If you’ve ever wondered why some swimmers could challenge a fish in a breath-holding competition, and others can’t hold their breath long enough to say the word ‘fish’, this might be the most important article you ever read.

How to increase your lung capacity
Increasing your lung capacity isn’t just about holding your breath

Imagine swimming at a faster pace for longer because you learned a simple exercise you could easily practice as you trained. This is my goal with this article.

There are three things in swimming which affect your oxygen levels. They are:

  1. Technique
  2. Lung capacity
  3. Mindset

They may not sound like your usual factors. Let’s take a look at them.


In swimming, it’s important you have your swimming technique right. If you’re inefficient, you make a lot of splash and have an untidy technique you’ll lose breath quickly. On the hand, if your technique is smooth, balanced and controlled you’ll be able to manage your oxygen levels easily. Here’s an example:

Last week I challenged my swimmers to swim as far as they could without taking a breath. You’ll never believe what happened next.

Of the 18 swimmers who tried, only 3 made it the entire 50 meters. The other 15 didn’t make it past 30 meters. How could there be such a drop off?

The difference was their technique.

The swimmers who made it 50 meters were able to minimise their kick (which uses most of your oxygen), stay balanced in the water and sit themselves high in the water. The others were doing the opposite of these things.

Lung Capacity

To suck in more oxygen with each breath, it stands to reason that the bigger your lung capacity, the more oxygen you can get.

My favorite exercise to increase lung capacity is to do breath control swimming. This is when you breath every X strokes per lap. Stay with me on this because it can have a big impact on your swimming.

For example, if you are swimming 200 meters in a 50 meter pool, try breath every 3 strokes on the first lap, every 5 strokes the second lap, every 3 stroke the third and every 7 strokes the final lap. If you’re new to this it may be difficult to get to 7 strokes, so some practice will be needed.

The most my swimmers can do is breathing every 11 or 12 strokes if they only swim 50 meters of it. Start of with breathing every 5 strokes to push yourself, and build up as you get more comfortable. Some of the swimming workouts I’ve included in Effortless Swimming workouts use this type of breath control.


Mindset plays a big role in swimming, even though it’s rarely spoken about. It’s even more true when it’s comes to breath control. Because it’s such a mental battle when you run out of oxygen, your lungs are screaming for a breath and any second you feel you could black out. In reality, we give up much earlier than we need to. We tell ourselves we must breath or won’t be able to continue. That’s crap.

I’ve come to realise we can usually push ourselves much more than we let on. The human body is an amazing thing. It’s not going to let anything happen to you when it comes to holding your breath.

Focus your mind on other things, ‘switch it off’ so to speak. Go inside your mind and relax as you go through the breath control exercises.


To increase your lung capacity it comes down to improving your technique, working on the drills to expand your lungs and being able to control your mental state. Practice these things and you should find yourself swimming longer distances with less effort. It’s an important part of swimming which I heard Australia’s head coach Leigh Nugent speak highly about. Try the exercises in your next session.