Effective breathing, whilst swimming, is all in the balance
Kevin Koskella explains how to master the top five challenges to breathing in freestyle
The most common question I hear in the triathlete world about the mysteries of swimming efficiently usually involves something with breathing. In freestyle, it is the first step to getting your body position right. Then, for many, you throw in breathing and everything goes haywire! This has to do with lack of balance, using your head instead of your core to breathe, and a few other factors.
Here are the top 5 challenges in learning how to breathe in freestyle, along with the remedies on how to get over these:
1. Not getting enough air
There are a couple of reasons this typically happens in freestyle. First, make sure you breathe out all of your air before you rotate to take a breath. When learning, some people try to exhale and inhale while they are rolling to the side for air. There is not enough time for this! Your exhalations should only be in the water in the form of bubbles. At first, the timing may seem difficult, but eventually, you will get used to it. Second, you may be sinking as you breathe. Make sure you are rolling to the side to breathe, and not rotating your head and looking straight up.
2. Extended arm sinks while taking a breath (elbow drops)
This is a balance issue. While you breathe to one side, your other arm should be extending. For many swimmers, this extended arm pushes down into the water and they are sinking while trying to inhale. The side kicking and shark fin drills will also help to improve this. Another drill also discussed in the materials that will help with this challenge is the first drill, which forces you to not use your hands, therefore improves your balance in the water.
3. Speed is sacrificed because of a "Pause" while breathing
A typical scenario is that you feel like you are cruising along just fine and then you take a breath and it feels like you have just lost all your momentum. To remedy this, when you breathe, concentrate first on breathing to the side (as in #1), then on having your mouth parallel to the water, instead of over the water. The latter will take a while to master, but once you do, it will take care of the pause, and improving your speed overall.
4. Difficulty breathing while navigating in a race
You need to look up to see where you are going, and at the same time grab a breath. How can you do both? Start with bilateral breathing (breathing on both sides every 3 strokes). This will help you to see where you are without lifting your head as much. When you need to lift your head to sight, try not to look straight ahead as this will make your hips sink and throw you off balance. Instead, take a quick peek at your target, roll to the side to breathe, and bring your head right back down into position.
5. Sucking in the water while taking a breath
In practice, this will sometimes occur because of #1 and #2 above. In a race, the waves may cause the inhalation of water instead of air (bilateral breathing will help here as well). The drills to practice improving balance and avoid this unpleasant occurrence are the side kicking and shark fin drills, as well as the one-arm drill. To perform the one-arm drill, swim a full stroke with one arm while your other arm rests at your side. Breathe on the opposite side of the stroking arm. This is a difficult drill and takes some practice, but it will pay off!
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About the Author
Kevin Koskella coaches masters and triathlete swimmers in San Diego, CA. He operates the website www.triSwimCoach.com, a resource for beginner to intermediate level triathletes looking for help with swimming.