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Will_in_NY 05-09-2014 06:35 AM

If I exhale, I sink
Hi folks. This is my first posting.

I'm a middle-aged beginning swimmer. I read the TI book cover to cover, and am rereading it. I have watched and studied the Happy Laps and the Freestyle Made Easy videos. I took lessons in New Paltz. I'm practicing the basics about every other day at the local pool.

I'm still struggling.

I'll start off with breathing.

I'm having trouble just trying to find the sweet spot.

If I exhale while in sweet spot, I sink. I can float in sweet spot, with the water at the edge of my goggles and my mouth out of the water, only if I keep my lungs full, and I kick. If I exhale, I go under water. If I stop kicking, my feet eventually sink.

If I keep my lungs full, I can do a deadman float. If I exhale, I sink to the bottom of the pool, and can sit cross-legged down there.

I read the advice for "sinkers" on page 113. I think I can balance in the skate position. However, when I roll for air, and if I have exhaled at all, my mouth doesn't break the surface.

I do not have a swimming partner.

Any thoughts?

CoachStuartMcDougal 05-09-2014 07:46 PM

Hi Will,

Welcome to the forum! And Excellent post.

This is a common problem and I see it frequently. You are emptying your lungs too quickly too early causing you to sink. Many triathletes are told to immediatley empty lungs when face hits the water. You do want to exhale (slowly), but not empty too fast. Empty lungs when rolling to get breath and refill tank quickly.

Each swimmer needs to experirment with their body type on how much air in lungs is needed to maintain buoyancy. A good test is (in pool) is fill lungs (big deep breath) then hold knees to chest and bob face down at surface for a moment. Very slowly exhale until you start to sink. For me, just under 50% capacity, the ship's going down.

Here's a SwimVice video on this very subject that may be helpful too: SwimVice: Breathing and Buoyancy


Penguin 05-09-2014 09:22 PM

As Stuart said, it could be just be a matter of degree, and you may be getting ahead of yourself on the exhale. Most of us can stand or sit on the bottom if we exhale enough.

On the other hand, there are sinkers. In the sixties, I taught swimming at a scout camp on Long Island. Of the what must have been thousands of swimmers I came across, there was one true sinker. He could fill his lungs, go down to the bottom, and do push-ups on the sand. Despite that, he did not struggle in the water. He was a good swimmer, was actually one of our fellow waterfront counselors.

Back to your question. When I first tried them a couple of years ago, I had and still have to some extent, trouble breathing on those skate and/or spear drills. I'm sure I am not the only one. If you look at some of the TI videos, Easy Freestyle or O2 in H2O, (not sure which, maybe both) you may notice that in some of the demonstrations, Terry is almost on his back, his face to the sky. (Dolphins and whales get to breathe with their noses pointing straight up.)

In these demos, he is almost stationary in the water, making very little headway. In other demos, with the dynamics of forward motion and angular momentum to help (it is beyond me right now to explain just how) you see him not rolling nearly so far to breathe.

A good early sequence for you might be to roll up far ehough that you can take a couple of comfortable breaths, roll back down and do your switching and gliding. When you want air again, roll up on the other side or switch again and roll back up on the first side, and take a couple of breaths. You will likely find it works better on one side than the other.

Don't spend too much time on this all at once, but do come back to it again and again. It will get easier. You will find yourself not having to roll up as far and spending more time looking down at that black stripe.

Forward motion does help. Swim fins are often mentioned at this stage. If you are not getting enough drive out of your kick, they may be just the little extra you need to get this working.

Will_in_NY 05-12-2014 05:12 AM

Thank you for the advice, folks. I appreciate it. I read the messages (and other ones on the board), I watched the recommended video, and I took the advice to the pool.

At the pool today, I did that buoyancy test. As I knew, I'm not an automatic sinker. (I suspect I was when I was a child, but not now.) As with you, CoachStuartMcDougal, at about 50% or so of air expelled, I started to sink.

I practiced, among other things, gliding then rolling for air. The problem was that when I tried to breathe, I got inconsistent results. Sometimes I could take a few breaths. Other times, I'd exhale for the breath then my mouth would sink beneath the water, and not reemerge until I broke form to grab a breath any way I could.

I am going to have to develop a balance. If I try to breathe naturally, I tend to sink. If I try to keep from sinking, I tend to hold my breath and take shallow breaths.

I also read Nicodemus's thread about one length to one mile, before posting my first message. The problem is that, again, it seems to be those short, shallow breaths that keep my mouth out of the water. When I try to breathe naturally, I sink.

I know it can be done, for other people do it. It's just a matter of learning how to do so myself.

CoachStuartMcDougal 05-12-2014 04:11 PM

Hi Will,

The good news is you're not a "sinker". Reading your descriptions, most of the problem is position, balance, and timing. A good test to see if you are in correct position is do Superman to (good) Skate - then roll chin to shoulder and see if you get air. If you find only water and no air, position and balance are off.

Any one or combination of the following will prevent you from getting air in Skate: 1. lifting head, 2. tension in neck pushing head down, 3. over-rotation, shoulders are stacked, 4. recovery elbow is lifting above the surface (causes arched back and hips sink). We often refer to this as the "chicken wing". Make sure recovery arm (non skating arm) is molded to the front of body and not wrapped around outside of hip.

If you can, have someone take an above surface video (cam phone is fine) of at least 8-12 strokes and getting at least one breath in whole-stroke, breathing toward the the person filming. And another video of the Skate rolling chin to shoulder breath - and post here.


Will_in_NY 05-13-2014 06:11 AM

Okay, I just tried Superman to skate to roll chin to shoulder, a bunch of times, earlier this evening.

If I held my breath until I rolled chin to shoulder, I got air.

If I exhaled at all first, such as to clear my mouth and nose of water before inhaling, I didn't consistently get air. Sometimes I got water. Sometimes my face never broke the surface.

If I tried to get a few breaths, my face would often sink below the surface when I exhaled.

1/ I caught myself lifting my head once. Otherwise, I don't think I was doing so.

2/ I don't think I was tensing my neck. I tried to relax it.

3/ I'm not sure that I understand what you mean by "over-rotation." Sometimes I turned my head. Other times I went to sweet spot, or even to flat on my back.

4/ I wasn't even attempting to raise my recovery arm in any of these breathing exercises. I kept my recovery arm by my side with my palm on my thigh.

I want to avoid what some call "stacked breathing:" breathing in without expelling stale air, to the point that one has lungs full of stale air yet breathless. But if I exhale very much, I sink and can't breathe.

Re video: I don't think the pool permits the filming of videos. I'll see if I can confirm this.

I'm not yet to the point of taking 8-12 strokes. I'm still working on the basics: finding sweet spot, superman, skate, skate switch, etc.

In the bigger picture, I can tell that I'm making progress in terms of developing skills, but actually having fun is still elusive. It's tiresome getting water up my nose into my sinuses, and down my throat to make me cough and gag, and struggling with all of these skills. Sigh.

CoachStuartMcDougal 05-13-2014 07:09 AM

Hi Will,

Interesting you find air holding breath, but not when lightly exhale. I suspect the slight exhale is triggering the head to push down slightly. The difference between getting air or sucking in water is about an inch, doesn't take much of an error in head position.

Re: Over-rotation. Meaning one shoulder is stacked on top of the other, body is rotated 90 degs and is unstable and sinks. Body rotation should be between 40-60 degs, one shoulder just clears surface.

I didn't realize you are not swimming, but only doing drills. It's time to take a few strokes, don't be stuck in endless drill mode. If you are doing swing skate/switch, sweet spot - you are able to take 8-10 strokes and swim single lengths. Take four to six strokes without rolling to breath, repeat. When you've acquired some stroke symmetry, then integrate breathing. Snorkel would be fine to allow getting air until you have establish stroke symmetry and rhythm.


Will_in_NY 05-14-2014 07:25 AM

Thank you for the additional input.

I worked some more on all of this earlier this evening. My results were similar to yesterday's.

I found that I could exhale to a certain degree then reach air, but it was inconsistent. If I held my breath, it was easier to reach air. I experimented with how much air to expel. The more I expelled, the less likely it was that I would reach air.

Not finding air is an uncomfortable feeling, needless to say. I hope I can establish good breathing, balance, and swimming skills, so I can continue to progress.

Re overrotation: I don't think my shoulders were stacked. If anything, I was rolling to my back some of the time. But I'll continue to keep tabs on this.

I did catch myself sometimes pushing my head up to try to reach air.

Here is another bad habit I caught myself doing, unrelated to breathing. When working on zipperswitch, I caught myself forcefully plunging my recovery arm ahead of me, with more tension and effort than is probably needed. I first noticed this when I felt that my shoulder was sore from the effort. I'll work on this in upcoming days.

Another question occurred to me while working on all of this. How does one transition from floating in the water to a good balanced swimming position, without pushing off from the wall, floor, etc.? I found that I couldn't get into good form if I couldn't push off from something.

CoachBobM 05-14-2014 07:57 AM


Originally Posted by Will_in_NY (Post 46369)
Another question occurred to me while working on all of this. How does one transition from floating in the water to a good balanced swimming position, without pushing off from the wall, floor, etc.? I found that I couldn't get into good form if I couldn't push off from something.

What position are you floating in? If I were floating in my hand-lead sweet spot, I'd roll from there to my skate position. After that, it's pretty straightforward, since TI freestyle is basically just switching from your skate position on one side to your skate position on the other side, and back again, over and over.


Will_in_NY 05-15-2014 03:01 AM

Sorry, I wasn't clear.

I'm thinking in terms of floating having broken form -- say, if I'm holding my knees to my chest and bobbing, or attempting to tread water, or in some similar position in which I'm nowhere near being in TI form.

How do I transition from such a position, in open water, to streamlined TI form?

I didn't get to the pool today. Tomorrow, I hope. I want to continue working on drills, work on form, and finding air.

Yesterday I did get a nice compliment from the lifeguard. She observed that I've been improving. And she noted approvingly that I'm working on my skills systematically, rather than just getting into the water and thrashing, as many others do. That was nice of her.

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