Breath control can mean the difference between a calm, efficient swim and one in which you struggle more and more with every stroke, ultimately tiring yourself out before the race even gets started.
As you inhale oxygen you do so through the nose and mouth. Through the windpipe (pharynx) the air makes its way through the bronchi, the bronchioles and the alveoli. From this point, some oxygen makes its way into the blood stream. The rate and depth of breathing is in response to the body's metabolic needs.
More: How to Control Your Breathing in Training and Competition
When working correctly, ventilation (exchange of air to and from the body when breathing) is not only low during relaxed breathing, but much more efficient. On the other hand, physical and emotional stress can alter normal breathing patterns, which changes the work load to accessory muscles, decreasing ventilation efficiency.
Learning how to use the diaphragm in a natural way can improve ventilation, encourage relaxation, and decrease the work rate of breathing.
More: Proper Breathing Technique for Swimming
Some common difficulties in breathing among swimmers and triathletes include:
Breathing should be neutrally aligned and synchronized with the body roll when swimming. In other words, the head should roll with the body and not be lifted up or excessively turned to breathe. Lifting the head causes the lower body to sink or shift in unwanted directions.
More: How to Keep Your Stroke Balanced
Breathing to both sides of the body will also help with balance. Not only does bilateral breathing encourage a balance of strength in the upper body, it's also beneficial during races where waves, swells and other competitors can hamper the tempo of your stroke. Having the ability to alternate breathing on both sides is a distinct advantage.
More: Bilateral Breathing
A focus on swim technique should be a regular part of your training plan. For the adult learner, beginner, intermediate or recreational swimmer, and those hoping to get faster, technique and balance training will go a long way toward improving efficiency.
If you are having great difficulty, there may be limitations in your movement (flexibility, mobility, stability and strength) that are inhibiting your progress. How you move out of the water affects swimming mechanics. I recommend getting a comprehensive movement assessment (by a qualified coach or physical therapist) then, you can move on to swimming technique.
Getting the body to move right out of the water will go a long way in the water, and beginning with the right breathing is a great first step for everyone.
The video below provides you with a discussion of breathing patterns and practices that you can implement the next time you swim.
More: Breathing Mechanics That Will Help Your Freestyle
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