Friday, January 7, 2011

If Something's Going To Go Wrong In Your Stroke, It'll Go Wrong When...

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What do all these stroke flaws have in common? :

swimmer1
pushing down and wide
swimmer2 collapsing arm
swimmer3 scissor kick and crossover
swimmer4 scissor kick and over-rotation
swimmer5 straight arm push down
swimmer6 crossover

If you said "breathing", then you're correct. In fact most stroke flaws happen during or immediately following breathing because you're simply thinking "give me that air!" and not focusing on the rest of your stroke.

Breathing is such a distraction and interruption to the freestyle stroke that it even disrupts an elite swimmer's rhythm and efficiency. This is why 50m sprinters minimise the number of breaths they take - often only taking one or two during their 50m dash. As distance swimmers we have to breathe much more often than once or twice per lap but this highlights the significant challenge to our stroke technique when breathing.

What can we do to minimise this problem? Firstly, try and avoid always breathing to the same side every two strokes. If you do this then some very critical areas of your stroke never get any of your attention and are very likely to be major weak points in your technique. For instance, if you breathe only to your right every two strokes then your left hand catch never gets any attention because you're always breathing simultaneously with it. Such a swimmer will tend to develop bad habits on that side, such as pressing down on the water or dropping their elbow, greatly harming their speed and efficiency in the water.

Switching to breathing every three strokes (bilateral breathing) greatly helps you because two out of three left arm strokes are now non-breathing strokes and can get your full attention. When it comes to the one in three that are during a breath, your stroke will stand a very good chance of holding together nicely:

breathing and non breathing strokes
Bilateral breathing helps Mel Benson perfectly maintain her stroke when breathing

Breathing every three strokes is about the right interval for most swimmers when they've developed good exhalation into the water. Very tall swimmers who've tried to overly lengthen their stroke may find bilateral breathing a challenge because their stroke rate is simply too slow and the time between breaths too long. Conversely, shorter swimmers with naturally faster stroke rates often settle happily into a pattern of breathing every five strokes.

If you have worked on your exhalation into the water and still find bilateral breathing hard then consider your body roll at this point of the stroke. If you're flat in the water to your non-dominant side then that will make breathing very challenging. Think about extending and rotating to this off-side and breathing to it will start to feel much easier.

Coaches: have you noticed that a swimmer's breathing technique often looks much better to the non-dominant side? This is because bad habits such as lifting or over-rotating the head have never developed on that side. If you see this with a swimmer then feed that back to them to give them encouragement to get over the 'bilateral hump', which normally lasts about 6 sessions.

Next week on the blog we're going to look at tactical situations in races when breathing to one side is advantageous, explaining why we see many elite swimmers breathing just to one side on TV.

Swim Smooth!

10 comments:

Mark Schnupp said...

If your asking yourself "come on does bi-lateral breathing really make that big of a diffrence?" I can tell you first hand heck yes.

I started swimming 2 years ago when I got into tri racing. A true Arnie, I had every flaw posted in this article to a certain degree and I only took breaths every two strokes to the right. I sent a video of myself to Coach Paul and asked for help. Coach Paul told me straight up "bi-lateral breath" my man and you will improve.

A year later and I am twice the swimmer I was. I'm way more fluid, I know longer fight the water and I can cover 400M in sub 7 minutes with ease vs struggling to swim it in 12 minutes 2 years ago !!

I own the DVD box set and follow it to a tee. If my home caught on fire it would be the first thing I grabbed (ok, maybe second after the wife and kids !!)

Get on with Bi-lateral breathing, at first you gonna feel really weird and find it hard but stick with it and you'll soon be swimming like Mr. Smooth !!

fatah said...

I can breathe better on my non dominant side and I think it is because something related to the flutter kick, when I breathe on my left "non dominant side" my right leg kicks stronger so I float better on the left side!

Adam Young said...

Great to hear Mark - keep up the good work!

Fatah, something to check when you breathe to your dominant side is whether you crossover with your lead hand when doing so. This will in turn cause a scissor kick and your legs to sink.

When breathing to your dominant side focus on keeping that lead arm extended straiiiggghhhtt and see if that helps keep your legs up.

Cheers!

fatah said...

thanks Adam for the reply, I have this problem even when I do the side balance drill with my hands tied to my body and hips, I can float and breathe all day long on my left"non dominate side", but I am like a barge when I do it with my right side above the water.
but I will not give up till I master it...I love water....

Adam Young said...

Hi fatah. How do you mean 'like a barge'? What happens?

Adam

fatah said...

it means sometimes I swallow water, my face sinks..

A said...

OK, when this happens have a think about your lead arm and what it's doing. Has it crossed over the centre line or the elbow dropped dramatically? Is your hand horizontal with the fingertips slightly down as it should be?

I very much suspect that you one of the above is happening and this is causing a lack of support which is causing your face to sink.

Anonymous said...

I transitioned to bilateral breathing by breathing EVERY stroke for a couple of laps before trying every third stroke. This broke my habit of breathing every other strike

fatah said...

Hi Adam, I worked on my left hand which was drowning dramatically before, and I could swim only 100 meter maximum before I take a break, now I can swim at least 500 meters like a peace of cake, thank you for your advice,,

Adam Young said...

That's great fatah! Keep up the good work and enjoy your swimming.