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SPL Tech 05-22-2015 01:30 AM

Getting better at swimming underwater?
In a few months I am going to be joining a military naval aircrew training school which involves quite a bit of underwater swimming. As a triathlete, I am fairly comfortable with swimming long distances and will do fine in that respect. However, the school is not really about swimming long distances as much as it is about performing tasks underwater.

Here is my problem. I can swim on top of the water all day, but I completely suck underwater. The longest I can hold my breath sitting in my computer chair right now is maybe 30 seconds. 45 tops if I want to risk passing out. In the pool I can only swim about 10m underwater, and that's pushing off the side of the pool to start.

So what is a good way to start progressing in this area?

WFEGb 05-22-2015 08:19 AM

Hello SPLTech,

might be with this skill you're better served in a scuba-diving-forum... But FWIW:

When scuba-diving I could reach much longer times with the bottle of compressed air, when focusing of an as slow as possible exhalation. You can start at your desk and start exhaling five or ten seconds before it gets hard to hold your air. (And take your exhale time for your under water experiments too. Just a tiny rest of air should be blown out when arriving surface.)

Sure you'll learn the real tricks in your naval training.

Best regards,

CoachBobM 05-24-2015 08:10 AM

About 30 years ago, I was trying to learn to swim the entire length of a 25y pool underwater. When I first began, I assumed that the best plan would be to swim as fast as I could, since this would minimize the amount of time for which I would need to hold my breath. But I soon learned that it was actually better to swim at a relaxed pace, since this increased the time before I needed a breath more than it increased the time it took me to go 25y.

It definitely helps, too, to take some very deep breaths right before you begin. Werner's suggestion also makes sense, since it is primarily the accumulation of carbon dioxide in our lungs - not our need for oxygen - that prompts us to breathe.


jbowers 05-29-2015 07:02 PM

I've had this issue as well. I am currently in the AF and am training to cross train into battlefield airman. At a minimum you need to be able to do 25 meters underwater consistently. Right now I can consistently do about 15-20 meters under water. The thing that helps me is to try and stay relaxed underwater. This is harder than it seems. The technique I was taught is the keyhole stroke. Glide as far as you can from a wall push, once you are almost to a complete stop do a breaststroke to a double arm pull stroke....glide until you almost stop, then do a frog kick as you get back into your streamline...then repeat. the average person can probably do 25m in about 8 strokes. The key is to relax, and glide as far as possible. The biggest thing to remember is to block out the panic that says you are going to pass out. It is all mental. Hope this helps, and best of luck to you!!

sojomojo 05-30-2015 12:50 AM

This is the underwater swim technique that I use (or try to use). The key is NOT to use too many strokes or over kick because that quickly depletes your oxygen.

Take heed of the warning that underwater swimming can be dangerous.

Tom Pamperin 06-02-2015 09:25 PM

I agree with all the advice on going slow and staying relaxed. I was able to train myself to swim 50m underwater on one breath that way. To do that, start where you are (I think I started at 15m). Then swim that, but go "just one more" stroke before stopping. Soon that "one more" will be routine. Then go "two more" or "three more"--but only increase after you are relaxed at the new distance. Pretty soon 25m will be routine--just keep going like that and you'll build up to it.

Some mild hyperventilating (really deep breathing for 3-5 breaths, trying to empty lungs completely) pre-swim is useful, but don't overdo it--this lowers the CO2 levels and decreases the urge to breathe. If you OVERDO it, you can actually end up holding your breath until you pass out, which could easily prove fatal.

I think just about anyone can work up to 25m routinely if you build up slowly, and focus on staying relaxed in body and mind. I use the "frog kick-breast stroke arms-glide" technique mentioned earlier. Good luck!

sojomojo 06-29-2015 03:03 AM

This thread about swimming underwater highlighted a little known danger associated with it. Swimming underwater is something that I do on occasions for fun and to test my limits. I did not know, however, that there’s a term for the breath-holding that can cause drowning: Shallow Water Blackout.

I recently became aware of this term after a 13-year-old boy drowned who was friends with my nephews. The deceased was one of the best swimmers and best all-around athlete in his school. The deceased and his friends were at a lake and they were diving down to the bottom of the lake to hand carry cinder blocks back to shore. It was a lung-busting contest and something that they had seen in the surfing movie “Blue Crush” and the Kevin Costner movie “The Guardian.” It was something that I would of have done at their age.

Needless to say, my nephews are totally perplexed at their friend’s death and SWB makes no sense to them. They can’t grasp why their friend just didn’t surface to get some air since he was in less than six feet of water. It was something that he had done numerous times. Everyone thought he might have had an undiagnosed medical condition that contributed to this death, but the medical examiner found no such condition.


Shallow water blackout is an underwater “faint” due to lack of oxygen to the brain.* It is brought on by holding your breath for long periods of time with no resting.* Without the body’s cues to breathe the swimmer simply faints while under water.* There is no warning, and severe injury and death happen very quickly. SWB is most common among physically fit swimmers, competitive swimmers, and athletes who seek to hold their breath for long periods of time such a spear fisherman and free divers.* Children are at risk when they play breath-holding games or participate in competitive water sports. It is extremely hard to detect from the water’s surface.* Victims simply slip away with no warning and no noise.

*Steps to prevent SWB:

– Never swim alone
– Never ignore the urge to breathe
– Never hyperventilate before swimming
– Never play breath-holding games
– Remember the term “One breath, one lap, one time, rest.”

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