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Mastering Turning the Head to Breathe for Efficient Swimming

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

Breathing plays a critical role in a swimmer's overall performance. However, a common challenge is that many people lift their heads too high to breathe (*as in the photo above), which leads (or is possibly caused) by poor body position and a compromised streamline. In this blog post, we'll talk about the concept of "breathing in the pocket," also known as "breathing in the trough," and explore how it can improve your swim technique and efficiency in the water.

Understanding Breathing in the Pocket:

Picture this: as your head travels through the water's surface, a small air pocket forms behind the small wave your head creates. "Breathing in the pocket" means capitalizing on this pocket by taking a breath without completely lifting your mouth out of the water. This means you can breathe while maintaining optimal body position and minimizing disruptions to your stroke.

Benefits of Breathing in the Pocket:

Improved Alignment: One of the main advantages of breathing in the pocket is the ability to maintain proper alignment while taking a breath. Rather than lifting your head out of the water excessively, breathing in the pocket allows you to keep your hips elevated, reduce your drag in the water and keep a streamlined body position.

Efficient Head Rotation: Breathing in the pocket requires less distance for your head to rotate, compared to lifting the head high. This rotation conserves energy and optimizes stroke efficiency, allowing you to maintain a more consistent pace.


Enhanced Speed: Breathing in the pocket means a quicker and more seamless breath, minimizing the disruption to your rhythm, resulting in higher speeds without compromising on stroke technique.

Techniques for Practicing Breathing in the Pocket:

Breathing Drills with a Kickboard: Grab a kickboard and incorporate this drill into your training sessions to help you focus on breathing in the trough created by your head moving through the water ("breathing in the pocket"). Maintain a steady kick (you can use fins) to stay horizontal in the water while practicing controlled breathing, ensuring that only one goggle remains submerged during the breath.

Alignment and Rotation Exercises: Strengthen your overall technique by focusing on proper body position, so your body and head are parallel to the water when breathing, rotating, and during kick mechanics. A well-coordinated body roll facilitates smoother breathing in the pocket. Try this drill to improve your rotation:

Timing: Proper timing is crucial for successful breathing in the pocket. Try to synchronize your breath with your body roll to create an efficient stroke.

Perfecting swim technique takes time and breathing in the pocket is a skill that emerges from developing a strong foundation with swimming fundamentals - but it’s doable to master! By working on breathing in the pocket, you can maintain optimal alignment, stay streamlined, and be efficient in the water. With practice, breathing in the pocket will become second nature and enhance your performance in the water.

Need help? Schedule a virtual swim video analysis with head coach Martin here.

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