That Sinking Feeling…how to find the right breathing rate for swimming

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So, while I was teaching a 1-hour swim lesson today with a local triathlete, I came across an interesting phenomenon that I had only witnessed on a much smaller scale during a weekend workshop and had not struck me like it did today.

While my student was doing each set of drills that I gave her (Total Immersion drills), she would sink toward the bottom and be less than a foot from the bottom of a 3-foot deep pool within 10 yards. At first, I was dumbfounded because she did not sink when doing her normal stroke. The only difference was that I was not allowing her to lift her head (making her look straight down in a neutral head position) and had her leading arm at about a 4 o’clock rather than right at the surface. What was causing this problem? Was the arm position too low? Was the head position wrong? No!

Then I remembered that she told me that she has a problem with getting out of breath in her triathlons and needing to stop and roll on her back to breathe. So, I watched again as she did the drills and noticed that she was releasing almost all of her breath as she started the drill. Hmmmm…could there be a connection? Remember that the only reason that most of us float is because the breath in our lungs lowers the density of our body and causes us to float. As you release your breath, you increase the density of your body and begin to sink. So, I had her try the next few drills while holding her breath and the difference was amazing! Perfect body position…completely horizontal and right at the surface! Voila…as they say.

Now, obviously, you don’t want to hold your breath while you swim or you will have to let it all out at the same time as you are trying to get a new one…which will slow down your breathing cycles and interrupt your stroke. So, what do you do? How do you know how much to let out so that you don’t sink but you don’t hold your breath either?

Try this: Next time you are in the pool, push off the wall and glide on your stomach face down and slowly let your breath out. Try to feel that breaking point where you begin to sink (the point at which you become denser than the water). This may take several repetitions. When you have it figured out, estimate what percentage of your total breath that point comes at (i.e. did you start to sink when you let 50% of your breath out or 75%?). For me, it takes about 75% of my breath to be released before I start to sink. This way you know how much of your total breath you can let out before you need to grab another one. This may take some practice but if you get this right you will be more balanced in the water and therefore more efficient.

Happy Training
Ryan Chapman
B.A.S.E. Training

1 Comment

  • Katherine

    December 26, 2012

    great tip. I will try this. I can’t catch a breath, so this should work for me too.
    K