1 length to 1 mile in 2 weeks - by changing my breathing
I want to share my recent breakthrough in the hope that other people can make similar progress. Two weeks ago I could only manage 1 length (33m) of freestyle without a rest. Yesterday I swam 1500m non-stop; and could have easily done more.
The breakthrough happened when I was helping my teenage daughter to improve her swimming. She was 'taught' at school. The National Curriculum requirement here in the UK is merely that a child can somehow swim 25m. I realised that she could barely manage this, and had no idea about technique.
So I started coaching her to do a proper breaststroke (which I have always been good at). I got her to put her head down and streamline. But she was still exhausted after just one length. Then I noticed she wasn't exhaling through her nose - she was holding her breath. So I explained the obvious fact that you need to breathe out before you can breathe in.
But she couldn't break the habit. She understood mentally, but her instinct (and fear?) were in control. So I needed a different approach...
We went to the shallow end, and practiced calm relaxed breathing for a few minutes. This is something we take for granted in our daily lives, but I wanted to focus her attention on the experience of breathing comfortably.
Then we started exhaling into the water. We stood up to breathe in, then submerged to breathe out. At first she was a bit erratic. But we stuck with it till she settled down. Think about this question - how long could you breathe like that??? The answer should be all day long!!! If not, then you can't be breathing naturally.
Once she was comfortable with that we headed into deeper water. Just bobbing up and down, breathing in and out. In fact we "bounced" all the way to the deep end. I emphasised that the goal was to stay relaxed all the way - there was no hurry. (Previously she had the back-to-front idea of trying to reach her goal before she got too exhausted.) When we reached the other end she was totally relaxed, not panting.
So then we swam back...with her maintaining the same relaxed deep-ish breathing. Her stroke count dropped from about 38 to 18!!!
Then I started noticing other people's breathing: lots of them were taking short strangled gasps - even those swimming with their heads up. (In fact, especially those people) I realised that we instinctively tend to overfill our lungs and take short shallow breaths - so no wonder we get so tired. This tightening of the chest is something we have to learn to relax.
So feeling like a proud father, I returned to practicing my own (TI) swimming. As usual I would follow each length of freestyle with a length of breaststroke to get my breath back - and then I had that "Light Bulb" moment! Why did I need to get my breath back??? The answer must be because I was making the same mistake.
Like many people I had been brainwashed with all sorts of nonsense about how to breathe in freestyle. And even after the TI workshop, my subconscious was still clinging to those old ideas. What I realised is that I needed to take the same comfortable breaths in freestyle as I do in breaststroke. And in particular I noticed that due to tension, I was not exhaling enough. The problem was NOT that I couldn't get enough air in - it was that I needed to get it out. And ironically I was making the problem worse by rushing my breathing - I actually needed to slow it down.
So I started swimming almost in slow motion, with my sole focus on deep(-ish) relaxed natural breathing. And that was the start of the transformation. From that moment on, I didn't need a breastroke length to recover. At first I would need a few yoga breaths after each length. But then I slowed down even more - determined to finish each length as comfortably as I started it. (The opposite of trying to reach the other end before you fall to pieces - my goal was not to allow myself to fall to pieces at all).
This all started two weeks ago. Yesterday I swam a mile freestyle, in total comfort. (In 40 minutes)
So my advice is to forget all those complicated ideas you might have heard about breathing. Get in touch with your own natural breathing, and take that into your drills as a focal point. Good Luck!
I think this posting should get posted automatically whenever someone says: "I am out of breath after one or two laps. How do I get into shape to go farther?" It has nothing to do with fitness, it is 99% breathing.
These changes in breathing seem counterintuitive to the breathing used in most "land-based" sports but they are absolutely essential to achieve sustainability no matter what pace you are training for.
This is really helpful to me and I'm sure to others. I think this is the solution to my swimming difficulties. Even after 3/4 the way down the pool I fall apart despite the first few breaths have been good. For some reason after these first few good relaxed breaths I suddenly need air - probably because I lost focus or confidence. I hope the soon to be new conference,"The Power of Mindfulness" will share situations like you did here because this has been really helpful. All common sense - but greatly helpful in a practical sense.
There are so many valuable points made here:
1) Truly this post should be the first item read by anyone who makes a query about being unable to catch their breath. If you agree with John Carey on its value, go to "Rate Thread" at the top and give it 5 stars.
2) A key principle here which should not be overlooked is what TI swimmer Michael Bryant calls MetaConscious Competence. Many of us will be familiar with the progression from Unconscious Incompetence (through Conscious Incompetence and Conscious Competence) to Unconscious Competence. Michael proposed a 5th level in which you consolidate your competence by teaching someone else. Nicodemus gives a great example.
3) Separate a fundamental but challenging problem from whole-stroke swimming and find a holistic way to solve that problem. (While you're at it, separate your self-judging ego from the process and focus on understanding what's happening.) The example of simply practicing breathing in a standing/crouching position, then progressing to the inclusion of movement -- bobbing or boucing to the deep end is both egoless (because our usual means of "keeping score" are absent) and a well-designed skill progression. Keep at it until you have a relaxed easy rhythm before adding the complexity of doing this altogether new skill in whole stroke.
4) The relation of a relaxed breathing rhythm to stroke efficiency. This relates in two ways: (a) Breathing rhythm IS swimming rhythm. If your breathing is fast and shallow, then your stroke MUST be hurried -- and therefore less efficient; and (b) By getting all the air you need you transform what felt harrowing into an enjoyable experience, eliminate distraction freeing up focus for movement quality and reduce muscular tension promoting more fluent movement.
Easy, relaxed, rhythmic breathing must come first!
Technique is still important !
We have a number of OPEN WATER "Mina Mile" events coming up here in Dubai. I hope to be able to go all freestyle with your advice.
Just a small comment: Technique is still important.
I have been doing TI drills for 4 months (no LAPs at all). I can feel I can swim a longer distance than before just because my body is more balanced and my position more streamlined.
Breathing is a non-negotiable skill
I had a similar experience earlier in the year, my lack of relaxed breathing skill was really holding me back from achieving any distance. After a back to basics breathing one-to-one with TI/Swimshack in the UK, I went from 4 - 8 - 12 - 20 and then 40 lengths in a two week period. And after each session I wanted to go on swimming.
A relaxed stationary breathing exercise were the key to success. This was something I had never tried, although it is on the 02in H20 dvd uts importance can't be over stressed.
Here's the drill - Take a breath, let your head go down into the water, allow air slowly to trickle out to say a count of 5, help it a little and then as you come up expel the remaining air out, the vaccum created in your lungs will bring in new clean air, repeat. Increase the the count gradually and when you trickle air out to a count of 15 you're at genius level, so Ian Smith told me!
When confident I then repeated down the pool in skating position. My breathing to the left is still better than my right but I'm now on the way to bilateral breathing with a lot more confidence.
Not for nothing is it called 'Trickle Breathing'
Nicodemus your post needs keeping in an archive for constant reference.
I've been trying to find some ways to help my better half and a few of her friends relax and breath easy in the water. They just haven't been able to get it. Simply telling them to relax and slow down has had very little impact, in fact I think it's made it worse. One of them tells me she can't even blow bubbles because she's so worried that water will might get in her mouth or nose. Consequently they are all very tense, rushed and always tired after just a few strokes in the water. I'm going to try the bounce-n-breathe method with them and my kids (who don't seem to mind getting water up their noses).
I learned at the age of five...and made many mistakes, & then it clicked
I wish I was five
when trying to learn to
I do NOT like makin' mistakes!
I should learn from 'em!
I am impatient now
not as limbre(almost 50 years later)?
Thanks for all the positive feedback
I think I was just lucky that I connected my daughter's problem to my own. The crazy thing is that this was 3 months after my TI workshop - so for about 12 weeks I failed to identify my own problem. Or, put it another way: I am 47, and have been swimming breaststroke with comfortable breathing most of my life; meanwhile I have been unable to breathe in freestyle.
I think this episode shows how deeply we can hold onto subconscious tension and/or bad habits. Especially if we have been given instructions by an 'authority' such as a swimming coach. I really appreciated Terry's comment about a holistic approach. In this case I had to 'look inside myself' to get in touch with my own breathing.
There is something else I would like to add: I have done a lot of scuba diving. This means I have the experience of breathing comfortably while fully submerged, with no sense of urgency to 'find' the air. For various reasons, divers breath slightly slower and deeper than we would in air; but the key point is you find a natural comfortable pattern. This was the feeling that I wanted us both to have when we did the 'bouncing' exercise.
I saw another post where someone asked about how swim breathing compared to jogging breathing. I think that was such a good question because the person who raised it is trying to relate swimming to something else in his life.
Unfortunately I am really struggling to breathe on my left side - I guess that will be another challenge!
I'd never really thought that much about breathing until I read "Chi Running" (as recommended by Terry, and an absolutely fabulous guide to running). I'm still working on my patient breathing while swimming, but where I noticed an immediate change was in my cycling. I felt better, i recovered quicker from hard efforts (climbs or sprint intervals), and I even increased my cruising pace by a few tenths of an mph (it doesn't sound like much but over a couple of hours it can add up to minutes) just by focusing on patient breathing and proper exhaling. I can only assume it will work the same for swimming once i'm able to get it dialed in.
And Nicodemus, i'm definitely not a coach, but skating drills seemed to help my weaker-side breathing.
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