Conquer the Swim. But First, Breathe.

March 12, 2020

This past weekend, I coached several swim clinics for the Women’s Philadelphia Triathlon & 5k. Each clinic consisted of around 50 women, the majority of which were beginner swimmers. Women’s Philly Tri is the perfect event for beginners as the swim is in an outdoor pool, only 300 meters and extremely spectator friendly. The goal of the clinic was to prepare the women for race day; specifically, how to snake swim, understanding the importance of and how-to self-seed, the experience of swimming close to others, basic swimming mechanics and so on.

Throughout each clinic, there was a recurring question asked by most of the athletes. “How do I breathe in the water?” Now, before I dive into this topic, it’s important to understand, if you can’t breathe while swimming, there is slim to no chance you can focus on swim mechanics and improve your form. Getting faster at the swim is ALL ABOUT MECHANICS. Swimming “harder” does not mean you will swim faster. You must focus on form, do NOT waste precious training time doing otherwise. Ideally, this is done through video analysis that captures different angles both under and above water. If that’s not an option, have someone assess on deck. Better yet, find yourself a coach who does video analysis, writes up swim drills and then re-assesses form down the road. I know a great coach who does this if you’re looking for one 😉

Now, back to breathing. Many beginner swimmers like to hold their breath in the water, which is something you should not do. Holding your breath causes a buildup of CO2 in the body. This buildup causes a panic feeling, your body is telling you to breathe, to get the CO2 out and oxygen in. On top of that, your body is producing more CO2 and demanding more oxygen than normally required because you are exercising. Add to the mix you’re taking less breaths than normal and your body is already in a state of anxiety from being in water, a foreign environment.

To overcome this, there are several basic breathing drills you can and should do in every swim session. A few drills you can practice are 1) holding the pool wall and blowing bubbles while standing  2) holding the pool wall and blowing bubbles with a gentle kick  3) sink downs  4) blowing bubbles (practicing breathing) while using a kickboard. Google these exercises and do them correctly. Or, reach out to me and I will explain how to do them. You can breathe out through your nose and/or your mouth, most swimmers breathe out through both. The most important thing to remember with these drills is you MUST become comfortable putting your face in the water. Meaning, the water should be at your hairline or even towards the crown of your head. Putting your face in the water is a common fear beginner swimmers must conquer. If you are not putting your face in the water, you are automatically introducing bad mechanics. If your head is up, your legs are sinking and you are likely arching your back. More on that topic later.

Practice these drills, master your breathing, then focus on mechanics. You can conquer the swim, but first, learn how to breathe. And, as always, AME high with your goals and do it with a smile!

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