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blueshadow
September 30th, 2008, 02:18 AM
I took lessons when I was a kid and never mastered the breathing technique for freestyle swimming so I gave up on swimming. Now it is 30 yrs later and I am determined to learn how to swim and have been taking a group class at the local natatorium.

I have been making a lot of progress and learning things that I don't remember from my childhood lessons (keep your chin to your chest, making the S-pattern during the pull stroke, etc). I have also been focused on rolling of the body more - and especially rolling to breathe so that my head is on my left arm/shoulder (breathing to the right).

However, I'm still struggling with the breathing in that I am sucking in water and end up choking. I've had multiple people watch me and they say that my form looks good and even the part when I roll to breathe - but they are unsure at what point I am getting water in my mouth.

It's been hard for me to figure it out - here's some of my thoughts - it's a bit hard to self-diagnose and so far the people watching are not catching it -


Is the timing of the opening and closing of my mouth just a bit off that I am sucking water when I turn to breathe and return to face down?
I'm not the best at exhaling underwater so I wonder if I'm trying to exhale and inhale during the short time that I am turned?
Do I need to turn my head more (look at ceiling)?
Am I slowly sucking in water when my face is down since I'm not exhaling correctly?

Any thoughts on how I can figure this out or other things to look for?

Thanks
Mike

mjgold
September 30th, 2008, 04:15 AM
When your go to breathe, you should have your mouth out of the water, but one goggle in and one out. This means you sort of have to reach your mouth out to the air. What I would suggest (I'm not a coach or anything, but I had the same problem and this is what I did) is to over rotate so that your whole face is out of the water, tucking your chin back towards your shoulder. I've also found that it doesn't help any if your mouth is wide open; in fact, it just leads you to mouth breathe rather than take any air into your lungs where you need it. So, keeping your mouth open only on the side that's out of the water will help eliminate the choking and will force you to take a nice sharp breath into your lungs.

Also, I'm not sure who told you to tuck your chin while you swim either. Everything I've read and all my coaches have said that you should have your head in a natural position just like when you are standing up. Unless you naturally tuck your chin to your chest when you stand up straight, then you shouldn't be doing that.

As far as not exhaling underwater, that's something you have to pay attention to while you swim until you get it down. My mouth doesn't close when I swim, because I have found that if I try to exhale out of my nose, I either can't completely exhale before I go to take a breath, or I choke a bit when I do take a breath. If you try to inhale immediately after exhaling, it can close your throat and make you choke--especially if you have water in your mouth.

I'm sure someone will correct the finer points of my "advice", but that's just what I've gained from personal experience and either reading or been told by my coach.

Rykno
September 30th, 2008, 08:38 AM
it could be that you are rushing it. try exhailing before you start to turn your head, and when you inhail, do not take such a deep breathe. maybe then you will have time to close your mouth before it goes back underwater.

I do not have my mouth fully out of the water when I swim, and I almost always have water in my mouth. I didn't know that until i started swimming in sea water. it's hard not to notice saltwater in ones mouth.

you can try kicking with a board, holding the very end with your hands, and face down in the water, drop one arm and turn your head to breathe, and then kick a few seconds and try again. if you don't have a board, hold the wall, it works well too.

in my experience with older swimmers learning to swim free, it usually has to do with their comfort level in the water. the less comfortable they are having their head underwater, the harder to learn to swim.

FlyQueen
September 30th, 2008, 08:42 AM
May I ask where you are taking lessons? Is the instructor a swim coach?

The S pull pattern is fairly old school. I'm sure there are successful and fast people out there that use that style but it's not current technique. I also would be concerned about the idea of the chin to the chest. Think about having a neutral head (ie - a pilates type head position). Then adjust it slightly as needed.

As for the breathing, it's one of the first things I work on with beginning swimmers. Exhaling under water is very important, as is relaxing. The more comfortable you get in the water the easier the breathing aspect becomes. Make sure when you go to breathe that you roll your hips as well as your shoulders so that you are rolling into your breath.

Remember, like anything else it takes a lot of practice to master. Keep working on it. Some drills you might want to try include single arm swimming. Do 25s only using one arm. Keep the opposite arm at your side. Try breathing to the side you are stroking on for a 25 then the opposite side for a 25. This drill takes a LONG time to master but will help you get the feel of rotating enough to breathe. I warn you though, you will feel like you are drowning at first.

Keep working hard and keep us updated!

blueshadow
September 30th, 2008, 09:48 AM
Thanks for the tips and feedback...I was intrigued by the comments also around the pull pattern and chin tuck.


The S pull pattern is fairly old school. I'm sure there are successful and fast people out there that use that style but it's not current technique. I also would be concerned about the idea of the chin to the chest. Think about having a neutral head (ie - a pilates type head position). Then adjust it slightly as needed.I'm taking lessons through an organization called Swim America - the instructors are mostly college age kids - some competitive swimmers and some not. I may be doing a bad job of explaining things also!

In terms of the chin tuck, a number of the instructors commented about my head alignment - that I was not looking down at the bottom of the pool but more forward (still underwater). They said it was key to get the head and body aligned better and that would keep my whole body aligned (I guess my feet were sinking a bit). So they had us swimming with a rubber duck (or they said to use a tennis ball) between our chest and chin - and to try to hold it there while moving forward as well as when I rolled to breathe. If you couldn't hold it when breathing, you were probably picking your head up vs. rolling. When I focus on doing this (minus the duck!), it seems to feel more natural.

In terms of the pull pattern, they said it was more of an "S" or Question mark shape when pulling. This was not the first time I had seen this recommendation. I recently bought Janet Evans "Total Swimming" and this is a quote from the book - "... As the pull begins, with the elbow still underwater, the hand begins to move in the shape of a backward S-away from the body and toward the wall of the pool about 12 to 15 inches (30-38 centimeters) before turning ..."

What is the preferred pattern for pulling? I used to just pull straight back and when I do the "S" shape, it seems to have more "propulsion" capability.

In terms of the breathing issue, you have all pointed out some good things to think about -

I think that the "comfort" level that was mentioned is key...I'm definitely not relaxed yet..Getting better but I think that I stress myself out worrying about the breathing (and everything else too). I also think that I gasp for a large amount of air - I had read on post on this site about "small" breathes vs large breathes. To try to get the breathing down, I am trying to breathe on each stroke (unilateral to the right).


As far as not exhaling underwater, that's something you have to pay attention to while you swim until you get it down. My mouth doesn't close when I swim, because I have found that if I try to exhale out of my nose, I either can't completely exhale before I go to take a breath, or I choke a bit when I do take a breath. If you try to inhale immediately after exhaling, it can close your throat and make you choke--especially if you have water in your mouth.
mjgold - your comments are interesting because I was thinking that might be part of the issue is that my mouth is always open and I'm accidentally sucking water in. You said that trying to inhale immediately after exhaling can close your throat - makes sense - so clarify what do you do? This is different than alot of things I have read where they tell you to exhale everything before turning to breathe.

mjgold
September 30th, 2008, 10:30 AM
mjgold - your comments are interesting because I was thinking that might be part of the issue is that my mouth is always open and I'm accidentally sucking water in. You said that trying to inhale immediately after exhaling can close your throat - makes sense - so clarify what do you do? This is different than alot of things I have read where they tell you to exhale everything before turning to breathe.

I don't usually get any water in my mouth using my technique. Sometimes I do, but if you're head is positioned properly when you breathe, you shouldn't inhale any water. It's like breathing while you have some soda in your mouth or something.

But, essentially, I was always taught that you should never hold your breath while swimming. You should always be either inhaling or exhaling. So, right after I've taking my breath and am rolling back into my next stroke, I begin to exhale as soon as my mouth hits the water. I take my next stroke, and then as I roll to my breathing side again--still exhaling--my face comes out of the water, which is where I finish exhaling. I was taught that you can finish your exhale just as you roll your head to breathe in order to get that film of water off your face. Then, when I'm at the midpoint of my roll, I inhale sharply. I don't try to take in an enormous amount of air, just enough to get me through the that stroke cycle; I found that when I opened my mouth wide to try and get a lot of air, I ended up just breathing a lot into my mouth and throat rather than into my lungs where it's needed.

You just need to experiment. Someone likened it to the way you breathe when you sing. Sharply inhale before a somewhat prolonged exhale.

hofffam
September 30th, 2008, 02:12 PM
Some may disagree with this but I suggest breathing on just one side for a while until this gets easier. Breathing every time on one side will also give you air more frequently than every 3rd stroke (what you get when you breathe both sides). It may help you relax.

I suspect the OP has not exhaled sufficiently before opening his mouth. So the breath actually begins with an exhale and there is little time for the precious inhale. So the inhale is still occuring when the head rotates back into the water.

One way to force an exhale is to make it a pattern. If breathing on the right - as soon as the right arm is extended forward after the head has rotated back in the water - exhale. You'll be ready to inhale the next time the head rotates for a breath.

geochuck
September 30th, 2008, 02:25 PM
Control the water that ends up in your mouth it does enter a little when you breathe in, don't swallow it.

RobbieD
October 1st, 2008, 01:15 AM
slightly off the wall possibility... I'm guessing you're a dude... do you have a beard or a mustache? When I started swimming again I was having some weird problems with water in my mouth and nose that I'd never had before. I tried to figure out what was different from when I used to swim in my teens... the only thing I could come up with was my beard. I'm not sure if I was right or not but I blamed it on my facial hair. I kept the goatee and lost the 'stasche and I have had some improvement especially with the whole water in my nose problem.

But like a lot of you have already mentioned, I always seem to have some water in my mouth. You just have to make sure it's not a lot and you don't drink any of it!

chazman07
October 1st, 2008, 06:44 AM
I had the same problem. Something no one else has said that helped me is try to reach further on your catch, almost stretch for it. This forced my body to roll and also got my mouth higher. When I can consistently "stretch" my catch out, breathing in water goes away.

mjgold
October 1st, 2008, 10:32 AM
I believe it's called "reach to breathe". You should be stretching out on your side anyway, but when you go to breathe, you almost want to be resting on your armpit.

blueshadow
October 5th, 2008, 01:00 AM
Well, I tried some of the tips this week during my lesson - the more I tried to exhale underwater, the better it was but I still keep getting water in my mouth. Also, if I exaggerated the roll where my face was pointing more at the ceiling rather than the side wall, it helped.

I had multiple people watch today to try to figure out when I'm getting the water in. Whatever I'm doing, it is subtle and hard for them to pinpoint. Two things that they thought were possible - a) my mouth is slightly open underwater and I'm sucking a small amount and b) when I roll to breathe there is that 'sheet' of water on your face and I'm sucking that in.

Two more questions:


Is it possible to swim (freestyle) without getting any water in your mouth? Maybe I have unreasonable expectations. I noticed a couple of the previous posters mentioned always having water in their mouth. Maybe I will eventually get used to it - but I did have a pretty low gag tolerance so that doesn't help.
Should I exhale underwater with my mouth and nose? I've been trying to focus on exhaling underwater since starting lessons. When I started, I used to hold my breath - not doing that but still not a 100% comfortable with the breathing out with my nose. The instructor said that I was exhaling alot out of my nose to the point that she could hear itbut maybe I'm still not getting enough out and should try exhaling out with both nose and mouth?

chazman07
October 5th, 2008, 02:02 AM
I was thinking your problem may not be with technique, but with your level of comfort in the water. I still suck water in, but when I do, I don't let it phase me and try to recover. Try to be as relaxed as possible and try the 1357 drill. That is do 1 lap breathing every stroke, one lap breathing every third stroke, and so on. It helps with your breathing and makes breathing every third stroke pretty simple.
Hope that helps.
Charlie

Mary1912
October 5th, 2008, 01:47 PM
I noticed that I ALWAYS have water in my mouth when I swim freestyle (and other strokes too). So I do think it's unreasonable to expect you will not have water in your mouth when you swim.

isobel
October 5th, 2008, 02:40 PM
I didn't realize I was swallowing water as I swam until I did the second annual Charles River Basin one-mile swim in Boston. (Note: the SECOND annual one-mile swim. I wanted to make sure the brave swimmers who did the FIRST annual one-mile swim did not die of various ailments.)

I have sailed and capsized in that water so I know what floats on it, but it is now swimmable 90% of the time or so, unless it rains hard, and then sewage overflows into the basin from Cambridge and it is not swimmable.

Alas, it started pouring rain once the race was underway, so probably for about 20 minutes (it took me 28 minutes to finish), I was drinking a nice solution.

My point is that when I began to feel vaguely ill later that night just from the memory of having drunk that water, and having taken a bath and seen brown blobby things floating in the tub, thus forcing me to go out to Store 24 and buy gingerale and crackers, I realized I do drink a fair amount of water as I swim. (I didn't get sick for real; it was just the memory of the drinking and the memory of the smell.) I don't guzzle it if I am thirsty, however.

Long post, but a drill given to me to help with breathing was to put on fins, have hands at side, and rotate from side to side, imagining your neck is in a cervical collar (and so in line with your spine and body), and breathe as you roll as a whole unit to the side without lifting your head excessively.

This is a hard drill, however. The keeping one goggle in the water is also a good image. Though I'd say whatever you need to do to keep from choking, do, so that you no longer fear it; then work on "the finer points."

Typhoons Coach
October 5th, 2008, 10:48 PM
I believe it's called "reach to breathe". You should be stretching out on your side anyway, but when you go to breathe, you almost want to be resting on your armpit.

MJ is definitely spot on with all of these comments! I have a lot of youngsters that start out with getting water in their mouth (sucking in water...lots of it), and the way we rectify is almost verbatum of mjgold! Excellent responses!

Also, Michael, congrats on going pro!!

blueshadow
October 19th, 2008, 10:11 PM
I've still been plugging away at this - so far the biggest help is:


rotate further around when I go to breathe - looking at the ceiling instead of the side wall
focusing on keeping my mouth shut (I think it was slightly open and I was sucking water in).


So a strange thing happened today - I was messing around with a pull buoy and my breathing was much better and I was getting less water in my mouth! And ironically, I was not rotating nearly as much....Does this make sense? I'm guessing the buoy is changing my body position in the water which is helping with the breathing??

I'm so confused :eek:

norascats
October 23rd, 2008, 08:22 AM
The more you practice, the better you get. You have been concentrating on this problem, and have gotten the solution.

swim25
October 23rd, 2008, 07:35 PM
Maybe you aren't going fast enough. I know when I slow down my pace I begin to take in more water, I'm used to it now and have learned to spit it out under water. The faster you go the more of a pocket of air you make as you go to breath and the less water you will take in. Your hips may also be sinking in the water causing your face to be in the water when you breathe. The pull buoy will help keep your hips up, which may explain why when you swam with the buoy the problem seemed to go away.

blueshadow
October 23rd, 2008, 08:19 PM
swim25...What you said makes sense. I've been wondering about the hips thing - my teacher said that my position looks good but I know as I get tired, I feel like I am sinking..Also, last night I tried flippers for the first time and the breathing was also better - which probably gets to your "speed" comments - with the fins on, I was "flying" - actually almost ran over a lady in my class :-)

So the catch 22 for me is - I'm trying to slow down my pace to not overdue it but not slow down enough that I start sinking!

swim25
October 23rd, 2008, 10:20 PM
Put your legs into it. The more you kick, and I don't mean to overdo it with the kick but a nice steady propulsion, it will lift your hips up and make you go a little faster which will create that bubble of air right next to your head. Try it. Also squish your mouth to one side when you breathe in, as if you were trying to blow smoke away from someone while you were talking to them.

geochuck
October 23rd, 2008, 10:34 PM
It is not a speed problem. Kicking extra hard will not help. Just relax and spit the water out of your mouth. You can fill your mouth with water and still breathe without inhaling it.

When swimming at speed we can breathe through the trough. Water can pass over the one side of the nose and under the other side of the nose it can leave a tunnel for your air. Take the air in through the mouth and don't take in the water.

Mark Konyndyk
January 30th, 2018, 01:52 PM
Thanks, this dated thread helped me as I begin my swimming journey. Found that breathing in water gets less frequent the more I practice.