Bubbles? Breathing? Breath holding? Do you need to breathe? Can’t you just hold your breath and swim? Why all the bubbles??
Here’s the breakdown to help clarify this often confusing, misunderstood skill.
Okay, this most basic of skills – really the very first one we ever teach to babies and young children is still the single most misunderstood one of all. I find that most people associate ‘bubbles’ with a fun novelty that is adorable when little kids do it. (And it is adorable, actually). And we do it a lot. Over and over and over, we remind our young swimmers to ‘blow bubbles, blow out, blow big bubbles, don’t hold your breath!’
We remind them when they go to pick up toys under water, when they put their faces in for gliding, when they’re practicing their big arms, frog swim, kickboard kicking with face in… just about anytime a child puts his or her face in the water we are there like traffic cops saying ‘don’t forget to blow your bubbles!’
So what’s the big deal, really? Do children really need to blow bubbles in order to swim? Can’t they just hold their breath and get to wherever they’re going?
So the answers to the above questions are: Very big deal; no they don’t; yes they can.
So yes, a child and an adult can swim and hold their breath. It is possible. But is it enjoyable? Sustainable? Practical? Healthful? No. Just think of sitting in one place and holding your breath as an exercise. What’s the most you could do it? A minute? Two? Is it fun? Does it feel good?
Now imagine doing that experiment while conducting some form of exercise – running, tennis, dancing, spinning… would you ever? It would be miserable. How often would you be inclined to want to take a dance class if you had to hold your breath as long as possible while exerting so much energy?
Swimming is probably the most physically demanding of all sports and requires a tremendous amount of oxygen to be sustainable. You need to be breathing OUT and IN. And proper breathing doesn’t mean hold your breath as long as you can and then lift your head and quickly and forcefully exhale and inhale. It means, exhaling at a reasonable rate while your face is in the water and then turning or lifting to get a full inhalation of breath. It is really the only way to swim properly. Case in point – you would never be able to find even one Olympic swimmer who holds their breath while they swim distance. Not one.
Most every adult I meet who does not enjoy swimming attributes that fact to not being able to breathe.
So back to our very, very youngest of swimmers. We teach bubbles over and over so that once they are older and swimming with real racing stroke and lengths of the pool, they are able to comfortably regulate their breathing. These children are always the safest and most confident swimmers I see. They are not anxious or panicked or feel that sense of terrible urgency to have to quickly ‘get to the side’ in order to breathe and rest.
So to sum up, in the earliest years of development we call it ‘bubbles’ and we insist on it every single time a child puts their face in the water once they are cognizant of being able to blow them out. (Prior to age 2 it’s hit or miss as to children being able to make that connection. Usually bubbles are a happy accident for babies or toddlers under 2). Once children are older and swimming freestyle and breaststroke, we teach the regulated breathing method of counting strokes and breathing out while swimming, then timing the inhales at specific intervals so they learn how to find their own best breathing rhythm.
This is truly the best way to teach swimming. Swimming and breathing are one and the same. You cannot effectively teach a child to swim without also teaching them to breathe.