Thursday, March 25, 2010

Don't Forget To Breathe, Doctors Recommend It

Good breathing technique - and 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 John Patteson, 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 breath 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.



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!

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 hang of it. (By the way, you don't have to say "breathe" out-loud!)

Note 3: Bilateral breathing is great because it naturally helps keep your stroke symmetrical. More here: Bilateral Breathing

Swim Smooth!

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