Make Breathing Easier #SwimTechTues

Make Breathing Easier #SwimTechTues

Breathing While Swimming

One of the biggest questions and comments I get when people come for swimming lessons with me is about breathing: I just find it so hard to breath/I can’t get enough air in/I keep swallowing water etc.

There are three things that I get people focussing on when looking to make things easier:

1) Breathing out under water – if you don’t exhale properly, you won’t be able to inhale.

2) How you get your mouth out of the water to breath – we have to override our body’s natural instinct.

3) Timing of your breathing – nothing says swallow water like breathing at the wrong moment!


Breathing out under water

Breathing out under water

If swimming and being in water is new to you, get used to just being able to breath out under the water. Take a lungful of air, sink under water/hold onto the poolside and breath out. This may be tough to start with if your chest feels tight, that’s perfectly normal. If that is easy, repeat it over and over – breathing out under water, come up, inhale, sink back under. The more comfortable you can be with this rhythm, the easier it will be when you swim.


Breathing technique

If breathing out (and in!) isn’t a problem, then stage two is making sure that your head is in the right position. In the brain there is a part called the Amygdala. This part of the brain is part of our fear sensors, and is the part of your brain that will “remind” you that you need to breath, especially if you’re not comfortable! Unfortunately, the automatic setting for our brain to do this is to lift your head straight up. The reason I say unfortunately is two fold. Firstly, lifting your head will undoubtedly result in your hips dropping below the surface, meaning that you lose momentum and with it stability. Secondly, lifting your head upward doesn’t really lift your mouth out of the water until you’ve moved it a long way. Added to this, it makes it easier for water to go up your nose – when your head is down, body is flat in the water and you move forward, it’s pretty difficult for water to reverse direction to go up your nose…

To get breathing easy, we want to make sure that we are rotating/rocking the hips and shoulders – so we don’t swim too flat, and create a nice space to breath into. Secondly we want to think about turning our chin toward our shoulder (to bring our mouth out of the water), before returning to looking down. It’s easy to practise this movement, standing up. Simply look over your shoulder. Try raising your eyeline and then looking sideways – this becomes harder, so, even more reason to keep the spine/neck neutral, and just twist your head to the side to breath.

I really like to get athletes doing side kick to practise the breathing position, because it really puts an emphasis on good body position and turning the head to breath. It’s an extreme position to be in – you’ll never get this rotated while you actually swim – but it gives you a chance at slow speed to get stable, be controlled and get used to the skill. If this is difficult still to turn your head to the right position, you can break the drill down further and do it “backstroke style” to start with. To do this, adopt the same body position but rather than look down, look straight up toward the ceiling, with the back of your head almost resting on your shoulder. As you get comfortable, get used to turning your face down into the water to breath out. The more used to the drill you get, the less you need to turn your head to breath. Ideally you want to keep one eye/goggle in the water at all times – but you can work up to this.

Bilateral Breathing

Try and keep one eye in the water when you breath, less movement means less disturbance


Timing your breathing

Finally in learning to breath a little easier, timing your breath is really important. If you breath at the wrong time in your stroke, you’re liable to slow yourself down a lot, or even take on water.

The cue that I like to get swimmers focussing on is trying to breath early in the stroke. I find that a lot of athletes who are new to swimming or not so comfortable in the water try to breath only when their hand is out of the water and recovering. By this time it’s a little too late and breathing gets a little rushed.

Instead of waiting until your hand exits the water, try and imagine initiating the roll of the body and turn of the head as your hand presses by under your nose and chest. By the time your mouth actually breaks the surface, your hand will be at the back of your stroke, but this will give you ample time to inhale and rotate your face back to look at the bottom of the pool.


Obviously all these little bits take time to refine and practise, to get comfortable with – work your way down the list and get practised at each stage before moving on.

Beyond this you can then think about explosive breathing or trickle breathing – all out in one go or a steady stream of air coming out of your lungs, whichever suits your style of swimming and physiology. But first and foremost make sure that you’re in the right position to do either!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.


See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Swim Development #SwimTechTues

Dealing with majority multisport athletes, I get asked a lot of questions about how quick swimmers feel they could go.

It was not so much the conflict, but more the complete spectrum between those who felt it was impossible to become a good swimmer, and those who felt it was entirely possible to become good. Is it possible to improve significantly? Why can’t we be sure of what is possible and how to go about it? Why do some people make great progress while others seem limited?

As cavemen we spent most of our days running. This was either chasing or being chased, and we had great aerobic capacity in our legs muscles. Our arms were mostly anaerobic because we survived by throwing spears and hurling stones to catch dinner.

With this in mind, most swim club youngsters spent their teenage years developing more efficient aerobic movements in their arms, so they could spend four or more hours per day pulling their way through the water. If you can swim 50 metres fast but suffer over 200 metres, this might sound familiar and be worrying that learning to swim is a hopeless mission this late in life.

The theory runs along the lines of how the brain has a plastic capacity in terms of how we learn. It is no longer the static organ it was once thought of but can change throughout life. From years of research into neuroplasticity, neurological training, motor coordination and applied teaching, it is possible to focus the brain on learning new physical movements. Rather than swimming remaining an aerobic model, the new idea believes teaching will help it become a neurological one. This certainly sounds better than the first message of doom and gloom, but how could two ideas be so far apart?

I have seen enough people improve their swimming significantly over the past 15 years of coaching to know change is possible. A great deal of change, mostly for the better, can take place if instruction is good, and the student is diligent and enthusiastic. This might not always be as much as the swimmer hoped but this always depends on the expectation, the coach and the athlete’s commitment and belief of what is possible.

A sporting background, even in a non-related sport to swimming, will be of help. The rate of ability to change movements and make them permanent seems easier if the swimmer has come from a sporting background. This is possibly to do with hand and eye coordination, control of breathing, timing and proprioception skills.

I think the fashion for instant results in our digital age, combined with a lack of patience are not helping, and people become disillusioned too quickly, which can lead to disappointment. I feel learning to swim is more akin to learning a language or a musical instrument. With the added complication of practicing this skill with the face under water where air is not readily available makes it tough. A great deal of time needs to be put into swimming for it to be performed well and to feel natural.

I am keen to explore the idea of the brain allowing more swim development and will report on that in the future. Depending on your definition of becoming a good swimmer you could say both ideas are accurate. A sub 21-minute 1500 metres for example is a good swim if you came from a non-swimming background, but it’s not going to make a county final at a young age group swim club level.

How Does It Get better?
Slowly. After some early rapid breakthroughs that can excite, the rapid trajectory plateaus and improvements seem to reduce for a while, which can be frustrating. Aligning better pathways of he propulsive limbs will make for instant improvements to speed because they can be completely wrong early on. Less drag will reduce fatigue, so early on progress can seem quite easy. Practicing these movements to the degree that they are on autopilot and in the subconscious takes a lot of time.

Most people that come to me for an initial consultation can swim 25 metres in 25 seconds, some can swim 1:40 for 100 metres, but few can swim 25 minutes for 1500 metres. These are all the same speed. I don’t need you to get faster but to keep doing what you did for 25 metres. If breathing is relaxed and under control this should be a lot easier in terms of effort compared to average efforts biking or running. To make the stroke repeatable, accurate and sustainable with low levels of effort takes time and a lot of relearning after erasing bad habits. Swimming more often at this stage, as long as it is done with some instruction and correct movements, is key.

How Can I Tell It’s Getting Better?

1. When each movement that makes up the stroke no longer needs a conscious effort and the stroke appears to stop being a sequence of separate movements stitched together. The mechanical edge to the stroke reduces and the movements take on a fluid appearance. It might not appear graceful or without faults, but you can see now that some of the movements are happening with less conscious effort.

2. The breathing sequence becomes as relaxed and seemingly under your control like you were on dry land. Swimming is one of the few activities, which restricts your breathing in such a way. The rate at which breathing happens, the timing and lack of options when it is not possible, create some major challenges. The other triathlon disciplines allow for a smooth exchange at your leisure. Swimming on the other hand can be tough, especially in the early stages before you fully master the stoke mechanics. This is because the stroke dictates when you get to breathe. As you improve as a swimmer the more control and relaxed you’ll be in all aspects of your stroke.

How Can You Tell It’s Getting Better?

If you’re swimming on your own without a coach the lack of instant feedback is a major issue to swim progress. Activities on dry land are easier to record and measure. Water complicates our ability to measure things because it makes exact 100 per cent repeatable movements unlikely. Purely measuring time, laps and heart rate may not always be conclusive.

I am sure that many of you have experienced those hard sprints where the effort went in but no reduction in time was found. This is notorious and sometimes swimming feels unfair because it does not always reward effort. As you improve I would hope you experience some of the following 10 senses:

1. A surge forwards over the locked in ‘anchor hand’ when the catch works well in conjunction with a well streamlined body position.
2. At a more advanced level the ability to swim slow, medium and fast, yet still take a similar number of strokes per length.
3. Hand starting to exit close to where it entered in relation to your position against a lane rope as the body travels efficiently forwards and over your locked in hand.
4. The stroke never feeling so rushed that you are uncomfortable when trying to get the breath in.
5. Legs only kicking and not going backwards. Not moving is okay, going forwards is tough and may be a longer-term project.
6. A general relaxed state and a feeling of being comfortable in the water.
7. Being able to exhale under the water and inhale above the water, and feel very much in control of this action.
8. The ability to start even splitting (swimming evenly through out) or at some point negative splitting (swimming faster over the second half) your longer swims.
9. Thinking of your wetsuit as an aid to speed rather than a life jacket.
10. Open water swims being looked forward to rather then dreaded.

I don’t think swim improvements for adults are futile. Equally, I know it will not be as easy as some make out when they promise rapid improvements. The body does not work that way. I do think you can accelerate the rate of learning by utilising a well-rounded approach.

I enjoy looking into other areas of technique development and coaching to utilise them to present an overall approach to swim progress.


With this in mind, not everything needs to take place in the pool, but you will not progress without enough pool time. Triathletes need to appreciate the point at which they are starting and be realistic as to how you define what becoming a good swimmer may mean specifically. I think a sub 75-minute 3.8K swim is within most peoples grasp if they are physically fit, healthy and prepared to put in the time to make this happen.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

How to run faster – Triple Flexion #RunFormFriday

This is the most common question I hear. If I had to give only a one-phrase answer, then it is summed up to “optimizing triple flexion-triple extension”. Now what does that mean? Triple flexion-triple extension is the position of the legs during running. This position allows for optimal force production.

Triple Extension – Back power leg, Hip Extension, Knee Extension, Plantar Flexed Foot

Triple Flexion – Front Deceleration leg, Hip Flexion, Knee Flexion, Dorsiflexed foot

Triple flexion run faster

Many runners tend to run with reduced hip flexion (think ‘knee lift’) for a given pace. With insufficient hip flexion, in order for them to achieve the required stride length for a desired pace, they end up extending (straightening) the knee excessively just prior to foot contact. This puts them in a position where all they are able to do is over-stride, landing the foot out ahead of relatively more extended knee than is optimal. Usually at this point the athlete will be heel striking heavily, but some may still display a plantar flexed ankle and forefoot strike, especially if they’ve been consciously trying to work on ‘not heel striking’!

Regardless of pace or foot strike type, we look to enable a runner to land their foot under a flexing knee to promote improved running form.

From an adequate swing recovery position of triple flexion (hip flexion, knee flexion and ankle dorsiflexion) for a given running pace, the runner should be able to comfortably land the foot under a flexing knee, without conscious thought about contact position.

How To Work On This

1. Hip Flexor Stretching and Soft Tissue Massage (or Foam Rolling) – flexibility is important through the hip area, sitting lots reduces this.
2. Hip Mobility Routines (see here)
3. Glute Medius Activated
4. Core Activated (More specifically is the Transverse Abdominis needs to be fully activated) – exercises like dead bugs and moving planks
6. Resistance Training optimizing triple flexion and triple extension
7. Explosive training optimizing triple flexion and triple extension
8. Strength training to strengthen muscles needed to increase running leg power

Run faster Triple Flexion

Sprint starts are a great way of building explosive power – this is an extreme position, something you’d never get running a 5 or a 10k – but it will make getting to a fraction of that position “easy”

Something Important To Consider

Once I get runners familiar with the movement of combined hip and knee flexion bringing them into the recovery (foot under butt) position of swing phase, and they begin running in this way, the feedback is often that not only do they feel a lighter contact through not over-striding, but they can ALSO often feel an increase in Glute activity.

As always, I encourage your comments, experiences, and questions about cadence and technique in the comments section. See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Streamline – Feel The Speed #SwimTechTues


Why Get Streamlined?

This might seem strange to some people who predominantly race in open water – and therefore have no turns. But maintaining a good streamline throughout your pool training will massively aid your overall swimming – and as a result your race speed. There are several very sensible reasons for this:


When you push off the wall, you should be moving faster than you can at any other point in your swim. Bar none. Whether you are joe bloggs novice swimmer and learning, or Michael Phelps, you should be able to generate more speed from a start or turn than when you are swimming. This is a simple fact of physics; due to the inherently inefficient nature of propelling yourself through water, a good push off the wall will carry more power. Obviously this is only useful to you if you get into a good streamline position, otherwise as on the bike you will just cause more resistance!

Use Your Strengths

Being a triathlete, you’re most likely to have strong glutes and quads from cycling and running. And if you are doing squats as part of your strength routine, you’re halfway toward a good push off.

Quality Swims

Or getting more of a rest – depending on which way you look at it! Even without kicking a good streamline means you should be able to make 5m off the wall. In most cases, this means only 20m left to swim. If you find swimming tough, then take advantage of the boosts each length so that you have to swim less. If you are a stronger/faster swimmer, use the turns to your advantage to make sure each length you swim is quality. By having more turns, you can make sure you reset your technique each length. A good streamline will even help set you up for the length feeling good and strong.

Gaining A Good Streamline

A good push off is like a squat jump on dry land. Because you’re weightless in the water, there isn’t the fatigue that is associated, so you can really make the most of this.

Streamline effectively

How to get a good, tight, fast streamline

As you leave the wall, your body should be pulled in tight – your core “set” and your hands stretched out above your head. Ideally your ears should be between or just below your shoulders, arms tight against against your head. If flexibility allows, then one hand should be on top of the other, pulling the body taught. When teaching young children, you would teach them to push off like rockets – the idea still holds true even if the imagery changes!

Try it yourself. See how far/fast you push off the wall ordinarily, then try really tightening things up and really focussing on that streamline. Remember, if you hold a good streamline and shape, then you are automatically in a better position to start swimming, and maintaining your speed off the wall. And if you get used to swimming fast between the walls, then you’ll be ready to swim even faster in a wetsuit.

Take your time with learning this – as with any skill. The point is that drills are there to make you smoother, stronger, more efficient. Make sure you hit all those target points!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!