If you're like most triathletes, practicing your swim breathing technique never happens.
This is strange when you consider that it represents the most inefficient part of the stroke cycle! Yet practicing how to breathe properly during your swim training is every bit as important as other technical swimming drills in order to learn to stay relaxed and conserve valuable energy you'll need later in the race.
If you lift your head out of the water, over rotate, or even worse just hold your breath until you come up gasping for air then all you're doing is spiking your heart rate and slamming on the brakes every time you breathe. That's why you need to practice how to breathe first in your swim training until efficient swim breathing becomes automatic: Energy management during the swim hinges on smooth, relaxed breathing.
More: Train for the Triathlon Swim in 2 Hours a Week
Swimming requires full body coordination during your stroke cycle along with your breathing. To improve your swim breathing use the same stroke drills you normally would. The only difference is you start with a FOCUS on your breathing. Once you get comfortable with your breathing during the drill then you'll be ready to maximize the benefits of that particular drill because you'll be more relaxed and aware.
Here are two examples to get you started. Remember, start slow:
Start with both arms extended in front of you. On the first 25 yards keep your right arm extended and only use your left arm to take strokes breathing every 2nd stroke on your left side. On the second 25 yards keep your left arm extended and use your right arm to take strokes breathing every 2nd stroke on your right side. Focus on fully exhaling underwater and then only rolling as far as necessary to get a deep breath.
More: 4 Swimming Drills to Perfect Your Stroke
Push off from the wall and rotate your body with the left side facing the bottom of the pool. Extend your left arm and place your left ear on your shoulder. Your eyes are looking toward the bottom of the pool and slightly forward.
Keep your right arm at your side with your fingers pointing toward your feet. Kick 6 to 8 times then take three smooth freestyle strokes starting with your left arm and fully exhale underwater during the three strokes. Take a deep breath on your third stroke and stay on your right side for 6 to 8 kicks and repeat.
Focus on your breathing first to stay relaxed. By teaching yourself to stay relaxed you will be able to swim stronger longer.
To get the most out of these drills it's usually best to use a set of short fins to help propel you through the water. Once you are comfortable breathing during each drill then shift your focus to improving your stroke technique and body position in the water.
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As you probably noticed both of the drills above teach you to breathe on either side. Why? Because being comfortable breathing to either side can make or break your day.
Breathing on each side teaches you to take more balanced strokes and allows you to switch comfortably as the situation requires. This is especially helpful when swimming in the open water where you need to sight buoys and often have to avoid getting a mouthful of water from waves or other swimmers. The bottom line: it's a handy survival skill in the chaos of swim starts.
If your goal is to become a better swimmer faster then build your swim technique on a foundation of comfortable, relaxed breathing. This simple—and often overlooked—training tactic can deliver a marked improvement in your swim times, and do wonders for taming stress and panic come race day.
More: 8 Tips for Open Water Swimming Newbies
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