View Full Version : "Green Swimming" Log - another alternative experience

December 31st, 2007, 07:50 PM
Jazz Hands log is focused on maximizing power. At 57, my log will illustrate a primary focus on saving energy. You might think of this as the "green" approach to swimming.

Dec 30, with Hash and Kate at Bard College - 90 minutes

This was my first practice in a conventional pool since Dec 11. I spent Dec 13-20 swimming in the ocean on Eleuthera. Since returning home SUNY has been closed so I've been swimming in the Endless Pool at the TI Swim Studio.

Hash planned this session and it was perfect for me. I've had some kind of fatigue syndrome for the last three months - I had an inconclusive blood test before going to Eleuthera and need to schedule more tests. But when I swim with a 5 (of 10) effort level, I tend to finish the repeat feeling as if I've swum an 8. The frequent stroke changes and absence of short rest allowed me to recover well and feel reasonably good throughout.

Warmup 300 Free-Back-Breast x 25s

Swim 6 x 100 on 1:50
Odd: Free-Back-Breast-Free
Even: 100 IM
I continued in warmup mode on these.

Swim Free
4 x 100 on 1:30
4 x 75 on 1:10
4 x 50 on :50
4 x 25 on :30
I utilized a changing alternate-breathing pattern, but swam the final 25 of each repeat breathing to the left, which I will do primarily in races this year (the last few years I've tried to breathe equally to right and left in races.) While breathing right I focused on synchronizing the finish of my right hand stroke with my right-leg downbeat. When breathing left, I did the same synchro-focus on the left. I tried to modulate the power of my leg drive and take better advantage of the power produced by synchronizing. This felt progressively better as the set proceeded.

Swim 4 rounds of
3 x 100 on 2:00 + 1 x 150 on 2:30

1st & 3rd round 100s were:
25 Fly 75 Free
25 Fly 25 Free
25 Fly 75 Free

2nd and 4th round 100s were:
75 Back 25 Breast
50 Back 50 Breast
25 Back 75 Breast

150s were:
25 Fly 25 FR 25 BK 25 FR 25 BR 25 FR
I maintained a focus on overall body streamlining in the strokes and, in FR, repeated same focus from earlier set. I swam the 150s progressively faster -- a result more of feeling increasingly dialed-in on the strokes, and less by increasing effort.

Swim 50-100-150-200 FR at recovery pace on :20 rest interval
I continued my focus on synchronizing my 2BK with the finish of the stroke on the same side, but added a focus on a relaxed toe-point during the kick. I.E. One can strain to point the toes more. I tried to "allow" ankle-flexion through conscious relaxation. This was a new focal point for me and felt promising.

Swim 3 x 100 IM Fast on 3:00. I went 1:28, 1:26, 1:24. Not terribly fast, but I was encouraged since I felt better at 1:24 than at 1:28.

Cooldown 300 I swam a continuous 4 x 75 Fly-Back-Breas, maintaining a good streamline, a relaxed feeling and a good SPL (7 for FL, 14 for BK, 7 for BR. The 7SPL for FL was easy on the first 75, but took great focus to maintain on the last three.

While doing the cooldown I set a new goal - to break the USMS record for 400 IM at some point in my life. See more on this in 2008 Swimming Resolutions.

December 31st, 2007, 07:54 PM
Monday Dec 31 at TI Swim Studio

This was a 45-minute practice in the Endless Pool, immediately following a 45-minute strength training session, which meant I swam mainly in restoration mode.

I swam two extended continuous "pyramid" sets. The stroke changed, the number of strokes changed, but I continued swimming without interruption.

Set #1
10 strokes FR - 10 strokes BK
20 FR - 20 BK
30 FR - 30 BK
40 FR - 40 BK
50 FR - 50 BK
40 FR - 40 BK
30 FR - 30 BK
20 FR - 20 BK
10 FR - 10 BK

I rested a minute, took a drink, turned up the current slightly then did:

Set #2
5 strokes FL - 10 BK - 5 BR - 10 FR
10 FL - 20 BK - 10 BR - 20 FR
etc. up to
25 FL - 50 BK - 25 BR - 50 FR
then back down to
5 FL - 10 BK - 5 BR - 10 FR
Again, this was continuous.

The first set totalled 500 long axis strokes. Assuming an average of 14 SPL for each, and factoring in the distance I'd travel on pushoffs, this equates to about 1000 yards.

Set #2, with the short axis strokes added in, would equate to approx 1800 yards of continuous IM swimming.

My focal point on the first set was to be as "leisurely" as possible on the catch, without losing ground to the current. I tried to make the catch feel the same in both FR and BK, rotating the upper arm into a "fingers-down-elbow-up" position and a sensation of firmly trapping a large volume of water inside the diameter of my arm and hand. (I sometimes visualize this water volume as being the size of a large Swiss ball.)

While swimming I noticed something that often happens when I swim Back. A wave washes over my face during right-arm entry, sometimes sending water up my nose. This becomes more pronounced in the current. During the latter half of the set I finally figured out how to eliminate this wave - by entering a bit wider. Woo-hoo.

I swam the 2nd set in a faster current, requiring keener focus to maintain the "leisurely" catch. On the short axis strokes, I used the same focal point - sweeping out to catch in as unhurried a manner as possible, staying otherwise streamlined (top of head to toes) as I did.

What I find most valuable about practicing in an Endless Pool is the opportunity to keep repeating subtle stroke-tweaks like these without interrupting focus or imprinting for turns. When the focal point is working well, it allows you to carry on for an extended period with no accumulating fatigue. In fact, it often gets easier to stay in place in a constant current, providing real-time feedback that is far less likely in a regular pool. Sometimes you get to feeling so good, you hate for the set to end. I can't think of more positive feedback than that!

Jazz Hands
December 31st, 2007, 09:11 PM
Terry, you and I train for different events, but I've actually taken a lot of inspiration and ideas from you. You wrote something once about how you think of pool time as an opportunity to practice swimming skills, and that physiological adaptations will happen along the way. You don't worry about energy systems, you just worry about swimming. That piece of wisdom has always stuck with me. I look forward to reading about your swimming experiences.

January 1st, 2008, 02:07 PM
We all recognize that supplying energy to our muscles is essential to swimming well. The energy-system approach devotes itself to creating a system for ensuring an adequate supply of energy. My thought process is more on the interactions of the hundreds of muscles that move us through the water, and I trust that by practicing those movements -- at a variety of movement frequencies, the slower ones being relatively non-taxing, while the faster ones are more taxing -- the energy system will adapt to provide energy as needed. I'm glad you find some of the ideas useful or at least interesting.

So, here's today's practice.
Jan 1, 2008 75-minutes at the Swim Studio

I feel backstroke is currently my weakest stroke. I don't think my catch provides much leverage, and I can often feel my feet doing funky things while I swim - they sometimes pronate when they should be supinating.

Improving the backstroke catch can be challenging because it happens above and behind you and completely out of sight. As for my kick, I'm pretty sure that the pronation tendency comes from moments of instability in my body position. Some might recommend doing more ankle stretching. My ankle flexibility has never been great, but an inability to point the toes sufficiently doesn't seem the problem. It's more that my feet often move in a way more suited for breaststroke, when they should remain extended.

I'm pretty sure that happens when my internal gyroscope senses the torso moving erratically. What's optimal would be for my head-spine line to rotate evenly and rhythmically, while moving through the water like a laser beam -- and everything connected to it to cooperate. Up to now that hasn't happened, so my feet feel the need to act as stabilizers.

I started with 45 minutes of single arm practice in a gentle current, wearing Fistgloves. For the first 15 minutes I alternated three right arm strokes on my back, then three RA strokes nose down (i.e. freestyle). Then six strokes with my left arm the same way. Then it was 30 minutes doing just backstroke single arm practice, but with more consecutive strokes on one arm before switching to the other. I did all of this with the other arm by my side.

I wasn't much focused on what the arm was doing. I was more interested in heightening my awareness of the position and rotation of my torso and whether it was causing any instability. That instability could show up in several ways:
1) more turbulent water around my face - because my body movements would churn it up;
2) more difficulty staying in place in the current - because instability would also hurt my alignment and give the current more surface area to push on;
3) a need to use the non-stroking hand as a stabilizer - I wanted to be able to leave it on my hip with no sculling actions needed;
4) pronation in my feet.

I alternated between back and free strokes for the first 15 minutes because the extra rotation to go from nose-up to nose-down and vice versa would provide an extra challenge to alignment and stability. And I used Fistgloves to minimize the potential for using my hand to correct instability during the stroke.

The EP current is on a 30-minute timer. I was really surprised with how quickly the first 30 minutes of bodyline tuning passed.

From 15 to 45 minutes it was just single arm backstroke, generally 10 strokes right,then 10 left. After two such sets (40 strokes) I'd turn up the current slightly. I feel the increasing turbulence of a faster current more acutely on my back than in other three strokes so my goal in each round was just to regain a sense of "calm" in my position and movements (emotionally too) after each increase in current speed. Generally that would happen in the 2nd pair of 10 right, 10 left at each speed.

When the current speed became too great to continue with single arm, I just shifted to whole stroke -- but one where I tried to maintain a "super-leisurely" catch that allowed the other arm to travel about 30 degrees through recovery before I stroked. After 40 strokes, I'd increase current speed again. I was able to keep Fistgloves on for another 15 minutes of gradually increasing current speed.

I swam with "nekkid hands" for the last 15 minutes and did rounds of 100 strokes at each current speed. These were 20 strokes back and 5 free repeated four times.

I think I felt more relaxation and overall smoothness at a higher current speed by the end, than I had felt before swimming backstroke in the Endless Pool.

Tomorrow I'll drive to Long Island and swim Long Course at Eisenhower Park with my buddy Steve Shtab.

January 2nd, 2008, 01:33 AM
The Swim

Streamlining in a cool fluid flow,
With only air and water to soothe the senses,
Becoming entirely present through this rhythmic motion,
As past tension transmutes into current reflections,
Nothing now but sweet submission to this aqueous moment.

Kinda like swimming in the Endless pool, eh Terry?

January 2nd, 2008, 11:21 AM
Granted...having horsepower can compensate for a lot.
But technique is everything.

Look forward to your posts Terry.

January 2nd, 2008, 12:41 PM
My best times were made when I was in the best shape of my life. My best swims weren't the gut wrenching slower swims where I messed up on pacing or perhaps my body wasn't in the mood to work at the hardest level. (as a teenager I didn't recognize my body's moods as painfully as I do today)

I don't think I would have been able to reach my best times had I not stressed my pain level in practice; to understand the pain I would feel in a contest. Meets were a break.

Swimming fast is hard and painful. At least it was for me.

I salute your theory, as I have been adverse to pain from birth.

January 2nd, 2008, 01:40 PM
Jonathan, what an evocative verse. Did you write that?

Stillwater, I grew up believing firmly in pain, torture, agony as the prescription for best times. In my teens and early 20s, I took pride in being the hardest working swimmer in the pool. For a few years it seemed to work. I was still so raw that my times dropped in large chunks. My last two years of college I stagnated, then regressed. The slower I swam the harder I worked. Not knowing much about my limits, I got into failing adaptation syndrome. It was painful, emotionally as well as physically.

I took off 17 years from training, during which time I learned a good deal about technique, from coaching. When I returned to competing at 38 I was much more technique focused, but still did a lot of training that was mainly about effort level. I did well enough to come away from USMS Nationals with some top-8 finishes in 500-1000-1650.

Since turning 50, my focus has been far more on maximizing qualities like harmony, integration and relaxation. As my priorities have become ever more pronounced in this direction, my performance has risen to a level -- and consistency -- I never imagined possible.

This isn't to say that I don't also put in significant effort at times. It will always be true that your fastest times are most likely to result when you've used your fullest physical capacity. But the sensation produced by a maximum effort can differ dramatically. When I asked Aaron Peirsol, who has set world records in the 100 and 200 Back, what it felt like to set a world record, he replied "When I hit the touch pad I felt like I could have just kept going at that speed." A very different sensation than a rather slow 100m race someone described to me last week in which every stroke over the last 15 meters was agony.

The question is, how can we train in such a way that our racing experiences are closer to Aaron Peirsol's? I believe to a significant degree it's determined by our intention.

If our intention is to go hard, what we'll be most aware of is how hard the swimming feels. If our intention is to synchronize particular movements, then our effort level will recede to the periphery of our consciousness. And if we do achieve better synchronization, it's very likely we'll get more speed for whatever effort we expend. I'd bet my Endless Pool that a well-integrated stroke will produce less lactic acid (i.e. less discomfort) than a ragged one.

An even better example of process-centered fast swimming is the effect of swimming with a Tempo Trainer and incrementally increasing the frequency, while holding onto your form. My focus, as I increase tempo, is to keep my catch firm and maintain an overall sense of relaxation. As I approach .85 sec/stroke it takes incredibly keen focus to keep those sensations.

At those moments, my physical processes are working at very nearly max capacity. But I feel no pain. A more accurate description is that I feel "sensation" -- indeed sometimes intense sensation - but the overall effect is wholly pleasurable. This is utterly different from the pain-torture-agony I put myself through in my younger days for far less reward.

In training, I'm focused far more on creating experiences like this -- in a zone so to speak -- than I am on "getting in shape."

I've talked with a half-dozen American or world record setters - Brendan Hansen, Ian Crocker, Neil Walker, Greg Burgess, Whitney Hedgepeth in addition to Aaron Peirsol -- asking each what the experience of their record-setting swims was like. All gave descriptions similar to Aaron's. What they described sounded like what's called a "flow state."

Made me wonder whether coaches would not be better off urging their swimmers to seek flow states, rather than push through pain barriers.

Not many have tried training this way. I'm making myself a guinea pig for the approach.

January 3rd, 2008, 09:41 PM
Some years ago, I worked in a company where one of the executives would drive everyone up the wall telling us to "work smarter, not harder". There were clenched teeth and fixed smiles all round when he started blathering on about it, but something about the concept appealed to my (basically lazy) personality.
I think a lot of people mistake "effortless swimming" for "swimming with no effort put in". Make no mistake, it's hard - mentally, not physically - to swim this way because the concentration is constant. You can't wear a waterproof mp3 headset and mindlessly slog through the lengths. When I first took T.I. lessons, I could only manage about 25 minutes of the drills, even though I was accustomed to swimming for 45 minutes to an hour; I got mentally fogged and just couldn't focus any longer.
A puritan work ethic seems to keep people thinking that it has to feel "hard" or you just haven't done anything. I'm sure it takes a major shift in thinking (or being basically lazy, like me) to think: "Well that last length felt much easier despite using 2 fewer strokes, so I must be improving. Let's see if I can keep doing it and have it feel that easy every time."

January 3rd, 2008, 10:20 PM

I really liked what you wrote here,
"At those moments, my physical processes are working at very nearly max capacity. But I feel no pain. A more accurate description is that I feel "sensation" -- indeed sometimes intense sensation - but the overall effect is wholly pleasurable."

I agree totally, because once we start breaking down stroke patterns, we begin to train "bad" habits... So to get to that limit and "hold", that's the trick... I think this is particularly important for Masters....

Yes, I wrote "The Swim", thank you...

Happy Swimming,

January 4th, 2008, 07:36 PM
I've talked with a half-dozen American or world record setters - Brendan Hansen, Ian Crocker, Neil Walker, Greg Burgess, Whitney Hedgepeth in addition to Aaron Peirsol -- asking each what the experience of their record-setting swims was like. All gave descriptions similar to Aaron's. What they described sounded like what's called a "flow state."

This got me to thinking, did any of the record setters mention what their practices felt like, as in, did they achieve "flow state" during practice? Just curious as to what the perceived effort was like during their practice compared to a race.

January 4th, 2008, 09:57 PM
Make no mistake, it's hard - mentally, not physically - to swim this way because the concentration is constant. You can't wear a waterproof mp3 headset and mindlessly slog through the lengths.
A puritan work ethic seems to keep people thinking that it has to feel "hard" or you just haven't done anything.

I regularly make the point that mental stamina is equal in importance to physical stamina to succeed at distance swimming, in the way I have sought to do. I unquestionably have reduced my reliance on the physical effort required to hold a certain pace in my 1- and 2-mile open water races. In such races I am virtually always swimming in packs with people 15 to 25 years my junior. While swimming in close quarters with them I can feel their greater power and physicality. If I had not found a way to swim that speed "easier" I could not match their pace. Consequently at the beginning of a typical set at our Masters workout, while others are thinking of how hard they plan to work, I'm scheming to find the easiest way through.

Your mention of the work ethic reminded me of a post by TI Coach Bob McAdams on the TI Discussion Forum last week. Here's a portion:
"Imagine a typical "human" swimmer trying to swim fast. He does what his instincts tell him to do: stroke faster, push harder. And, sure enough, he goes faster! His brain also notices some changes in the sensations he is feeling: he feels water flowing past his skin at a faster rate, he feels more water resistance. And his brain records all of this, and labels it 'fast swimming.'
From then on, whenever he wants to swim faster, his brain translates this into the programmed actions: stroke faster, push harder. And it measures success by the extent to which he is feeling the sensations it has learned to associate with swimming faster: more sensation of water flowing past his skin, more water resistance."

While pursuing a "green (i.e. energy-saving) training regimen, you focus on a different set of sensations, less resistance, lighter pressure on hands and forearms, etc. It does take time to trust these new sensations and that they can also translate into fast swimming - particularly when one's speed must be sustained for 20 to 60 minutes, rather than 20 to 60 seconds.

January 4th, 2008, 10:04 PM
This got me to thinking, did any of the record setters mention what their practices felt like.

I only asked them what it felt like to swim faster than anyone in history.
No one can doubt a considerable amount of max-capacity training went into their preparation. But these are the best swimmers in the world and the question that intrigues me is not just how they do it, but what's the best way for me -- a far less gifted swimmer -- to swim more like them. Will it be through pushing through pain barriers, or by trying to emulate their physical flow? I have to remain in control to do that.

January 5th, 2008, 08:44 AM
Terry when you swim in packs, with these swimmers are you drafting off them??? We both know the easiest way thru is to draft.

Redbird Alum
January 5th, 2008, 08:11 PM
Terry -

What are your thoughts on the practice of dragging swimmers at record pace or flow-tanking them to help them "feel" the speed and improve their flow positions? If I remember correctly, the US Olympic Center in Colorado Springs had both drag lines and flow tanks for these purposes.

January 5th, 2008, 10:25 PM
Yesterday Ann Svenson (member of the USMS Long Distance Committee) , who is training at Tuckahoe Rec Ctr in Fairfax County VA with my longtime buddy John Flanagan, sent me a practice she’d done with John to prepare for the 1-Hour Swim. I responded with some suggestions for other iterations of the same set.

In a message dated 1/5/2008 5:58:20 AM Eastern Standard Time, annb48@earthlink.net writes:
main set yesterday (in 83 degree water!):
20×125, 5 sets of 4: 4 w/ last 25 fast, 4 w/ last 50 fast, 4 w/ last 75 fast…4×125 fast. Interval was with :05-:10 rest on the first set.

I replied:
This set is remarkably similar to one I first gave 25 or more years ago to club swimmers and have since repeated myself, a dozen or more times.
3 to 5 rounds of 4×125, each round as:

I prefer to do it in rounds where I do one of each, rather than four of each, and repeat the pattern multiple times, because:
1) The best way to accelerate neuromuscular adaptation is to change a task or movement pattern with greater frequency. There are four changes of task in the set Ann did, but 20 changes of task in my version.
2) The repeat that relates most closely to racing – or time-trialing – is the one where you swim 100 Fast; my version allows me to “raise my game” a bit higher when I get to it.
3) When I repeat a basic set pattern several times, I feel as if I “crack the code” of the basic set -- progressing from 100Cruise25Fast to 25Cruise100Fast -- a bit better each time. By the 4th or 5th round I'm usually really be clicking on all cylinders.

Then there’s the range of possibility for how to vary your emphasis between Cruise and Fast:
1) Lower SPL on Cruise; Higher SPL on Fast—but a chosen not accidental SPL
2) Silent on Cruise – as quiet as possible on Fast
3) Different breathing pattern. I generally swim faster breathing to the left and this year will resume doing mainly that in pool races — after several years of dividing my race breathing almost equally between right and left. I might breathe alternate or right on cruise and left on fast.
4) Change focal point. Use an energy-saving focal point on Cruise—streamlined feet or lengthen bodyline for instance. Use a maximize-propulsion focal point on Fast – e.g. integrate leg and hip drive.
5) You could also more closely simulate what it will feel like to swim for a continuous hour if you use mostly "active" rest, and minimize "passive" rest. That means -- other than the Cruise laps -- rest intervals, if any, would be very brief. You need to be able to recover while swimming the easier lengths. Maintaining impeccable form (on the Cruise segments) immediately after swimming brisk or fast, is an extra challenge.

Ann wrote back:
The way we did it, though, was better for a max distance effort as the hardest part comes at the end when you’re most tired and you learn to really dig down deep for the best effort. On the last set I was only getting :15 rest (:05 on the first) and we had no break between sets—it was straight thru. A great challenge!

January 5th, 2008, 10:27 PM
Terry when you swim in packs, with these swimmers are you drafting off them???
You bet I am, whenever possible. Though often, once I have gotten into a pretty relaxed state at the prevailing pace (i.e. the pace that will likely hold until the closing stages) I'll move alongside, because I really enjoy matching strokes - swimming more quietly and with a slower turnover - with competitors.

January 5th, 2008, 10:30 PM
What are your thoughts on the practice of dragging swimmers at record pace or flow-tanking them to help them "feel" the speed and improve their flow positions?

I've had no experience with it so it's hard to weigh in. Of course, most swimmers spend most of their training time being "dragged" by swimming 5 or fewer seconds apart in circles. When I am coaching, I spread swimmers out as much as the set and lane conditions will allow. And I try to swim 10 sec behind my lane-mates whenever possible in training.

January 5th, 2008, 10:44 PM
January 5 3900 yards with Gunks Masters at SUNY New Paltz

Today was my first practice with my Masters group since Dec 11. I've barely missed a day of swimming in that time, but a week was OW in Eleuthera and since Dec 22 I've not missed a day of swimming. All but one were in the Endless Pool.

I did a virtually-continuous 75-minute ashtanga yoga class from 9:30-10:45 am and swam from 1:30 to 3:00 pm

Warmup 3 x 200 Coach said Swim, Pull, Kick.
I did #1 25FR25BK, #2 50BK50FR, #3 100BK100FR holding all @13SPL

4 x 100 - Coach said 75 pull 25 kick.
I did 75 FR 25 BR, working on minimized kick and high elbows/light pressure on FR (13SPL) and overall streamline on BR (7SPL)

6 x 150 on 2:30 Odd IM (no free), even FR.
I cruised the FR @ 13SPL (same focal points as above) and descended the IMs to 2:15

200 Recovery - I did BR @ 8SPL, working on overall streamline and keeping my kick compact.

6 x 300 FR on 4:30.
I descended 1 to 3 3:58-3:55-3:52 and 4 to 6 3:56-3:53-3:50. I've had a mysterious fatigue-like syndrome for three months and have had to watch my effort level pretty carefully (I had a blood test on Dec 11 that was inconclusive and have more tests set for next week). The effect of these symptoms is that when I swim a repeat with an effort level of, say 5 on a scale of 10, when I finish I feel as if I've swum an 8. These symptoms have encouraged me to be even more focused on saving energy.

On this set, I was able to keep the effort level pretty controlled, and swim faster on 4-6, though I was really feeling the effects of growing fatigue, because I compensated by better integrating my pull and 2BK. However I couldn't keep my SPL from increasing to 17 from 15 on the first half of the set. The 3:50 totally wiped me out.

The warmdown was 4 x 100. Instead of doing it, I worked for 20 minutes with Dave Barra on his breaststroke form.

January 11th, 2008, 08:18 PM

I've been concentrating on creating as little disturbance on my hand/arms during the entry. I am focusing on having my hand/forearm pierce the water and outstretch in a completely neutral manner without applying any pressure prior to initiating the catch and creating drag.

It feels right, but it takes concentration. Is this a good focus point during longer swims?

January 12th, 2008, 11:29 AM
Make a little disturbance and go fast like this guy.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjaA0JhMZsM&eurl=http://mywebsite.register.com/cgi-bin/update?IABC_WSN_SERVER=swimdownhill.com:C92BA803:0 47CA745:ENG&TB_MIN=Y&J

January 15th, 2008, 04:35 AM
After 42 years of swimming experience, last night I finally learned the right breathing pattern for backstroke…or at least the one that works for me. It’s stunning to learn something so fundamental after so long, but I believe most swimmers probably have not given it much thought. In the other three strokes, you have to breathe when your mouth surfaces. That dictates timing and rhythm. In backstroke, there’s nothing similar to dictate your breathing.

I realized I had a problem several weeks ago while racing a 400 IM in a Masters meet. During the backstroke I was breathing twice in every stroke cycle, inhaling and exhaling on each armstroke. By the 2nd 50 I was hyperventilating because of fast, shallow breathing. I spent the Breaststroke and Free legs gasping and trying unsuccessfully to recover from oxygen debt. That swim was both slow and frustrating.

I’ve had similar experiences on IM training repeats since. I tried inhaling on one arm and exhaling on the other. It was difficult to adapt to the new timing, but even after doing so, I frequently choked on splash while inhaling – then would skip a breathing cycle trying to clear my mouth and throat. That wasn’t working either.

Last night, after 60 minutes of yoga and 30 of weight training, I decided to swim easy Backstroke in the Endless Pool at the TI Swim Studio for muscle recovery. After a minute or so I began to experiment again with breathing rhythms. Initially I was choking as before. Then I recalled that in freestyle my inhale is short and sharp, and the exhales are a bit more sustained. Because backstroke allowed time for a more sustained inhale, there was also more time to swallow water.

I experimented with a short, sharp inhale just before my right hand entered then sustaining the exhale through that stroke and the beginning of the right arm recovery. It still didn’t feel quite right. Reflecting on the fact that I’m a natural left-side breather in freestyle, I tried inhaling sharply just before my left hand entered. Immediately I felt a sense of ‘this is how I was meant to breathe’

It was exhilarating, after 40 years of swimming backstroke to finally feel a "rightness" about breathing. As I got comfortable I experimented further, allowing water to wash over my face for the entire duration of my exhale, then surfacing my face just briefly for the inhale. I’d seen former world record holder Lenny Krayzelberg do this but had never made the connection.

That felt even better! This encouraged me to emphasize exhaling through my nose – to keep water from entering. It also gave me, for the first time ever, a distinct sense of a breathing rhythm in Backstroke, like those I’m familiar with in the other strokes. I’d long had a sense of stroke rhythm, but this was the first time in my life I could sense a backstroke breathing rhythm.

It felt so good I finished up with some IM cycles in the current, thinking about repeating the same number of breathing cycles in each stroke. Usually I count strokes, taking twice as many for the long axis strokes – e.g. 8 strokes Fly, 16 Back, 8 Breast and 16 Free. Counting breaths on each stroke has the same effect, but heightened focus on breathing rhythm.
I completed a round of 8 breaths on each stroke, then 10 of each, 12 of each, 14 of each and 16 of each, without break. I.E. As soon as I completed my series of 8 freestyle breaths (16 strokes) I started immediately on 10 breaths (and strokes) of Fly. Focusing on breathing rhythm in all strokes made my IM feel better than ever before.

January 15th, 2008, 04:46 AM
It feels right, but it takes concentration. Is this a good focus point during longer swims?

It does take concentration. I feel that anything that requires concentration is a good thing to add to practice. In this case, taking a bit more care to entering quietly and a bit more time to establishing your grip is a good focus for attention. I was forced to do this two years ago while rehabbing from surgery to reattach a ruptured right biceps tendon. I was also forced to keep my forearm pressure very light. I trained this way for three months, following two months of no whole-stroke swimming at all.

Five months to the day after surgery - a procedure that usually requires 10 to 12 months to recover to racing form - I swam the USMS 2-Mile Cable Swim at Lake Placid in 45:40 (I'd done 49:20 in placing 1st overall in the Betsy Owens Memorial swim on the same course the previous summer) and led the 50-54 age group until the final 200 meters. I was utterly blown away by the time and place - the highest I'd ever finished in a USMS championship event. I realized that the "slow and careful" stroking I'd been forced by circumstance to practice for three months had given me a truly effective catch for the first time in my life.

All the subsequent success I've enjoyed in Long Distance racing since then has proceeded from that foundation.

January 15th, 2008, 08:30 AM

On sprint backstroke events, like the 50 on the first leg of a 200 Medley Relay, I have my swimmers breathe every 4 - 6 strokes or more on backstroke. I figure, if you are only supposed to breathe 1 or 2 times for a 50 freestyle (or at all) why waste time trying to breathe on backstroke. I realize it takes a little more out of you because of the kick, but for only a 50 I do not believe you need that much air. The 100 we work on breathing every 4-2 strokes. It has worked in getting youngsters into a "rhythm" as you said. I'm sure it would work with more experienced minds as well.

January 15th, 2008, 09:19 AM

"The 100 we work on breathing every 4-2 strokes." Please explain? I am bit confused as to what you mean.


January 15th, 2008, 09:25 AM
42 years to find out you had breathing problems for backstroke???

I would have consulted a coach or swimming instructor.

January 15th, 2008, 10:05 AM
42 years to find out you had breathing problems for backstroke???

I would have consulted a coach or swimming instructor.

You know the old saw: the cobbler's children are the last ones to have shoes. ;)

Skip Montanaro

January 15th, 2008, 11:36 AM

"The 100 we work on breathing every 4-2 strokes." Please explain? I am bit confused as to what you mean.


I was taught to breathe a 100 freestyle every 4 strokes. Some, who cannot handle the mental anquish of holding their breath to every 4 strokes might want to breathe every 4 strokes and then 2 strokes, to ease the strain. That makes a rhythm of 4-2-4-2-4-2. We have been working on breathing the same way in sprinting backstroke. Most people, because your mouth is towards air, try to breath every stroke cycle in backstroke. It is the natural thing to do. (breathe when your mouth is out of the water) You shouldn't need, if you are in shape for it, a breath for every stroke cycle in backstroke. (IMO, which is influenced heavily by my coaches) That would mean after the initial breakout breath, 1 or 2 breaths more before the wall. 3 or 4 breaths on the next 25 for a total of 4 to 7 breaths for a 50 backstroke. (that might be to many) It has helped in dropping time in backstroke. For that matter, you shouldn't need to breathe every stroke cycle in breaststroke either. (Wilke? Is that his name? The English guy in the 70's didn't breathe every stroke cycle. He was an Olympic Champion) Breathing is overrated.

January 17th, 2008, 10:01 PM
I would have consulted a coach or swimming instructor.

I've swum with many coaches -- including one who set an American record in backstroke. None ever said a word about backstroke breathing pattern.

January 17th, 2008, 10:35 PM
Did the one hour swim and I found that it forced me to search and hone my stroke to be as efficient as possible as my energy stores were depleting.....for me that was about 25 minutes into the swim. A forced long swim may be a good thing to do perfect efficiency, feel the right feedback and imprint. In short repeats you rely on power too much. I will try to incorporate a continuous 40+ min. swim once a month. This one hour event was a real eye opener.

January 20th, 2008, 09:37 AM
Did the one hour swim and I found that it forced me to search and hone my stroke to be as efficient as possible as my energy stores were depleting.....

I've had a sort of fatigue syndrome for 3+ months, which has left me undertrained for the Hour Swim. Even so, I'm looking forward to doing it, as it will force me to search and hone in the same way, to conserve limited energy supplies.