How To Exhale Underwater (A Simple Guide)


swimmer breathing under water

Exhaling underwater is a fundamental part of learning to swim. If you are more advanced, learning to exhale more efficiently underwater through your nose can help improve your swim technique.

To learn to exhale underwater, stand in the shallow end of the pool and take a breath. Slowly place your face in the water and exhale the water through your mouth. You will see bubbles as the air leaves your lungs. This is the first step in learning to exhale underwater.

It is necessary to exhale underwater when swimming breaststroke, butterfly or front crawl.

When your head is above the water, you inhale, and when your head is in the water, exhale.

If you do not exhale while your head is in the water, you will end up holding your breath, which will make learning to swim very difficult and swimming any longer distance impossible.

Imagine asking a runner to hold their breath and run for 100m? It would be too difficult and is not sustainable.

When you swim, you should have a normal breathing pattern, similar to when you walk or run.

In this article I will cover:

  • How to exhale underwater
  • Should I exhale through the nose or mouth?
  • Should I hold my breath underwater?

How To Exhale Underwater

I remember when I was trying to learn to swim. I seriously struggled with exhaustion and sinking. I could not believe how difficult the whole thing was!

Where was I going so badly wrong? No one, not even my swim teacher, pointed out that you had to exhale underwater in order to swim.

For regular swimmers, this is such an instinctive thing to do that it’s easy to forget that exhaling underwater is not a natural thing for non-swimmers.

In order to swim, you must get comfortable exhaling the air from your lungs underwater.

Here is a simple process you can follow to learn how to exhale underwater for a complete beginner.

1. Stand In The Shallow End

Stand in the shallow end of the pool, preferably next to the ladder which you can hold for support. It is important to be in a safe place, preferably with friends around to support you.

2. Breath In Through Your Mouth & Out Through Your Nose

While still standing, gently breath in through your mouth and out through your nose. This gets you in a calm state and you feel the air moving in your lungs.

3. Take A Gentle Breath In

Take a gentle breath in through your nose.

4. Place Your Face In The Water

Place your face in the water (or submerge your full head if you feel comfortable) and breathe out, blowing bubbles.

If you cannot exhale underwater at all, it can help to blow bubbles on the surface with your mouth partly submerged. Gently submerge your head until your mouth is fully underwater and you are blowing bubbles.

It is tricky to learn to exhale underwater, particularly if you are afraid of water or if you are completely new to swimming.

Here is a good video, showing the fundamentals of how to learn to exhale underwater:

Should I Exhale Through The Nose Or Mouth?

There is long-term debate amongst swimmers about whether breathing through your nose or mouth is the correct way to exhale underwater.

If you are completely new to swimming, don’t stress too much about this as it is more important that you get comfortable in the water, whatever way you exhale.

As a general rule, more experienced swimmers will exhale through the nose as they swim. Breathing in through the mouth and out through the nose works well for most experienced swimmers.

By breathing in through the mouth and out through the nose, you can develop a constant breathing pattern.

In addition, using your nose to exhale can cause a longer exhalation which feels more controlled.

Personally, as I exhale through the nose, there is a smaller stream of bubbles that are forced away from my eyes.

Finally, using your nose to exhale underwater reduces the risk of inhaling water.

Overall, breathing out through your nose is accepted as the better way to exhale, so if you are a beginner, it might be useful to practice this from day one in order to build best habits.

The downside of exhaling through your nose is that you do not expel as much water as exhaling through your mouth.

It can be a good idea is to exhale as much air as possible underwater as you swim, so when you turn your head to breathe, your lungs will automatically fill with air as your lungs will be empty and ready to be filled.

There will be no need to consciously “inhale” as air will rush into your empty lungs.

Therefore, some swimmers use their mouths to exhale strongly underwater to empty their lungs.

When Should I Exhale Through My Mouth?

Strongly exhaling underwater through your mouth can be really useful if you feel out of breath due to distress.

As you swim, your body will use up oxygen and a waste product of oxygen is CO2 (carbon dioxide).

Excessive CO2 drives an urge to breathe.

If you exhale strongly, you will remove the excess CO2 from your body and relive “out-of-breath” distress.

If you are not breathing efficiently as you swim and exhaling well, you may feel out of breath even though you know you are a fit person and well able for the swim. Usually, this is because of excessive CO2 build-ups or holding your breath.

In this instance, it can be useful to exhale through your mouth to blow out the CO2 buildup.

Should I Hold My Breath Underwater?

If you are learning to swim, it is vital to learn how to exhale underwater.

Holding your breath underwater as you swim will lead to exhaustion and getting tired easily.

On a serious note, holding your breath underwater is very dangerous and so many people underestimate just how dangerous it is to hold your breath underwater.

Shallow Water Blackout can happen easily and has killed top swimmers. This happens when swimmers stay underwater so long that their instinct to breathe is over-ridden because of a lack of CO2.

Without an urge to breathe, they simply don’t realise how starved they are of oxygen and pass out unconscious underwater.

In summary, you should learn to exhale underwater as part of your learning to swim journey and avoid holding your breath underwater.

Related Articles

Louise Byrne

Hi, I am Louise and I am obsessed with swimming. I spend my free time in the water or getting ready for my next water adventure.

Recent Posts