I remember the first time I tried to swim underwater. I took one deep breath and dived, but barely made it below the surface before floating back up again. I tried and tried but could not swim under the water without floating up within seconds.
Since then, I have learned the secret to swimming underwater.
To swim underwater without floating up, do not fill your lungs with air as this will keep you buoyant. Only take a half breath, which reduces the amount of air in your lungs. This will help you sink. Alternatively, for more experienced swimmers, you could use a diver’s weight belt to help keep you submerged.
As with all underwater swimming, only try underwater swimming in a safe environment and never swim alone. Ensure you have a swim buddy around that can help if you get into difficulty.
In this article I am going to look at:
- Why do I always float when trying to swim underwater?
- How can I stay underwater without floating up?
- How do I stay at the bottom of the pool?
- How do you breathe underwater while swimming?
- How long can you swim underwater?
- How do I stop water going up my nose when swimming?
- What’s the fastest way to swim underwater?
Why Do I Always Float When Trying to Swim Underwater?
Before learning to swim underwater, it is important to understand why we float.
The human body is positively buoyant and has a density that is less than water, which means you will naturally float up when trying to swim underwater. This natural buoyancy can slightly change between individuals and is mainly due to body composition, including body fat mass and air in the lungs.
I have covered the physics of floating and if we are all naturally buoyant in this article, If We Are Naturally Buoyant, How Can People Drown?
If you are afraid of water or believe that you simply cannot swim and will sink, it’s hard to believe that if you relax in the water, you will naturally float.
It is true that some people are more buoyant than others. For example, fat floats better than muscle, so if your body mass is more fat than muscle, you will find floating a lot easier than someone who is mostly muscle.
In addition, the more air you have in your lungs will determine how well you float when trying to swim underwater.
If you take a deep breath and try to dive into the water, it is difficult to swim underwater and you will float up quickly.
This is because the air in our lungs is creating additional buoyancy. Imagine trying to swim underwater while holding an inflatable toy. The buoyancy of the inflatable toy will keep pulling you to the surface. This is just like taking a deep breath before diving. The buoyancy of your air-filled lungs will cause you to float up to the surface.
To learn more about why and how we float, check out this article If We Are Naturally Buoyant, How Can People Drown?
How Can I Stay Under The Water Without Floating Up?
If you want to swim underwater, the following are two good ways to help you stay under for longer:
- Do not fill your lungs with too much air
- Wear a weight belt.
As always, be careful when swimming underwater. Ensure that you always swim in a safe environment and with a swim buddy who can help if things go wrong.
Never hold your breath in the water while alone.
Option 1 – Do Not Fill Your Lungs With Too Much Air
The first method to swim underwater without floating up is to breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in. This will have the effect of reducing the amount of air in your lungs.
When you then want to swim underwater, before you submerge, breathe in “halfway” or half-fill your lungs with air and go down into the water.
This will help you stay submerged in the water and not float back up to the surface.
You might need to release some air from your lungs if you are still floating back up to the surface. This will help get the right balance of air in your lungs to allow you to be submerged.
As you dive deeper, the air in your lungs becomes compressed. You will reach a point where the air in your lungs will be so compressed, you will no longer float back up again. It is essential that you always swim underwater in a safe environment and always with a buddy who can help if you get into difficulty.
Option 2 – Wear A Weight Belt
For option 1 above, you must remove some air from your lungs in order to sink in the water. The problem with this method is that you cannot stay underwater for very long, as you don’t have enough oxygen.
In order to dive to deeper depths with lungs full of air, free divers use weight belts to help them sink and swim underwater.
This video shows how a weight belt helps a swimmer to stay underwater, safely.
How Do You Lay At The Bottom Of The Pool?
You might have seen footage of people swimming effortlessly along the bottom of the pool or simply lying there, just chilling out.
To lie at the bottom of the pool, you will need to breathe out and ensure your lungs are not filled with air. You will need some air in your lungs in order to remain underwater for a few seconds, however, you can gradually release this air underwater to remain submerged.
It is quite a skill to swim along the bottom of the pool, but once you have mastered the technique, it becomes a lot easier.
Again, safety first, so do not attempt this alone.
Here is a great video showing how you can lie at the bottom of the pool, safely.
How Do You Exhale Underwater While Swimming?
It is possible to exhale via the mouth or nose while swimming and you should exhale into the water.
Typically, exhaling through your nose is the most efficient way to exhale underwater and will allow you to swim more smoothly if you decide to progress your swimming.
If you can inhale through your mouth and exhale through your nose out of the water, you will be able to exhale through your nose in the water.
Some people find exhaling in the water tricky at first.
Here is an overview of how to breathe while swimming and exhale underwater. Only try this in the presence of another swim buddy who can keep you safe in the water. Never hold your breath underwater alone.
- While standing up in the shallow end, with your head above water, take a deep breath through your mouth. It is important to get as much oxygen as possible.
- Lower your head into the water.
- When your head is full underwater, expel the air in your lungs through your nose. If you are struggling to exhale through your nose, then exhale through your mouth.
- Once you have exhaled all the air in your lungs underwater, bring your head back up out of the water to breathe again through your mouth.
It is important to note that you should never hold your breath while swimming. Holding your breath while you swim will increase tiredness.
In addition, extreme breath-holding in the water while swimming can lead to shallow water blackout. With shallow water blackout, a reduced level of CO2 in the body delays the urge to breathe and the swimmer can pass out with no warning. [source]
Here is an excellent demonstration of how to exhale underwater while swimming:
How Long Can You Swim Underwater?
According to medical news today, the average person can hold their breath for 30-90 seconds. However, holding your breath above water and below water are two different things. [source]
You cannot predict how long you can hold your breath or swim underwater for and you should not try it unless you are training under the supervision of an experienced freediver or lifeguard.
The average person will spontaneously start breathing between 90 seconds and 3 minutes. If this spontaneous gasping for air happens underwater, the lungs will fill with water and there is a risk of drowning.
Experienced elite swimmers have drowned while trying to hold their breath underwater. In 2015, there was the tragic story of elite swimmer Tate Ramsden, who died while swimming underwater. [source]
Many athletes try to hold their breath underwater to help endurance, but it is exceptionally dangerous. You reach a point where the brain is so deprived of oxygen, it simply does not tell your body to breathe and you can pass out with no warning.
Although you can train to hold your breath for longer in the water, for example, freedivers try to expand their lung capacity and ability to hold their breath to remain underwater for longer or to swim deeper. This must be done under expert supervision and should never be attempted alone.
So the next time you are at the pool and tempted by the daredevil, “how long can you swim underwater for” game, stop and rethink. It may seem like harmless fun, but it can go wrong very quickly.
What’s The Fastest Way To Swim Underwater?
When swimming lengths in a pool and doing tumble turns, it is necessary to swim underwater.
The fastest way to swim underwater is to make the body as streamlined as possible by stretching your arms out in front with your arms against your ears, kicking a strong dolphin kick rhythm and pushing hard off the wall for maximum propulsion.
1 – Streamlined Swimming
The key to swimming fast, both in and under the water, is to be as streamlined as possible.
A streamlined body position in the water is long and narrow, with the head in a neutral position, eyes looking down, and legs and hips that are straight and aligned.
If you manage to achieve a good streamlined position while swimming underwater, you will glide through the water effortlessly.
2 – Hard Wall Push
We typically do a tumble turn at the end of a length when lane swimming.
If you can position your tumble turn correctly to get the most force when you push off the wall, you will get initial propulsion that will help you maintain speed underwater.
3 – Dolphin Kicks
A dolphin kick is a very effective kick to propel a swimmer forward underwater after dives or tumble turns.
Just like the tale of a dolphin moves up and down to create amazing water displacement and speed, as the swimmer can place their legs together and move them is a similar motion to create excellent underwater propulsion.
Michael Phelps is famous for his underwater dolphin kick technique and many consider his underwater swim speed a significant advantage.
How Much Faster Or Useful Is Swimming Under Water?
Swimming underwater is much faster than swimming on the surface.
If you find this hard to believe, check out the race footage from the Olympic Games in 1988. At the time, the dolphin kick was new to the sport, and underwater swimming was unregulated.
Today at the competition level, swimmers must not swim longer than 15m underwater or they will be disqualified. This is because underwater swimming is so fast,
Top swimmers such as Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe have shown the world that you can swim faster underwater. Their underwater swim technique is amazing and certainly is a big factor in their success.
Generally, it is accepted in the swimming community that if you want to compete and go fast; you need good underwater swim technique.
If you want to see how much faster it is to swim underwater, check out any footage of Michael Phelps. He is certainly one of the world’s best at swimming underwater and maximising the speed and efficiency of the dolphin kick.
The Next Step
If you want to learn how to swim or improve your swimming technique, which will ultimately help you to swim better underwater then I recommend the Total Immersion Swimming Programme. (Link to course)
I learned how to swim from this method and it has been life-changing. I have gone from someone who was afraid of the water to swimming a mile every morning.