Breathing is a pretty fundamental part of almost every sport 🙂 As far as swimming goes you can’t do it underwater without some sort of snorkel.
It’s one of those aspects of swimming technique that is important. So here is some info intended for relative beginners and improvers.
What not to do: Panic, splash a bit, lift your head up by pushing down with your arm/hand and look forwards. Take a quick shallow breath and carry-on panicking!
- Exhale continuously and fully from when your mouth enters the water to when it leaves the water
- Inhale as completely as you can (obviously, when your mouth is above the water).
- “Bubble Bubble Breathe” is what the kids are told to do.
- Some people make a noise as they exhale to remind them to keep doing it.
- In fact your mouth should ideally be half-submerged at its uppermost point where you are looking horizontally, exhaling. You might be able to do a weird thing with your mouth where you can keep your head a tiny bit more submerged by skewing your mouth halfway up the side of your cheek…makes you look pretty. 🙂 don’t worry about this detail too much yet.
- There should be sufficient time to inhale a fair bit rather than merely sucking in a super-quick half-lungful. If you find this not to be the case you might want to slow down a bit, if you can, and focus a bit more on body roll/rotation.
- Your submerged ear should be somewhere vaguely near your leading arm/shoulder, not heading skywards.
- Avoid the whale spout – an observer at poolside should not see you complete your exhale above water.
- Exhaling as completely as possible supposedly reduces an inadvertent and uncontrollable panic caused by CO2 remaining in the lungs.
- Taking in some water and even swallowing it is probably not the end of the world from time to time. If you make a habit of that then you may well find that, in the future, sea water and lake water do not taste as nice as you would imagine.
‘Whatever works for you’ is the best advice for relative newcomers. However it is often breathing that is NOT working.
Furthermore it is likely that open water swimming/sea swimming, at some point, will require you to be able to exclusively breathe on one side. Let’s hope it’s the side you choose 😉
So your longer term goal needs to be able to support symmetry in your stroke – this will come from breathing alternately to each side. Being ABLE to breath to any one side will help you when the wind and waves are crashing around you.
- From pushing off you should be almost immediately exhaling. You should continue exhaling as you take a stroke or two before taking your first breath. Easier said than done, don’t worry too much about this.
- Breathing every third stroke (splash) is what most people aim for. This is what everyone refers to as “bilateral breathing”. It’s a good thing, try and do it ASAP.
- When pool swimming, aim also to alternate the side you take your first breath.
- Breathing every third stroke is difficult for relative beginners as you will have an oxygen deficit that requires you to breathe more. So half-lengths or complete lengths of breathing to one side is the place to start (alternating the pattern on the return length).
- You can then progress to 2-3-2-3-2-3-2 breathing. This increases the number of breaths you take per length (compared to 3-3-3-3-3 breathing) whilst maintaining the aim of symmetry. Again, alternate the side of the first breath on each length.
- Take a breath at each end – sure why not?
DRILL: Practice swimming slowly with breathing pyramids of 3-5-7-5-3 or variations thereon, use pull buoy if needed.
- A swim snorkel (Finis) is not a bad idea. It totally eliminates the worry of breathing – you can concentrate on some other aspect of your stroke. Use the snorkel incorrectly and practice inhaling masses of water and then panicking as you can’t get the bit out of your mouth and then further panicking as you have a nose clip on and can’t breath through that either!
DRILL: At some point you will need to look where you are going in openwater (sighting). This is great because your old breathing style of lifting your head a little and looking forward comes in handy 😉
- Breathe when sighting every 9 or 12 strokes. Alternatively follow the person in front and hope they are following someone else who is going the right way. Sounds stupid? You’d be surprised!
- Tumble Turns – If you are a competent tumble turner you don’t need advice on how to breath when swimming. Taking a breath in before tumbling is advisable 🙂
If your goal is a Half IronMan or longer I would strongly suggest working on a good breathing pattern. It’s a long way in open water. Similarly if you are targeting shorter, faster races then continually lifting your head to breathe will slow you down no end.