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View Full Version : Turns and breath control -- all mental?



mmlr38
July 17th, 2014, 05:03 PM
I'm curious if most life-long swimmers think that breath control on turns is almost completely a mental game? I've always been very good at the mental aspect of sports....at least I think I have been. Being an endurance athlete my entire life and an ultra-endurance athlete for a while, it was basically required. No way to finish a track mile or a 50-mile mountain run without feeling some pain and enduring through it. I've climbed all of the peaks in Colorado that are over 14,000 feet (14ers), and I ran up quite a few of them, so I know that my body can deal with a bit of oxygen debt.

So...I was chatting with a teammate after workout today. Our pool is extremely warm right now due to hot weather -- they seem to be unable to regulate the temperature when the air gets hot. So he suggested that I go out to the lake to swim (some of the team is out there MWF).

I responded that I really need to focus on swimming fast, clean turns and breath control because those are my weakest areas, and that is best done in the pool. Open water has been natural for me. But having never swum competitively before, I only just learned to do flip turns recently. And I'm still struggling with keeping control of my breath, especially in short course. Long course I can manage OK because the turns are so far apart. Open water is a piece of cake.

He told me that controlling breathing on turns 90%-100% mental. I didn't agree. When I'm swimming at a level where my muscles need oxygen at a steady flow, to have to hold my breath for 3 to 4 seconds every 15-16 seconds while turning simply gets me too hypoxic after a few turns and then I start coming off the turns gasping for air. Sure, I can slow down a bit and keep my turns clean, but then I'm not swimming as fast. Thinking about my running days, without question I couldn't have ran as fast if every 15 seconds I had to hold my breath (no breathing at all) for 4 seconds. So I don't believe it's as much of a mental game as he might believe it to be.

Over the last couple of years, since I started competitive swimming, I've gotten better at the "technique" of breathing. I had never even thought about it before while doing sports out of water, but one can actually make themselves tired from breathing too hard. Turns out I realized I was inhaling and exhaling too vigorously, which would tire me out fairly quickly. I've been practicing inhaling and exhaling slowly, especially after turns, and I can tell it's making a huge difference in my breath control and speed. But I don't believe it's entirely mental. At some point, I think, one's muscles simply can't perform at the same level without a steady supply of oxygen.

What do others think? Is breath control on turns entirely or mostly mental or is there some physical and/or physiological aspect to it? And if there is a physical aspect to it, is it something that can be trained beyond controlling one's breathing (i.e. not inhaling/exhaling too vigorously)?

ElaineK
July 17th, 2014, 05:19 PM
What do others think? Is breath control on turns entirely or mostly mental or is there some physical and/or physiological aspect to it? And if there is a physical aspect to it, is it something that can be trained beyond controlling one's breathing (i.e. not inhaling/exhaling too vigorously)?

Both! Definitely, both. :agree: I don't see how it can be just one or the other, especially when you are tired. :drowning:

Betsy
July 17th, 2014, 07:22 PM
It can be both.
When I first started doing flip turns, I always felt out or breath. I started flipping just at one end, then graduated to full time flips. That was in my 30s and 40s. Alas, in my 50s, I developed asthma. I continued to flip most turns until the last few years. I remember at nationals in Atlanta (2010), I flipped turned the whole 1650, except one turn. However, as the meet progressed, I couldn't flip my backstroke events. Now, I concentrate on a good open turn except for 50s. I'm now 72.
So, my advice is to flip turn in practice until you can do it without thinking. If you are continually out of breath, and know you are exhaling regularly, not holding your breath when you swim, you may need to consult your physician about a pulmonary function test.

mmlr38
July 17th, 2014, 07:51 PM
Both! Definitely, both. :agree: I don't see how it can be just one or the other, especially when you are tired. :drowning:
That's what I thought!

It can be both.
When I first started doing flip turns, I always felt out or breath. I started flipping just at one end, then graduated to full time flips. That was in my 30s and 40s. Alas, in my 50s, I developed asthma. I continued to flip most turns until the last few years. I remember at nationals in Atlanta (2010), I flipped turned the whole 1650, except one turn. However, as the meet progressed, I couldn't flip my backstroke events. Now, I concentrate on a good open turn except for 50s. I'm now 72.
So, my advice is to flip turn in practice until you can do it without thinking. If you are continually out of breath, and know you are exhaling regularly, not holding your breath when you swim, you may need to consult your physician about a pulmonary function test.
It took me a while to get where I am now, but I do flip turns all the time now and I do them without thinking. Spring nationals this year was the first time I was able to do a full 1650 with flip turns. I thought that I might swim faster by opening my turns when I start getting gassed, but I timed it both ways in practice one day and flipping saved me about 0.3-0.4 seconds per turn. So for now, I just take a couple of slower than normal strokes off the wall to catch my breath after flipping and then go back to my normal pace.

Sorry to hear about your asthma. Do you think it affects your swimming greatly? I too have asthma, but I don't think it affects my swimming. I've only had one asthma attack and that was when I was young. It did affect me a bit when I played basketball. Stopping after running really hard and then starting to work hard again after cooling down (sitting on the bench) I could notice it a lot. But it would go away as I got warm again.

Michael Heather
July 20th, 2014, 07:42 PM
Why are you holding your breath during turns?

orca1946
July 21st, 2014, 12:02 AM
You should always be pulling air & moving air out at all times in turns & swimming.

__steve__
July 21st, 2014, 08:50 AM
Turns take time to master as someone who started swimming in adult life. Breathing should be natural, and controlled to the rhythm of the pattern, but going in the turn just take a deeper breath and lightly exhale throughout. After about a thousand or so done correctly, it should be natural

sunruh
July 21st, 2014, 09:01 AM
breath control has radically changed over the last 2 - 3 decades.
in the "old" days it was no breathing into the flags and out of the flags. fly was breathing every other stroke. free every 3rd.
sometime during my "retirement" that all changed and now it is breathe every stroke on all strokes.
at the lowest basic level, we are nothing more than an air pump. as much Oxy in, convert it to energy, exhale the exhaust.
the better you can do that, the faster you can go.
so the real task is improving your VO2 max, which can be done with breath control in workouts.

our club teams national coach once commented to me, "we teach the kids to breathe every other stroke in fly" and my reply back was, "Tell that to Phelps!" dead silence afterwards. yeah, when the WR holder in the 200 fly breathes every stroke and has done so for the past 4 olympics, your argument dont really hold up.

as master swimmer, we like our air and we like our rest between sets.

breathing off the turn would not help me beat biondi in the 50. i think 11 inches of height would do a lot more for that.

do some testing and chose a combo of streamline/UDK/strokes/breaths off the wall that best suits you and your speed goals. dont just blindly follow some theory from the old days.

steve "the inseam challenged"

Michael Heather
July 21st, 2014, 09:46 AM
The downside to breathing every stroke in butterfly for Michael Phelps was the extra energy spent lifting his head to breathe, not so much maximizing his O2 intake, although that was a happy byproduct. The breathe-every-stroke style was noticed very early and was explained by his coach that it was to simplify training and races. If you breathe every stroke, that is one more thing you don't have to count or worry about. Going that fast, you want to trim down the list of worries to the bare minimum.

sunruh
July 21st, 2014, 10:13 AM
but you dont lift your head in freestyle.

and breathing every stroke is a must if you listen to Jason Lezak in the 100 free.
you cant really run down the WR holder in the 100 free and do things wrong.

knelson
July 21st, 2014, 10:23 AM
our club teams national coach once commented to me, "we teach the kids to breathe every other stroke in fly" and my reply back was, "Tell that to Phelps!" dead silence afterwards.

I think the appropriate response to this is "there aren't too many Michael Phelps' out there!" Michael is very rare in that he can breathe every stroke without altering his body position. Most of us can't do this. I still think it's better to get the air if you need the air, but for the vast majority of us breathing every other is faster IF it doesn't cause you to go into oxygen debt.

mmlr38
July 21st, 2014, 11:08 AM
Thanks for all of the feedback! Definitely some great information here.

Why are you holding your breath during turns?
I guess I should have been clearer. When I wrote "holding my breath", I meant that due to the fact my head is underwater during the flip and then in a streamline position when pushing off the wall, I cannot take in any air for approximately 4 seconds until I break the surface of the water again and take a stroke. During that time, I try to gradually exhale, purging my lungs of old air so that when I take my first breath off the wall, I can refill them. But that means for about 4 seconds, I'm not getting any fresh air into my lungs and I can really feel the effects of this in terms of muscle burn, especially after a few turns.

Is this the right way to do things? Or is there some other, better way to control one's breath during the turn that I'm not doing? I don't have a coach, so I've mostly learned everything I know about swimming from friendly advice from my teammates, people at meets, and (of course) my own personal experience, which may be anecdotal or incomplete.

Turns take time to master as someone who started swimming in adult life. Breathing should be natural, and controlled to the rhythm of the pattern, but going in the turn just take a deeper breath and lightly exhale throughout. After about a thousand or so done correctly, it should be natural
Perfect! Thanks for this information Steve. What you describe is very close to what I've been trying to do, but the problem is that when my rhythmic breathing pattern is broken during the turn, it really sets me back for a couple of strokes until I can recover and get oxygen back into my blood. A couple of less-than-optimal strokes in short course after every turn really adds up quickly!


at the lowest basic level, we are nothing more than an air pump. as much Oxy in, convert it to energy, exhale the exhaust.
the better you can do that, the faster you can go.
so the real task is improving your VO2 max, which can be done with breath control in workouts.
Being a runner, this is what I've always thought and felt about getting as much oxygen as possible to maintain the fastest speed possible. But obviously there really wasn't much concern with breath control and improving VO2 max. If it's possible to improve this through training, I will have to start working harder at it.

srcoyote
July 25th, 2014, 03:39 PM
I have this issue as well. If swimming in open water or long course, the limits on my endurance are only my shoulders. I'm never out of breath short of sprinting. Swimming short course, I'll run out of wind long before my arms get tired. While I have a relatively fast turn, there is that moment as I go into the turn where I don't exhale. Then as I press of the wall, the air tends to come out suddenly. In a 50m pool, I have a long time to make up for it. In a 25y pool, I don't.

In my youth, when I learned flip turns, I rarely swam anything over a 200 so it was never an issue. Speed of the turn was.

vo2
July 26th, 2014, 07:32 PM
Like you I come from an endurance background, a bit over 20 years of half and full iron distance triathlon. I never understood how magically that swimming required less oxygen. Aerobic respiration requires oxygen in order to generate ATP. Further, holding your breath builds up CO2 which will make you feel ever worse. In my best shape for the half marathon of a HIM I'd need somewhere in the low 30's breaths per minute. This is in a sport where you can get all the O2 you want. Somewhere along the line I bought into the notion that a 1:3 breathing pattern is the only way everyone should swim. I'm 6'3" so my stroke rate isn't exactly screaming for a distance swim and was in the low 50's. So breathing every 3 that gave me about 16 breaths per minute. I always felt like crap and as if my V8 had dropped a few cylinders.

Flash forward to about 8 years ago when I said screw it and went to a 1:2 pattern. I instantly felt way better and was able to go significantly faster. PR'd swims in nearly every race that summer. Now I have learned to take a 2:3 into and out of every wall so I get all the air I want and have my breaths per minute up to ~ 28 for my longer swims in a short course pool. Open water I go 3L, bilateral switch, 3R. Worst advice I ever took on as a swimmer was thinking that swimming was somehow different than other aerobic activities and suddenly my body didn't need ATP or O2 to do it's job. Face palm.

For turns yea it will get better. For sprinting I endure it and do my best to not roll for air into and out of the flags, but I'm always slowly exhaling. Anything over a 150 and I'm 2:3 into and out of every wall and 1:2 rest.

ourswimmer
July 26th, 2014, 09:25 PM
my head is underwater during the flip and then in a streamline position when pushing off the wall, I cannot take in any air for approximately 4 seconds until I break the surface of the water again and take a stroke.

Are you staying under too long? Even with a weak pushoff, I am sure I am well past the flags at 4 seconds. I do not think I am alone in just slowing down from there.

I am a distance swimmer, best in OW because I have good endurance but OK in the pool because I have decent turns. When I race in the pool, I breathe every left arm until the very last stroke into the turn. I push off hard, take my first pull with my right arm because I tend to come out toward my right side, and breathe at the first opportunity to breathe to my left. The mental part is that I do have to fight against the impulse to take a breath to the right, because that opportunity comes sooner. Still, though, I don't think I ever go 4 seconds between breaths in a mid-distance or distance race or in practice.

(In practice I breathe to the right as well for reasons that are immaterial to your question.)

mmlr38
July 27th, 2014, 02:09 PM
I have this issue as well. If swimming in open water or long course, the limits on my endurance are only my shoulders. I'm never out of breath short of sprinting. Swimming short course, I'll run out of wind long before my arms get tired. While I have a relatively fast turn, there is that moment as I go into the turn where I don't exhale. Then as I press of the wall, the air tends to come out suddenly. In a 50m pool, I have a long time to make up for it. In a 25y pool, I don't.


In my youth, when I learned flip turns, I rarely swam anything over a 200 so it was never an issue. Speed of the turn was.
This is it for me exactly! Glad to hear that there's someone else out there who can empathize!


@vo2, Thanks for all of the feedback. What you write makes a lot of sense to me.

Are you staying under too long? Even with a weak pushoff, I am sure I am well past the flags at 4 seconds. I do not think I am alone in just slowing down from there.
I don't think so. I've never actually timed myself, but I was just guessing based on looking at the large digital clock we have before I take my last breath going into the wall and then looking again after I dolphin kick out and take my first stroke. It's usually 3 to 4 seconds that I don't take in any fresh air. And my turns have gotten pretty fast over the last few months. I don't think 3 to 4 seconds is too far off for most people to not be breathing on turns, especially the faster swimmers who spend more time underwater on the walls.


I am a distance swimmer, best in OW because I have good endurance but OK in the pool because I have decent turns.
Sounds like we might be very similar swimmers in terms of strengths!

When I race in the pool, I breathe every left arm until the very last stroke into the turn. I push off hard, take my first pull with my right arm because I tend to come out toward my right side, and breathe at the first opportunity to breathe to my left. The mental part is that I do have to fight against the impulse to take a breath to the right, because that opportunity comes sooner. Still, though, I don't think I ever go 4 seconds between breaths in a mid-distance or distance race or in practice.
I probably don't either once I start getting fatigued! After a few turns, I breathe right before flipping and then again on my first stroke out of the turn. But when I'm swimming fast, I can usually take a breath at least one stroke out from the wall, flip, push hard, 2 dolphin kicks and then a stroke or two before breathing. Again, this sounds similar to what you're doing as well.

Thanks again for more feedback. This gives me something to think about while I mend from a bad bike wreck I just had on Thursday :sad:

momof5
August 2nd, 2014, 10:46 PM
This is so interesting to read as a new swimmer. All I know is what I've heard from my kids' swim coaches, which is to not breathe every other stroke because breathing that often will slow you down. Instead, breathe on the fourth, fifth, sixth, pretty much as long as you can go. So that is what I have been trying to do. Until I get really tired and am forced to breathe every other stroke. Is it different for us older folk or are my kids being given poor advice? Doesn't breathing often slow you down?

arthur
August 3rd, 2014, 01:09 AM
This is so interesting to read as a new swimmer. All I know is want I've heard from my kids' swim coaches, which is to not breathe every other stroke because breathing that often will slow you down. Instead, breathe on the fourth, fifth, sixth, pretty much as long as you can go. So that is what I have been trying to do. Until I get really tired and am forced to breathe every other stroke. Is it different for us older folk or are my kids being given poor advice? Doesn't breathing often slow you down?
In practice a beginning swimmer should probably breathe every 3 to practice breathing on both sides. You don't need to breathe any less unless it is a breath control set. Other than sprints a highly skilled swimmer will usually swim faster breathing every 2 as air is important and breathing doesn't slow a good swimmer much.

momof5
August 3rd, 2014, 10:48 AM
So in sprints how often should I breathe during freestyle?

Allen Stark
August 3rd, 2014, 03:11 PM
So in sprints how often should I breathe during freestyle?

In a 100 breath every 2,3, or 4 depending on what works best for you in practice. If you have very smooth breathing then every 2 is best.
In a 50 you want to breath as little as you safely can.In SCY many swimmers will go the first 25 and past the flags off the first turn before breathing. If you can't get that far,try to make it nearly to the far flags the first length and at least past the flags the second length for the second breath. 50 LCM aim for 3-4 breaths max.