Take a Breath…


Here is a photo of Terry Laughlin, founder of Total Immersion Swimming:

Breath 1

He once told me that ‘Freestyle breathing’ is the most challenging skill to master out of all 4 strokes.

There are several reasons for the difficulty. Lets face it, human beings are about as well designed for exercising lying flat with our face underwater as we are for driving a double decker bus wearing ski boots! We have two choices when it come to swimming and the ‘Instinctive‘ way is certainly not the same as the ‘Optimal‘ way. Talk about counter-intuitive!!!

Instinctively we lift our heads up out of the water when we breathe. Part of us wants to get our head the right way up, lift our mouth up to the air and take a look where we are going at the same time. If you observe closely you may notice a) that your hips and legs sink as your head lifts b) this means you push down on your front hand to avoid ‘sinking’ c) your kick switches to ‘survival’ mode d) you lose your relaxed patient rhythm and d) that your forehead will actually be the highest point with your mouth only just clear of the water. YUK!

Optimal breathing looks deceptively easy and it is once you have learnt how to do it. An unbroken rhythm, chin leading the turn of the face, the back of your head closing the gap to your patient front arm so that your body stays perfectly balanced with a perfectly timed inhale positioned perfectly in the ‘dip’ created by your bow wave with your one goggle still out in the water. Done well it looks as thought you couldn’t possibly have gotten a breath and that’s why we refer to it as a ‘sneaky breath’.

The overwhelming majority of swimmers have a high potential for improvement. You can start by s-l-o-w-i-n-g your stroke rate a little so you have time to notice what happens for you. Notice what happens when you take a breath… do you feel like you begin to sink? You may be surprised by the number of highly skilled swimmer who are yet to master this skill (have a look the next time you go for a swim if you don’t believe me).

The good news is that we can help you to master this skill. Relaxed breathing allows you to enjoy open water swimming in glassy lakes and rough seas alike. Contact us via our Website to find out how!

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2 Responses to “Take a Breath…”

  1. Marcus Says:

    You should try ridin’ a croc with thongs!

  2. Dunstan Bertschinger Says:

    A great question from one of our workshop alumni with a response that may be useful to many others. The question summarised at:

    “What is ideal timing for the breath?”

    My response below:

    The challenge is of course that mis-timing can be quite unforgiving as you get a mouth / nosefull of water…!

    is it when the arm is at the trigger position in overswitch, or whether it should be as the trailing elbow is coming out of the water?

    You are actually right on both counts AND the time in between…
    So you start to turn your head as your ‘recovery elbow’ exits the water and you turn your head back to face the bottom as you spear from the trigger position.
    It actually takes time to take a breath… you need to exhale, turn your head and then inhale.
    Of course once you get the co-ordination you can let it flow and make it ‘sneakier’ but until then take as long as you can on the recovery without losing your flow.
    You will know if you have lost your flow if you start sinking!

    The sequence is:

    1) As your patient lead arm glides your other elbow flows around smoothly and you start to turn your head on its axis and exhale evenly.
    2) Keep your front hand patient and your head heavy as you flow through the recovery phase. RESIST THE URGE TO RUSH!
    3) Complete your exhale as your mouth finds ‘the dip in your bow wave’
    4) Reach towards the air with the corner of your mouth and allow the air back in. Don’t gasp or struggle’
    5) Rotate your head back on its axis as you flow through the trigger position and spear to your new target.

    Another focus that may help is that your eyes ‘follow your recovery elbow’… this may help you to get the smooth rotation.

    Don’t worry if your overswitches ‘with breath’ aren’t as good as the ones ‘without’ at first.
    The key thing is to notice the difference in quality and then to pick out the key focal points to close the gap.
    It sounds like you have begun this process…

    Your comments re your front arm are spot on.
    You have learnt how do keep it patient but then when you introduce breathing it reverts.
    I see it a lot. The unconscious ‘lizard brain’ flicks you across into survival mode, you revert to the old way and you lose the new skill.
    The most frustrating part is often that you know you are doing it but often can’t stop…
    The key here is to start by just noticing what is going on.
    Don’t try to change it or ‘get it right’ but observe. Feel it. Listen. Use your senses.
    This may seem counter-intuitive I know.
    Ironically enough once you can really feel what you are doing the lizard brain gets calmer and the issue resolves.

    I’d love to know if this video on the Lizard Brain is useful.



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