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Old 03-25-2013
che9194 che9194 is offline
Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Wakefield, MA
Posts: 49
Default Breathing after breaststroke turn

I have started competing in Masters meets and am having issues breathing after my breaststroke turns. How do I hold my breath long enough to perform a proper turn?

Here is what I know I am supposed to do after the push off:
As I begin to slow down, my hands come apart from the streamlined position and do what is essentially an underwater butterfly stroke. I try to be explosive and concentrate on accelerating until my hands are at my thighs. I try to keep my head still and look directly toward the bottom of the pool to minimize turbulence. **After a brief pause, I "creep" my hands up my body, paying special attention to cause as little resistance as possible. I begin the recovery of the kick while my arms slip past my torso. As my hands pass my head and extend in front of me, I kick my legs, tilt my head forward, and powerfully pop up to the surface to begin my first stroke.

And here is what I actually do (fast forwarding into the previous scenario a little bit**):
My hands are by my thighs, and my lungs are absolutely scorching from oxygen debt. Every instinct is telling me to get to the surface and take a breath. So while keeping my hands by my hips, I do a whip kick to propel my face to the surface to take a big breath. I then lunge my hands forward with a simultaneous whip kick, and then begin the regular breaststroke.

I raced in the 200 IM, 400 IM, and 200 breast and this particularly noticeable during the IM events when the butterfly leg puts me into oxygen debt.

Also, my splits are fairly consistent, so it’s not like I am going out too fast.

Any advice?
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Old 03-25-2013
Richardsk Richardsk is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Nov 2008
Posts: 1,380

Hi che

It might be worth doing some drills where you do two successive underwater pulls and then surface. Obviously not at race pace initially. Otherwise the only suggestion I can think of is to concentrate on relaxation and continuous exhaling while under water. It may be partly a problem of tension and hence anxiety.
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Old 03-25-2013
CoachBobM CoachBobM is offline
Join Date: Jul 2008
Posts: 647

I don't think your problem is with turn technique, but with what you're doing going into your turn.

When I first started doing 50 breaststroke in competition, my plan was to swim as hard as I could during the first 25, and then to try to maintain that speed during the second 25. What would happen, instead, is that I'd break out of my streamline early after the turn because my body desperately wanted air, leaving me with more distance to swim, and then my stroke would become sloppier and sloppier during the second 25 as my muscles started to tire and my body instinctively altered my technique to try to shift the effort to other muscles. By the time I finished the 50, I'd feel like I never wanted to swim breaststroke again. Swimming 100 breaststroke seemed like an impossible dream!

But then I began experimenting with not going all out during the first 25, and concentrating, instead, on technique and efficiency. I found that I could streamline for half the length of the (short course) pool after my turn, and I could pour on speed near the end and finish the 50 feeling like I had plenty left in my tank. I then began experimenting with how hard I could push things during the first 25 without shortening my streamline and causing my stroke technique to collapse during the second 25, and I eventually found a balance.

I progressed to 100 breaststroke, and last year actually began training 200 brfeaststroke (though I haven't yet had an opportunity to do a 200 in competition).

A similar problem exists when you are doing breaststroke as part of an I.M. I actually make a point, as I am approaching the end of the backstroke leg of an I.M., of consciously reducing my effort level and focusing, instead, on perfect, efficient technique, because I've found that any time I lose during the backstroke leg by doing this is more than made up for by my ability to maintain a longer streamline during the breaststroke leg. But, once again, this is something you need to experiment with and tune as part of your preparation for the competition.

Hope this helps!


Last edited by CoachBobM : 03-25-2013 at 10:27 PM.
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Old 03-27-2013
che9194 che9194 is offline
Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Wakefield, MA
Posts: 49

Great advice by both of you - thank you! It seems counter intuitive that backing off on intensity can make you swim faster (by being more efficient), but I think you are right. I was pleased with my 200 BR time of 2:50, but I think there is a lot of room for improvement. My technique coming out of the turns was a mess. Same with the BR leg of the 200 IM and 400 IM where I barely broke :50 seconds per 50.
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Old 04-15-2013
gdmv77 gdmv77 is offline
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Join Date: Mar 2013
Posts: 22
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You guys are hitting the mark. Fly and die are the terms usually used for racing where a person goes as fast as they can for as long as they can, and they holds on for the end. These people usually collapse horribly at the end because they are using up their anaerobic systems at the beginning, forcing a switch to the aerobic system, and this switch is brutal in people who aren't trained for it.

It has been proven that fly and die is one of the WORST methods of racing in rowing (and we are talking world-class athletes who actually go slower during their first and second splits and then go slightly faster or equal in their third and fourth during a 2,000m row versus going very fast during the first and second, then much slower during the third and fourth), and I've found it through personal running experience it applies there as well. It isn't much of a leap for me to have found that is applies to swimming too. Pacing is a much, much better method, and requires simplying training at race pace - e.g. pacing intervals.

This from Mike Caviston, a world-record holding rower:

"Fly-and-die is just not a smart way to approach a race. It is usually employed by athletes who are inexperienced, who don’t have a realistic sense of their current abilities, or who allow themselves to be overwhelmed by the excitement of competition. The physiological consequence is to accelerate the accumulation of fatiguing metabolic byproducts of intense muscular contraction (LACT, NH3, K+, etc.), resulting in severe discomfort and the inability to hold the desired pace

The idea that there are “free” strokes anywhere in a 2K is a common misconception among the rowing community. Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of physics and thermodynamics should recognize this is impossible. Starting a race with several intense, sub-race-pace strokes will probably utilize the muscles’ ready supply of phosphagens (ATP & phosphocreatine). Some people figure, what does it matter when I use my phosphagen stores? It’s anaerobic anyway, so I may as well use them at the start of the race to get a good position in the first 500m, rather than use them to sprint at the end. This thinking is incorrect. After a few seconds (when phosphagen stores are depleted) the muscles support intense contractions by rapidly breaking down glycogen into pyruvate. This rapid or “anaerobic” glycolysis results in the release of hydrogen ions (H+) that must be buffered, resulting in the formation of lactate, and the resulting decrease in muscle pH is a contributing factor to fatigue. So far I’m sure everyone is nodding their head saying, “Uh-huh, I know that, so what?” The “so what” is that the rapidity of glycolysis is accelerated by the feed-forward signals resulting from the overly-intense, sub-race-pace strokes that start the race. In other words, if you plan to race at a 1:40 pace and take off at a 1:27 pace, your muscles don’t know that you intend to slow up in a few strokes. They immediately jump into action and rapidly break down glycogen to liberate as much immediate energy as possible, and the signal doesn’t immediately stop when you settle into your planned race pace. The result is a much greater initial rise in lactate. Furthermore, phosphagen compounds help buffer decreasing muscle pH, so it is ill-advised to deplete them early. I don’t know about you, but racing for me is tough enough already without dragging the albatross of increased lactate accumulation into the second 500m, so I prefer to start more conservatively.

Now, some coaches will encourage a young/inexperienced athlete to start hard with the hope that they will discover some hidden gear and perform at a level they didn’t think was possible. Unfortunately, a likely result is the athlete will have such an unpleasant experience that they develop a mental block against racing hard, and it may be a long, long time before they reach their true potential.

The even-split approach to racing makes the most sense from a purely mechanical standpoint. Consider the hypothetical example of covering 2000m with an average pace of 1:36 either by holding a steady 1:36 pace for the entire distance, or covering half with a 1:35 pace and half with a 1:37 pace. Either method would result in a 6:24 2K, but because of the cubic relationship between velocity and power, and the proportionately greater energy cost of the 1:35 pace, more total energy is expended with the uneven pace. If an athlete is truly performing at maximum capacity, the less efficient pacing results in a slower time. If you actually calculate the energy difference with this hypothetical example, you might be tempted to say the difference is pretty trivial, but I say even a fraction of a second is significant. And the greater the variation in pace during the race, the greater the amount of energy lost. So logically it must be concluded that the most effective race strategy would be to hold an even pace from start to finish.

But I don’t race that way. I prefer to start at a pace slower than my overall goal pace. But it’s also important to recognize that any strokes slower than your true potential represent lost time that can never be made up, no matter how fast you row later in the race. So you can’t take it too easy either, and that presents a real quandary. On the one hand, you risk going too hard and burning out too soon, and on the other you risk getting too far behind your optimal pace. It’s a fine line to tread, but with enough training and racing experience as well as a little common sense, I think anyone can create an effective race strategy.
I think the optimal pacing strategy for a 2K race is pretty close to:
800m (40%) @ GP +1; 600m (30%) @ GP; 400m (20%) @ GP – 1; and 200m (10%) @ GP – 2. [GP = Goal Pace, so to row 2K in 6:24, row the first 800m @ 1:37, the next 600m @ 1:36, the next 400m @ 1:35, and the final 200m @ 1:34.]"
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Old 12-24-2014
angelinamike angelinamike is offline
Join Date: Dec 2014
Posts: 5

I actually make a point, as I am approaching the end of the backstroke leg of an I.M., of consciously reducing my effort level and focusing, instead, on perfect efficient technique.
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