If you hold your breath while swimming or have a poor breathing rhythm that doesn’t match your strokes properly, you’re making some of the most common beginner swimming mistakes. It’s so important to learn breath control to maintain your power, speed, and energy level, and to avoid panic if you gulp some water or take a wave to the face during open-water swimming.
But simply training yourself not to hold your breath while swimming is the most fundamental part of proper breathing technique. It doesn’t come naturally to most new swimmers—holding your breath when your face is submerged under water is a natural response—so it takes some conscious effort.
In addition, some swimmers engage in breath hold sets as part of their training, thinking that it’s a part of breath control training. However, breath holding shouldn’t be confused with learning to breathe in a safe, healthy way that helps optimize performance in the water.
Breath Holding While Swimming Is Dangerous
Holding your breath for too long while swimming deprives your brain and other organs of necessary oxygen and prevents the necessary release of carbon dioxide. It can result in blacking out, which in turn can lead to death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study in 2015 that found 16 cases of underwater loss of consciousness related to breath holding in strong swimmers, four of which were fatal.
Holding Your Breath Hurts Swim Performance
Along with being dangerous, don’t hold your breath while swimming because it diminishes your performance in the water. When your lungs are full of air, it increases your buoyancy. This makes your chest rise and your legs sink, which is of course not good form for proper stroke and kick techniques and fast, energy-efficient swimming.