View Full Version : Breathing Problems

January 30th, 2002, 12:45 AM
I am an Age Group and Masters Swim Coach While I am very comfortable working with strong swimmers, sometimes I teach lessons to adults who want to do triathlons and are fairly new to swimming. Every so often, I find a swimmer who has problems breathing. I have already read previous discussions where breathing is a problem and all the suggestions recommend improving stroke technique. I am very aware of the benefits of TI and like to encorporate it whenever I can. I have a very fit runner who now has pretty good stroke technique but after 25 yards is too out of breath to continue. Being a life-long swimmer, and having 8 year old swimmers who can go 1000 yards without problems, I can't fathom how anyone can't "breathe". This sounds very basic but in order to get a good diagnosis, I will try to be very specific. He is exhaling slowly, continuously, and completely through his nose before he rolls to inhale through his mouth. I generally have him breath every 3 strokes, but sometimes vary it and nothing seems to help. Has anyone encountered this and if so, are there better drills than just simple bobs?

Bert Petersen
January 30th, 2002, 01:33 AM
Reb, I would have a couple of ideas: first-ditch the every third routine. As a swimmer, I find that I too run out of air early on when I do that. The whole idea is to balance the stroke, and as Emmett said in the previous forum, you can "bi-laterally" breathe by simply changing sides every length, or every two or whatever. second- I find that I cannot fully exhale all my air through the nose only. The explosive exhalation of both nose and mouth may well help. There is another factor to investigate as well- exercise induced asthma. Chlorine seems to bring bouts of this on to myself and others I have known. Hope this gives you some ideas

January 30th, 2002, 05:36 AM
How much is he kicking? Unless he's doing a 2-beat kick, start by eliminating that almost entirely (ask him to swim a length without kicking at all and see what happens). Most swimmers who are getting out of breath on a single 25 do so because of over-kicking. If you find that his feet and hips sink when he eliminates or cuts back on kicking, then he's way out of balance and that needs to be corrected if you hope to solve his problem.

January 30th, 2002, 07:08 AM
I agree with Emmett, and will take it one step further. Put zoomers (no pun intended) on him. He will be able to slow down his kick, but stay horizontal. We've had great luck using these to help teach correct breathing.

January 30th, 2002, 05:00 PM

Finally, someone who is going through what I am. I've swum my entire life (now 42) and used to be able to go 800 yards in the pool without rest, 25-30 strokes per length, breathing on one side only. A couple of years ago I picked up Terry's book and then Emmetts and started to learn how to swim all over again. Now, my average stroke count is 14-15 per length and I do bilateral breathing. The problem is that I also ran out of gas after 25 yards, with no kicking, and I couldn't get passed that for the longest time. Now, I breath 2-3 times on one side, then switch to the other side for 2-3 breaths, sometimes more. I have also forced myself to not stop after 25 yards and am now doing intervals of 50s and occasionally 100s. If I feel my stroke start to fall apart, I go back to balance drills for awhile and try to relax. It's been a long slow process for me, but I feel like I am starting to be able to go longer distances again without completely flailing. I used to think I was the only person who had this problem.


Sally Dillon
January 30th, 2002, 07:27 PM
Stefan - To cut your strokes per length from 25-30 down to 14-15 is a huge change. I first thought you must be doing a lot of kicking but later you imply otherwise. Are you holding your breath and gliding too long with each armstroke? If you truly went from being able to swim 800 yards without tiring and can now only do 50's and sometimes 100's you have encountered a problem that needs further investigation. Taking fewer strokes per length should be a goal for everyone but should not be done to the detriment of overall efficiency. I hope you will have a coach spend some time with you.

A comment for Reb. I know someone recommended using zoomers but as a poor kicker, I know that swimming with zoomers tires me out significantly and it could cause your swimmer to have more problems with the breathing than before. I suggest you have him swim with pull buoys (no paddles) so his legs can be out of the "equation" and see if his breathing becomes more comfortable. He might find he can "feel" the body roll better as well. I definitely agree with Emmett - exhale through the nose and mouth!

Bi-lateral breathing is excellent for keeping your stroke well balanced and it challenges you a bit more than one sided breathing. But being comfortable in the water and getting a good workout (fitness wise) is very important as well and if bi-lateral breathing doesn't allow your swimmer to do this I would say it is expendable. There are plenty of highly successful swimmers out there who don't bi-lateral breathe.

January 31st, 2002, 02:41 AM
I have had the same problem when swimming with crawl stroke. While I a number of factors may obviously affect the stroke, some things I have found through trial and error to help greatly are:

1)Relaxing and letting the arms flow through the water, instead of trying to swim quite as hard of fast(this will minimize the number of FT muscle fibers being used, ruling out or at least minimizing fatigue due to lack of aerobic developement); 2) breathing slightly later or earlier relative to your stroke(try both); and 3) instead of attempting to put the chin just to the side to breath, move it DOWN and to the side.
Try this out! Tell me if it helps too!

January 31st, 2002, 10:21 AM
It seems to me that becoming out of breath can have two causes:
1. conditioning, efficiency, and technique are such that the body is just using a huge amount of air.
2. technique is not allowing enough air from the act of breathing itself.

Some of what I'll say has been said already.
For the first cause, keep at it, let yourself get into shape. Learn to relax in the water so that tight muscles are not eating air and the torso (abdomen especially) is relaxed enough to allow the diaphram to expand. It is natural to tense up as a beginning swimmer, the water is not a natural place to be. Learn good body position so that uphill swimming is eliminated. Most triathletes have a fair amount of leg muscle, which sinks, so this is especially important.

For the second cause, breathe on one side, not every three armpulls. Even turn way on the side and get a big mouthful, almost in sidestroke position. Yes, this isn't great form, but I'd rather do this than have to keep stopping in a race, or not be able to make it to shore in a potential drowning situation.

Stefan, 14-15 is awesome. The fact that you're getting roughly half the amount of air you did before would seem to me to account for the difficulty you have going as far as before.

Swim fast,

February 11th, 2002, 09:13 PM
A friend of mine who was a college competitor claims you have to breathe deeply. He has had me put my hands on his rib cage to illustrate how much it expands. Yoga teaches this as well, teaching you to breathe with yur bellybutton. I'm rather a beginner, but it seems that I can last longer when I concentrate on breathing deeply into my stomach when I swim.

I wonder if any coaches out there can comment on this.

February 20th, 2002, 11:56 PM
hey, Eagleboy

You are surely on the right track when you talk about breathing from the belly button! The next step, having mastered that, is to think about breathing from your back. However, to get into position to practice the sucessive steps, start by sitting comfortably in a chair, breathing from the belly button.

Next, continue by thinking about expanding your ribs by inhaling against the back of the chair. (It's kinda hard to think that way while you're swimming, but that's the way it goes...) Having mastered that technique,
swimming again now, think of expanding the ribs by inhaling from the sides of your rib cage. Then, when that technique becomes natural add expanding the throat cavity to its full openness.

Of course, even more than the inhaling technique is the full understanding that the most important thing for the swimmer to be aware of is the need to exhale fully and forcibly with the face submerged.

The way I put thse techniques into practice is to think of nothing else as I swim 50 repeats, crawl stroke, as a warmup. Do three or four x 50 with each successive technique exclusively, then proceed to the next. Thus: belly, back, sides, throat, and last, by exhaling con tutta forza!

Janis Noonan, a year or so ago, gave us her voice teacher's secret of how to begin to master easily the technique of breathing from the belly button, although she rightly called it "breathing from the diaphraghm". It was simply to stick out your tongue and pant like a dog. Once you get started on that track it is no problem. If you get to wondering if you are on the right track, all you need do is go through the panting trick again.

One more thing, and I apologize for not having the writer's name and exact title, but your library should be able to get it for you if it is not on the shelf. The book is called The Alexander Technique and Swimming. Or maybe it is the other way around! It was published in England just a few years ago, and has a Chapter devoted to breathing for swimmers that is masterfully presented so that one can fully appreciate all the aspects of the breathing problem for swimmers.

If you go to this Alexander Technique book, please be warned that the author's viewpoint about competitive swimming is likely to be vastly different from yours. And, frankly, I recommend that you avoid reading the rest of the book, since he spends much time and volubility in saying unkind things about swimming coaches and instructors. But the breathing chapter is really great, especially to one who had previously thought of the chest as being a cavity and the lungs as being an expandable bag!

I just gotta mention that I began writing these thoughts when the clock was in a real cool mood, as one of my nieces said, reading 20:02 20/02 2002. And nothing like that can ever happen again in the history of the world. Welll... unless we change our clocks to maybe like Seconds Only !

Rob Copeland
February 21st, 2002, 08:48 AM
what about 21:12 21/12 2112?

February 21st, 2002, 09:39 AM
And since we're obviously working with a military notation, how about

22:22 22/22 2222

Personally I think getting my odometer to flip over from 199999 to 200000 will be a bigger rush.

Tom Ellison
February 21st, 2002, 09:52 AM
Gosh, I wish I had a working odometer.

February 21st, 2002, 10:47 AM
Yes, but what song is in your head as the odometer flips over?

February 21st, 2002, 11:25 AM
Dunno - hasn't happened yet - I'll try to be aware and report back. More than likely, though, I'll be trying to figure out which is more cost-effective, to try for 300K miles or to break down and buy a new truck and start from scratch.

And Modern Pentathlon allows one to demonstrate mediocrity in FIVE sports!

Matt S
February 21st, 2002, 03:19 PM
I just hit Amazon, and a search on the book Doug Strong mentioned generated: The Art of Swimming: In a New Direction with the Alexander Technique by Steven Shaw, Armand D'Angour, Victoria Wood. This sounds like the book he mentioned.

Haven't read it; don't have an opinion. The descriptions make it sound faintly like a combination of TI (good) and dianetics (bad).


February 21st, 2002, 04:55 PM
Hello, Strong:

Thanks for taking the time and trouble to reply. You've obviously given breathing a lot of thought. As a beginner, I've concluded that breathing is the front door...if you don't get it down, nothing else follows very well. Your advice about practicing it, doing "breathing laps" is one thing I wouldn't have thought of. I'll be trying some of your techniques. and looking for the book.

February 21st, 2002, 08:45 PM
I got cut off by the midnight threat before I got some important stuff off my chest. So, here goes...

Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that as a swimmer or as a French Horn Player, both of which do best when breathing from the diaphraghm, that if I did so all the time, I'd be the best I could be from that standpoint all the time. Thus it was that I taught myself to do so early in the morning and to check it out from time to time during the day.

I wish that I had been told about the dog panting trick a few decades earlier!

The breathing stages, again, are in order: belly button, ribs-back expansion, ribs-sides expansion, throat expansion, culminating in con tutta forza exhalation. These are my stages and perhaps there are even more subtle divisions that I have overlooked. Each stage includes automatically all those that preceded. So we thereby achieve something like building up steam in a boiler by increasing the speed of stoking the fire. (Picture the old timey movies with the train's fireman throwing logs into the locomotive's furnace finally at breakneck speed).

Each day I swim I put these into practice, from two to four sets of 10x50 yards or meters. I start out at an easy pace and don't increase the effort, but merely change the breathing stages in order, and note the increase in speed achieved, as well as the reduction in the number of strokes per length as I progress. I go with the pace clock on 65, then 61, then 59, and finally, if I stay with it that long, on 55.

Set your own pace, but try it, you'll like it.

February 22nd, 2002, 12:00 PM
I agree breathing fully is the key to fixing "out-of-breath" problems. I am a fairly new swimmer (coming up on a year) and I found at first when I was nervous, I was concentrating so hard on breathing at the right time and breathing out underwater that I was just holding the air almost in my throat and not really breathing! I ran out of breath fast. As soon as I started bringing the air "fully into my chest" (as they say in yoga) I could feel the difference. It was like I was suddenly getting three times as much oxygen with each breath. The feeling also made me calmer and more relaxed in the water.

An added bonus is that when you pull the air all the way down and fill the whole chest cavity to the bottom, it helps the body posture in the water. When I was holding my breath high in my chest and breathing shallowly, it forced my head and shoulders up higher. When I breathe correctly, my body stays flatter. It sort of moves the proverbial "chest buoy" down a little and makes it easier to push.

I can tell if I'm getting lazy with breathing because I am panting during the breaks between laps. If I breathe right, I am still aerobic and breathing normally while waiting to take off again - even on fast sets. Your runner friend will relate to the difference. Most distance runners aren't really out of breath when they finish running. They stop and running and start breathing normally again. Since I'm not out of breath, I can do 300m reps just as easily as 50s, because it doesn't matter if I get a chance to stop and "catch my breath."

Hope this helps those newbies out there.