Breathing Techniques for Swimming

‌‌While kicking and arm strokes may be the first things that come to mind when you think about learning to swim, much of what makes a swimmer safer and more efficient in the water comes down to breathing. ‌‌

Proper breathing techniques are a core focus of swim lessons at Big Blue Swim School, with each of our levels offering an age-appropriate approach. As your child progresses through the Big Blue curriculum, we focus on comfort with breathing while in the water, then breath control, and ultimately teach your child rhythmic breathing so they can fluidly breathe while swimming.‌‌


Having your young child feel comfortable in the water is a critical first goal of our Baby Blue program, offered at 3 months - 3 years of age. (Of course, if a child joins our program later, we make sure they feel comfortable and confident putting their face in the water, too!).
We start by helping new swimmers ages 3-18 months in our Baby Blue 1 level anticipate being submerged under water for a short period of time. Anticipating submersions prevents a child from becoming fearful of having their face in the water and keeps water out of their lungs and stomach. It's an essential early skill for safer swimming. ‌‌

When a child starts the Baby Blue 2 level, for ages 19-32 months, they will practice submerging their own face into the water. While their face is in the water, they also practice blowing bubbles out. This breathing technique prepares them for breath control and rhythmic breathing while also preventing them from swallowing or inhaling water while they get used to submersions. ‌‌


Once a child is comfortable with their face in the water, we can begin to work on breath control. By 3 years old, when our Bright Blue program starts, children work on putting their whole face in the water. As they practice, the goal is holding their breath for three seconds. ‌‌

All mammals have a diving reflex. Automatically holding one's breath is part of the diving reflex. As children get older and can understand and follow instructions, we want them to control when they hold their breath rather than relying on reflex. By practicing holding their breath for longer increments, they gain control and confidence in the water.‌‌

This breathing technique sets a child up to learn to breathe rhythmically, a key element of efficient swimming.‌‌


Rhythmic breathing is a pattern of timing exhales and inhales while continuously swimming in a fluid cadence. This helps swimmers know how–and how often–to breathe while swimming. ‌‌

While learning, our Bright Blue swimmers (ages 3-5 years old) repeat a pattern of 3 seconds of bubbles out and 1 second of air in. They also learn to maintain proper head position, keeping the face and ears submerged while exhaling so they maintain a horizontal body position in the water at all times. If a swimmer lifts their head up and out of horizontal body position to breathe, their feet will sink below the surface of the water, making it harder to swim.‌‌

In our Bold Blue and Big Blue programs, older swim students, ages 6 and up, learn the appropriate cadence of rhythmic breathing coordinated to leg and arm movement for all four strokes (butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke and freestyle). ‌‌

Lifelong Swimming

Proper breathing techniques make swimming more enjoyable, more efficient and safer. A child continuing through the Big Blue program–and then perhaps onto a swim team–will learn how powerful proper breathing techniques are for swimming farther and faster. ‌‌

Proper breathing improves swim performance. Rhythmic breathing helps sustain speed and form, delivers a consistent flow of oxygen to muscles and helps maintain body pH by reducing CO₂.‌‌

Whatever the age or skill level, we'll help your child master proper breathing techniques along with all the other elements of swimming at Big Blue Swim School. ‌‌

Want to get started? We can't wait to meet you and your child! Sign up for a free trial or call us at 847-729-7665 with any questions.