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
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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!
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.
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. Remember, that 3-5m of not swimming is negligible, it won’t impact negatively on your training.
[clickandtweet handle=”” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]A good streamline is not “cheating”. Its a great way of making your swim stronger & faster.[/clickandtweet]
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.
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!