There are four steps to sustainable swimming –
- Arm strokes.
Every learner and every parent thinks only about number 4) – developing those big powerful arm strokes.
Plenty of adult learners neglect the most important first step – breathing – and breathing for swimming is unlike breathing for any other physical activity. When you enter the water, you need to start breathing like a swimmer and drop your “land-based breathing” habits.
Land based breathing is often shallow and slow. Land-based breathing is often inhaling through the nose. When you’re exercising on land, your breathing is often fast and in and out through the mouth and nose. To breathe like a swimmer is to get the maximum benefit from each lungful of air. Swimmers focus on the exhale part of breathing because inhaling comes naturally – it is a hardwired reflex.
Here are ten tips to get you breathing like a swimmer. If some of them sound repetitive, umm, yes:
- Inhale deeply and quickly through your mouth. The inhale has to be fast and deep – the air must get to the bottom of your lungs straight away. And it has to be through your mouth. You might not realise that land-based breathing does not involve quick, deep inhaling. Usually it’s more relaxed, takes a long time and breathing is often quite shallow. Mostly we breathe in and out through your nose. In swimming It’s in through the mouth and out through the nose.
- Exhale slowly and steadily from your nose – you can even close your mouth and hum to ensure the air is leaving through your nose.
- Swimmers generally don’t hold their breath. When your face is in the water, you should be exhaling, slowly from your nose. Your mouth can be closed (so a little hum is good). Little bubbles are leaving your nose so no water can get in and you are safe.
- Practice breathing like a swimmer – quick and deep inhale through the mouth, and long slow exhale from the nose by putting your head under the water and watching your bubbles. You should be able to produce a steady stream of little bubbles from each nostril that can last up to about 10 seconds.
- When you turn to breathe in, your aim is to only lift your head enough so that one eye is out of the water, and one remains under the water. So, you aren’t lifting your head very much at all, you are turning your torso using your abs.
- Practice taking one breath every three or four strokes. You can take one breath every two strokes when you’re racing or swimming fast but as much as possible train yourself to lengthen your exhale.
- Learn bi-lateral breathing. Everyone has a favourite side for breathing but you really do need to be able turn to the other side if necessary to take an inhale. And always breathing on one side means you will develop an unbalanced stroke and become stronger on one side than the other. You won’t swim straight in the open water.
- Your leading arm needs to hold you up as you inhale. Don’t start your stroke until your head is back down, exhaling. So, if I turn to my left to inhale, my right arm is stretching forward holding me up. My left arm is pulling back hard but my right arm stays in that forward position until my lungs are full of air again.
- Breathing is done quickly in the back half of the stroke. If I am breathing on my left side, my right arm is stretched forward and I turn to inhale when my left arm is passing under my face. The inhale must be all over by the time my left arm is returning back, through the air to the front of the stroke.
- Breathing is all important to swimming. When you’re exhaling you are relaxing. When you hold your breath you are tense and that is bad for swimming. Children develop their swimming breathing skills by playing in the water, by going under the water, by blowing bubbles in the water so spend time doing all these things.
Most importantly – remember this: Swimmers don’t hold their breath, swimmers exhale and stay relaxed. Play around in the water and blow bubbles to get on top of this skill.