Last week I received an email question about whether I exhale from my nose or mouth. That choice now comes so naturally to me that it’s no longer something I do consciously while swimming. However I’m sure there are enough swimmers who still aren’t sure about this choice that it will make a worthwhile blog post.
Twenty years ago I’d never thought about nose-breathing. But then I read the book Body, Mind, and Sport by Dr John Douillard. In it he endorsed training for aerobic sports (walking, hiking, running, and cycling) with nose breathing. In ayurvedic practice, nose breathing encourages deeper breathing and fuller relaxation. I tried it and enjoyed it.
In running and cycling, you can both inhale and exhale from the nose. I did experience the deeper breathing and relaxation that occurred when I tried it while walking, running or cycling. (Changing terrain—i.e. going uphill—made it very challenging.)
But while swimming, you must inhale through the mouth. While exhaling however, you have a choice. When I inhaled though my mouth and exhaled exclusively from my nose, I noticed the same effects I’d felt while nose breathing on land.
So I began to make a regular practice of exhaling through my nose during warmup/tuneup and technique-intensive practice, and while swimming at tempos slower than 1.2 sec/stroke.
These days, I exhale from both mouth and nose, depending on circumstances. When I’m super-relaxed, I exhale all or mostly through my nose, which helps both mental and physical relaxation. As I increase speed, effort and/or tempo, and need to clear a greater volume of air exchange more quickly, I still use both, but the mouth exhale predominates.