I just started the breast stroke in a swimming class. I have heard something like, "It is bad to breathe in using your mouth because there are greater chances of inhaling things that go directly inside lungs. In the case of nostrils, it automatically filters the air we inhale in." Even elders advise us to inhale air through nose.

Today my swim coach said to me that while your head comes out of water in breast stroke, you should not use your nose alone to inhale but to use mouth to inhale air.

Of course I am following it while swimming, but why is there a contradiction between what I have heard?

  • 6
    "While under water" you should not be inhaling with the nose or the mouth :) Commented Dec 29, 2012 at 19:42
  • 1
    Regarding breathing and swimming, see this question: fitness.stackexchange.com/q/428/3778 , especially the second answer. You should edit the second paragraph of your question..
    – FredrikD
    Commented Dec 30, 2012 at 13:59
  • 3
    Breathe in through your mouth (and nose if it's clear of water), out through both. There's no reason to limit yourself, especially when your access to oxygen is limited to the time above water.
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Dec 30, 2012 at 22:40
  • +1 for "there is no reason to limit yourself, especially when your access to oxygen is limited to the time above water".. Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 5:28

3 Answers 3


I had read to use both mouth and nose, but found that whereas the nose is good at filtering air, it's not very good at filtering the water droplets splashing around. Water up the nose isn't nice.

I ended up buying Total Immersion's "O2 in H2O, A Self-help course on breathing in swimming" and it teaches in with the mouth, out with the nose.

  • I have serious issues with Total Immersion, one of which is this very concept. For recreational, slow swimming it is possible to exhale enough through the nose. However for any kind of vigorous effort, exhaling solely through the nose is not feasible.
    – JohnP
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 14:22

It is better to inhale through the mouth for the following reasons:

The amount of time we get to inhale is very less (the time during which our head is out of the water). During this time we have to quickly inhale, which is better done with the mouth.

When we inhale, always some water enters into either the nose or the mouth (whichever we use to inhale).
The mouth can easily spit the water, in case water enters. Also the filtering(the air from the water) is effective when the mouth is used.

In yoga, one is advised to exhale completely and concentrate more on exhalation rather than inhalation. This is because the carbon-di-oxide formed in the lungs is to be completely (if not completely, to a maximum extent) removed; prolonged exhalation period and a short inhalation period is advised in yoga; also the vacuum created due to the effective exhalation will help in effective inhalation.

In swimming, like yoga, we exhale while head is inside the water(long period, about 4 sec for breastroke) through our nose and inhale while head is outside the water(about .5 sec for any stroke).

  • 1
    I doubt that the claims in the paragraph about yoga and exhalation have any scientific validity.
    – Baarn
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 13:11
  • Yes, a yoga instructor told me that a quite long exhalation is good. We carry out that same thing in swimming too.
    – Freakyuser
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 13:16
  • Again, if you are exhaling over 4-5 seconds in swimming, you are swimming very slowly. Even in the long distance swimming events (800 and 1500m), at the competitive level you are breathing every stroke, or possibly every other stroke. For most swimmers who have a stroke rate of 70+ per minute, that is about once every 1-2 seconds (at most, unless you are Sun Yang). Additionally, you never "clear" your lungs of carbon dioxide, not even "maximum extent". As you are exhaling, your heart does not stop beating, so blood still circulates and CO2 still gets exchanged in the lungs.
    – JohnP
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 15:02
  • I swim long distance (the distances you mentioned) and I exhale once per three arm movements. My stroke rate is 60/minute.
    – Freakyuser
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 15:22
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    @AndrewMattson - My rude shock was my coach saying "Well, xxx graduated, so we need you to swim 400 IM and the 1500 now". :|
    – JohnP
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 14:59

While the nasal passages, with hair-lined mucous membranes are well suited for catching a certain amount of dust, particles, pollen, etc, if you are worried about a wayward swarm of locusts getting inhaled into your lungs, maybe you should select a different swimming location (and, no, I'm not being hostile or belligerent towards the person asking the question, I'm using the general/universal "you").

Everyday breathing, or even jogging? Sure, inhale through the nose. Swimming, where with every stroke except backstroke your face is in the water the vast majority of the time? You don't have the luxury of inhaling whenever you feel like it or over an extended period of time. Since you have to fill your lungs in that brief moment when your face gets clear of the water, you have to breath in through your mouth, practically speaking, if you are swimming at any kind of a decent rate.

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