Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Simple Exercise To Make Your Breathing Easier

(If you missed our clip of Jono Van Hazel's amazing stroke from last week, see it here.) 

Many swimmers struggle with their breathing when swimming freestyle, feeling short of breath and in some cases desperate for air. Let's take a look at an exercise to help your breathing technique become much more effective. Even if you are a more advanced level swimmer this can make a surprising difference so give it a try yourself.

Breathing 3-5-7-3

Push off from the wall and swim freestyle at a steady pace, taking your first breath after three strokes. Then take five more strokes before breathing again and then seven more before your next breath. Then return to three strokes, carrying on cycling through the 3-5-7 pattern.

When swimming freestyle, whenever
your face is in the water you should be
exhaling smoothly through your
mouth or nose.
Try this for around 100m continuously and make sure you are exhaling smoothly into the water on every stroke between breaths. This shouldn't be forced, relax into your exhalation as if you are sighing into the water.

Don't think of the longer time between breaths during the 5 and 7 as longer to hold your breath, instead turn the psychology around and think of it as giving you longer to breathe: specifically longer to exhale!

This exercise is a very powerful way to develop a good exhalation technique because it demonstrates to you how much air you have in your lungs and how it feels to exhale properly (during the five and seven strokes).

Try the following sequence (perfect to add in your warm-up or drill set during a session) :
100m breathing 3-5-7-3
100m breathing every 3 strokes
100m breathing 3-5-7-3
100m breathing every 3 strokes
(take 10 seconds rest between each 100m)
The magic happens when returning to breathing every three strokes: suddenly it feels much easier and more relaxed because you have improved your exhalation during the 3-5-7-3.

If you struggle to breathe 3-5-7-3 for 100m, trying using a pull buoy to give you some extra support and reduce the oxygen demand from your kick. Conversely, if you find the exercise very easy try 5-7-9-5!

The Importance Of Exhalation

Improving your exhalation technique feels so good because:

- It rids the lungs and blood stream of CO2, the build-up of which is what leads to feelings of tension or even panic. Blow the CO2 out into the water and your swimming will feel much more relaxed.
- It makes swimming more aerobic by improving the gas exchange in your lungs.
- It means that when you do go to breathe you only have to inhale, not exhale and inhale in the short window available to you.
- It reduces the buoyancy in your chest which helps keep your buoyancy balanced, bringing your legs up higher towards the surface.

Exhaling into the water sounds very basic but many swimming coaches (even some illustrious ones!) have overlooked how important it is for good swimming technique. If you're a triathlete, try holding your breath for a few seconds whilst running or cycling and see just how bad it feels!

Note: This Isn't A Hypoxic Exercise

Swim coaches have traditionally asked swimmers to take fewer breaths believing that the oxygen deprivation improved their aerobic fitness; this was known as 'hypoxic training'. That isn't the purpose of the 3-5-7-3 exercise, instead we're using fewer breaths over short distances to give you enough time to exhale fully and get the feel of doing so.

Give it a go in your next session, you will be surprised what a difference it makes.

Swim Smooth!

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