) I was swimming without being out of breath, my times were increasing at a fast pace and I felt great after my swim workouts.

  2. I just got into swimming a few months ago, after decades of running. Your videos are incredibly helpful. They’ve made my transition to the pool so much easier – particularly in terms of my breathing and body control. Many thanks!

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