Don't Forget To Breathe, Doctors Recommend It

Good breathing technique - particularly exhalation into the water - is at the heart and soul of good freestyle. But don't take our word for it, here's an email we received on Wednesday from a swimmer we've been advising in Atlanta, Georgia:

Dear Paul,

Last night I watched the sink down drill on your website repeatedly before leaving work, then I went home and watched your Swim Smooth DVD segment on breathing several times. Today I started my workout with the sink down drill and then several slow laps with breathe-bubble-bubble-breathe.

I forced myself to breath bilaterally and to constantly exhale in the water. I instantly noticed that I didn’t feel nearly as winded after the warm up as I usually do. I told myself to focus ONLY on breathing today and to let everything just take its course (sometimes I get wrapped up in over thinking my stroke – which, in its own way, is a form of under thinking). Today’s workout was challenging: we had several pull sets of increasing yardage with fast sets of 100 swim between them.

All I can say is, WOW! This morning, I had my best day in the water yet. I kept repeating "breathe-bubble-bubble-breathe" to myself throughout the swim (with only a couple of mental lapses) and on the longest of the pull sets (600 yards), I finished way ahead of where I would normally be versus my lane mates. A woman who swims in the lane beside me commented on my "blistering pace" this morning (a relative term, I know).

What amazed me was just how relaxed I was the entire time and my right shoulder didn’t hurt at all during the swim! Frankly, I hardly felt winded when the 600 pull was over. (The only time I struggled this morning was during a couple of fast 100s when my mind drifted a little and I started holding my breath again, which caused me to breathe to my default side.) When the workout was over, my first thought was, "that’s it?" When I got out of the water, I was not nearly as wiped out as I usually am after a swim.

Today was a HUGE psychological breakthrough for me (I was nervous on the way to the pool this morning about trying a new breathing exercise). I no longer feel like I am stuck and I got a glimpse of what relaxed swimming feels like. I feel that mastering my breathing first is the KEY that will allow me to patiently focus on other elements of my stroke that also need improvement. I will be diligent and persistent in working on my breathing as I can no doubt get better.

Paul, thanks for your interest, your thoughts, and for your inspiration! Today was a big step forward in my swimming and I feel like shouting it to the world, but since most won’t understand, I thought I’d at least drop you a note to express my excitement and sincere gratitude.



Sometimes the most simple things make the biggest difference to your swimming.

If you find breathing a challenge, feel puffed, head-achey or just tense when you swim then it's essential for you to develop your exhalation technique if you want to improve your swimming. For everyone else it's merely very important to do so!

Note 1: You can find the sink down exercise John's referring to at the bottom of this page: Breathing Exhalation. Exhaling into the water doesn't feel very natural at first and the sink-down exercise helps you get the feel of it.

Note 2: Bubble-Bubble-Breathe is a mantra to say to yourself whilst swimming. It helps co-ordinate breathing every three strokes (bilateral breathing) and exhalation into the water. When you breathe every three strokes the pattern is normal-stroke, normal-stroke, breathing stroke and repeat.

To develop that exhalation actually say into the water "bubble" on a normal stroke, "bubble" again on the next normal stroke and then breathe. By saying "bubble" you will exhale strongly into the water and this will help you get the feel of it. (By the way, you don't have to say "breathe" out-loud!)

Note 3: Bilateral breathing is great because it naturally maintains your stroke's symmetry. More here: Bilateral Breathing

Swim Smooth!


Anonymous said...

Hey Paul, great blog, as usual. Just a quick question.... I was reading Gina Crawford's blog recently where she talks about learning to breathe from the diaphragm rather than the upper part of the body during running and cycling. I was wondering whether you have any advice on "where" to breathe from while swimming - chest or a bit lower down? The reason I ask is that I was trying to exhale from the stomach/diaphragm in the pool tonight and I think my breaths were longer and more relaxed. Or maybe is was just psychological!

Unknown said...

Wow. I have been picking up tidbits from these emails for the last two months and find the emails valuable. But this thread has already been transfermational to me! I was suffering from shoulder pains, an unbalanced swimming position and feeling worn out after a swim. Not to mention I must have sounded like a whale surfacing every time I took a breath.
Saturday I tried sink drill and concentrated on breathing and it was one of the best swims I have had. My shoulders felt great-no pain. For the first time ever my standard swim was faster than my buoy drills (I have concluded it wasn't that my legs were too low it was that my chest was too high). might have been a coincedence but I felt great coming out of the swim and was able to complete the remaining 4 hours of training with a smile.

I am a long time bike racer and I remember the transformational moment when I learned to breathe from my diaphram. I was beginning to think that swimming was the opposite of everything you learn on the bike.

I will be buying th DVDs as soon as I get over this whole international shipping thing. If there is even one similar tip in the DVDs it will be very well worth it. Thanks, you guys are awesome.

Jayadeep(JDP) said...

Hey, I did this and improved my breathing a lot as well. The drill made me aware that I wasn't exhaling under water which I thought was not the case.

Anonymous said...

I've recently started to swim again and find all your comments very helpful. Thank you!!

Sclerotherapy said...
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