Swim workout: Learning to breathe

Most recently, I’ve been working on my freestyle technique. I found that they key to being able to do it aerobically was to change my breathing technique.  Until I changed, I was constantly getting water in my nose and mouth, making it difficult to breathe fully.

For me, the secret was the following breathing algorithm:

1. Do not “blow bubbles” underwater with your mouth or nose.  Although this can help the efficiency of your stroke, if you don’t have enough air to blow out when you surface, it’s too easy to end up inhaling water.

2. Turn the head to the side, just out of the water. Don’t turn too far or you’ll actually fall in deeper.

3. While turning the head, keep your mouth closed, and forcefully blow out air and water from your nose.

4. When fully out of the water, open the mouth briefly to inhale, then close it well before turning the head back.

In this setup, one always breathes out from the nose, and breathes in through the mouth.  Thus water never really has a chance to get into your system and cause you to cough or choke.

I spent my 40 minute workout today trying to improve my breathing system.  I think one error I’m making is turning my head too much out of the water, so my body starts dragging in the water, instead of remaining hydrodynamic, like a torpedo.  I practiced keeping one goggle glass in the water while breathing, but it didn’t seem to help too much.

Indeed, I’m not sure my breathing is the main problem with my technique: I tried swimming a bit while holding my breath, and I didn’t seem to go appreciably faster.  Unfortunately, I forgot my watch, so this was fairly subjective (to the extent I quantified it, it was based on whether I took more or fewer strokes to cross the pool).

I did experiment a bit with swimming on my side at different angles to the bottom of the pool.  It’s incredible how much faster you can go when your body is parallel to the bottom of the pool, rather than dragging in the water.  That clearly demonstrates that keeping head turning to a minimum is important.

Supposedly you can breathe in the “bow wave” formed by your movement in the water.  I’ve honestly never been able to observe this. Maybe I’m already doing it?

I also experimented with different arm strokes (again, the idea of thrusting my hand into the water at an angle, versus putting it in flat and letting it drop).  The hand thrust system does seem a little better, but not much.  It also makes breathing a bit more difficult, since I can’t push off the surface of the water to raise my head enough to take a breath.  (My head isn’t close enough to the surface to easily just turn and breathe.)

Rotating my body also seemed to help a bit in terms of speed.

Overall, a fairly inconclusive day.

2 thoughts on “Swim workout: Learning to breathe

    • This is a good call.

      I read that one other way people sight is to use a head position that is not totally facing downwards — this is apparently a common “mistake” observed in people who swim at busy pools and need to constantly look around. (Mistake because supposedly such a head position is not optimal, but my Ian Thorpe post shows him doing it on purpose.)


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