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Old 05-02-2011
WacoSwimmer WacoSwimmer is offline
Junior Member
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 5
Default Complete exhalation vs 'unstrained breathing'

(a re-post from several months ago ... with updates)

Hi all,

I can identify 100% with almost everything in these breathing skills posts.

I too feel like I have a pretty solid grasp on the TI principles, and I'm fairly comfortable drilling and continuous full stroke lapping up to 150m or so. After that, though, it usually goes to pot in a hurry. By 300m I'm seriously thrashing about, and by 400m I'm usually unable to continue without a multi-minute breather.

I've spent countless hours scouring the web looking for a 'mile swim breathing solution', and I've tried them all. In the end, I settled on bilateral breathing coupled with complete exhalation. Still... nothing. No improvement in distance.

Just over the last week or so, I've been playing around with ideas of stroke rates and 'tidal volume'. I picked the latter up from a post somewhere on this site. I totally apologize to its author for not linking to it: for some reason I can't relocate it.

In any event, when drilling I tend to have an OK stroke count (16-17 per 25y) and a relatively slow sr (~1.4-1.5 sec). Couple that with deep exhalation (generally mostly out my mouth) and bilateral breathing, and I'm frankly shocked I'm able to swim as far as I do! That's one breath every 4.5 seconds or so: much less than I take sitting at my computer. My interpretation of complete exhalation (exhaling EVERYTHING: with literally not a molecule of air left) also seems, in hindsight, to be holding me back. When I exercise normally (run, etc.) I don't exhale completely; why should I start now?

My thought process was to follow the TI spirit of 'no struggle' for as long as possible, irrespective of how I got there (i.e. how mangled my stroke became). I figured that once I 'mastered' breathing, going back and replicating my drilling stroke success would be fairly easy. I decided to forgo bilateral breathing for the time being, breathing instead every other stroke to the L for one length, R for the next, etc. This facilitates a breath every 3 secs or so, which has made all the difference! I've also stopped thinking about 'complete exhalation' and shifted to 'continuous exhalation'. The goal of the latter simply being to exhale at an unhurried rate out my nose until the next breath. Most importantly, I never exhale completely. While I'm breathing as I type this, and I've completed my normal exhalation, there is still a fair fraction of air in my lungs. This is where the idea of tidal volume comes in. By neither overfilling nor underfilling my lungs, my breathing seems like it is in realtive equilibrium. For me, leaving this equilibrium in either direction leaves me light-headed and 'breathless'.

In my first attempt using this approach, I knocked out 4x400y at 8:00 each, AND FELT GREAT. Absolutely no breathlessness. Now it was definitely on the slow side, but seeing as how I had never put together a single solid 400y --- it was a definite improvement! One of the keys was to definitely NOT miss a breath: I made absolutely sure I breathed EVERY 2 strokes. Form-wise, things tended to break down a bit in the last 100y or so, though I feel that this was more a 'concentration' issue as all I could think about was how awesome it felt to not be breathless.

Over the next two practices, I felt even better; had better concentration as the novelty of 'enough air' set in; and was able to increase my distances to 600y on the first set of each night. The hope is to finally get up to a mile sometime in the next month or two.

So what about bilateral breathing? My long-term plan is that as I trim my stroke rate to closer 1.0 or so, I'll eventually reincorporate bilateral breathing. It seems like there has to be a swimmer-specific sr above which bilateral breathing is no longer tenable. I suppose for me, that number is still somewhere way south of 1.5 sec/stroke...

What about complete exhalation? Well, for now, I feel much more comfortable with 'unstrained breathing'. While I've read tons of of posts and sites, CO2 build-up does not seem to as much of an issue for me as is simply having enough O2 to breathe. I suspect that others out there might be in the same boat.

In any event, if you're breathing every 3-5 strokes, and swimming at 'drilling pace' (which for most of us I suspect is relatively slow), then I suggest the possibility that you're running out of oxygen. Test the hypothesis by breathing every 2 strokes in a very relaxed fashion (e.g. going for a calm stroll). Don't worry about form or speed at all for these laps; keep 'relaxed breathing every other stroke' as your one and only stroke thought.

Best to all,


UPDATE: three weeks after my original post I was able to swim a comfortable mile in ~32 minutes (SR ~1.4-1.5 sec, 16-17 strokes per 25y) . It really all came down to hitting upon my personal optimal breathing rate and volume. Try playing with breathing at work, in the shower, etc. Prior to my personal breaththrough, I would practice breathing while taking a shower. Invariably, I would feel lightheaded in less than thirty seconds from overexhalation. Why would I expect that apprach to allow me to swim a mile? So, I put aside a couple of 5 minute blocks sitting at my desk at work and actively tried breathing at 'swimming pace' for the full 5 minutes (I had a metrome website beep every 1.5 seconds). Once I could knock out these 5 minute office-sets, transfering my newfound breathing skills to the pool was nearly instanaeous.
After that, with my breathing RATE and VOLUME at roughly the same level as if were going for a normal walk, I could literally swim for an hour+ without running out of air.

(BONUS) Form-wise, the 'extra air' has allowed me to maintain a much sharper and longer-duration focus on stroke mechanics and streamlining!


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Old 06-02-2011
bac105 bac105 is offline
Junior Member
Join Date: Jun 2011
Posts: 1

Hello Swimmers,

I'm new to TI & swimming in general (aging runner). I have been working on the drills from the 10 lessons DVD. I've read alot of posts from beginners regarding breathing problems as they get into Lesson #3. I am in that camp as well & have questions regarding the exhale.

When I'm able to relax with my face in the water (which I have some success with) I naturally exhale very quickly. This causes 2 bad things to happen. First I begin to sink. Secondly, & more importantly, my lungs empty completely b4 I get to air & I panic. I've found if I hold my breath for just a moment when I return to LLR or Skate I have better control of my exhale rate.

So my questions are these.
1. Is it ok to hold my breath briefly to gain control of my exhale rate or is there something else I should try?
2. Is it better to exhale completely & work on timing that to coming to air or is it ok to hold some air in my lungs?

Oh, and a quick observation from a guy new to the "pool scene". The swimmers I've met in the past few months as I've starting going to the local pool are some of the kindest people I've ever met. Thank you!!
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Old 06-08-2011
p_jayadeep p_jayadeep is offline
Junior Member
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 2

Joe - I have made the same conclusion as you did, getting it at the same level as I walk. Till now, it was at my running speed which I can sustain only for 2 minutes(even while running because I do run-walk all the time). But a mile is far off, I am reaching 40m breathing every other stroke, 100m is my next target. At the same time polishing other aspects which in turn will help me breath well.

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Old 07-05-2011
gladtobedifferent gladtobedifferent is offline
Join Date: Jun 2011
Posts: 41
Default question

Get what you are saying and really want to achieve the same, but my coach has changed my breathing from exhaling continuously and inhaling when I turn my body/head to not exhaling until just before I turn my head , finish the exhaling as my head comes out the water and inhale in a relaxed manner.

I prefer the method you used, but he insisted that for TI I needed to do the above...... I am confused.

My issue with breathing is that when I do 2 stroke breathing my form goes to pot , I keep my form much better if I dont turn for breathing as often. I drop my lead arm and dont do as an effective catch pull - my hand just drops.

So should I stick with what my coach says and hold my breath or change to exhaling constantly ? Also should I reduce the stokes I do ie to 2 before breathing ?
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