One of our favourite subjects on the Swim Smooth Blog (which we revisit every 6 months or so because it's so important and so often over-looked) is your exhalation technique into the water.
Many swimmers hold their breath as a natural reaction from having their face in the water. Others were told to deliberately hold onto their breath when they learnt to swim - and then exhale it at the last moment as they rotate to breathe.
Holding your breath underwater might work OK for sprinters racing over 50 or 100m but for those swimming over longer distances it's a very bad idea because:
- It increases the buoyancy in your chest which lifts you up at the front and sinks your legs.
- It causes CO2 to build up in your system which makes you feel out of breath and anxious.
- Breathing out late inevitably reduces the time you have available to inhale.
Breath holding is incredibly common in swimming, in fact around 90% of swimmers who attend Swim Smooth clinics need to work on it!
With that in mind, here's a sequence of three simple exercises to try the next time you swim to improve your own exhalation and feel an immediate improvement:
Step 1. Practise Sink-Downs
A sink-down is a simple exercise which you normally perform at the deep end of your pool.
Start by treading water. Take a normal inhalation and then allow yourself to drop down underwater with your legs straight and arms held gently by your side. As you do so smoothly exhale through your mouth or nose (whatever works best for you):
You may find that you have trouble letting go of the air and need to consciously focus on relaxing and letting go. Don't force the air out but think about sighing into the water.
If you don't sink to the bottom of the pool this is a strong indication that you are holding on to your breath - there's probably a lot more air in there to get rid of than you think! Relax and just let it go...
Once you have sunk down, as soon as you feel low on air push up towards the surface again. Take 10 or 20 seconds to compose yourself and then repeat a few more times.
You can find out more about developing this key exercise in the Swim Smooth Coaching System here: app.swimsmooth.com/video/h5/sink-down-drill/
Step 2. The 3-5-7-3 Exercise
Once you've got the hang of sink-downs, swim normal freestyle exhaling bubbles constantly into the water. Run through this breathing pattern as you do so:
- Take your first breath after 3 strokes
- Then your second breath after 5 more strokes
- Then your third breath after 7 more strokes
- Then back to the beginning, take your fourth breath after 3 more strokes and keep rolling through the 3-5-7-3 pattern.
Swim 3-5-7-3 for around 100m at a time, all the time blowing smoothly out into the water. The idea of the exercise is to make you appreciate that you can continue exhaling for much longer than you think before running out of air - in fact afterwards breathing every 3 can feel too frequent!
If you find 3-5-7-3 stressful then try it using a pull-buoy between your legs or whilst wearing a pair of fins for support.
Try some more breathing exercises in the Swim Smooth Coaching System here: app.swimsmooth.com/video/xx/using-mantras/
Step 3. Contrast Exhaling With Holding
Now let's feel the difference your new improved exhalation technique is making.
Simply swim 6x 50m at steady pace with about 10 seconds rest between each 50m - deliberately hold your breath on swims 1, 3 and 5, and exhale smoothly on numbers 2, 4 and 6. How do they feel in comparison? You should feel much more relaxed whilst exhaling!