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!