Focus on Fitness: Breathing in the water
Breath control and exchange in the water make up the first pillar of swimming. Children start learning this skill early in swim lessons by blowing bubbles and doing bobs. Adults become apprehensive about swimming with their faces in the water because incorrect breathing can cause an oxygen debt and create a mild drowning sensation.
The following tips and drills, practiced regularly, will help alleviate this problem and lead to efficient and relaxed strokes:
• Become a mouth breather (in and out) and be sure to exhale all of your air underwater. You do not have time to exhale any air above water in between strokes or to rely on your nose. Doing so chips away at your rhythm, causes oxygen debt and quickly tears your stroke apart. If you create a spray from your mouth as your head rises, you are not getting all of your air out underwater and are breathing inefficiently. If you are holding your breath completely underwater, swimming becomes next to impossible.
• Slight exhalation through your nose or a nose plug is all you need to keep water out of your sinuses.
• Exhalation underwater may be fast, slow or staggered depending on your pace and breathing pattern. Inhalation is almost always fast because your head is only above water for a brief moment. Pretend you are flipping the switch on a vacuum cleaner and suck in as much air as possible.
• Practice breathing at the side of the pool. Place your face in the water, exhale all your air through your mouth, and then lift your head to inhale. Do not exhale at all above water. Practice this until you are comfortable with this pattern. Next, move on to practicing with a kickboard. Hold on to the bottom of the board with both hands and fully extend your arms in front of your head. Kick across the pool with your face in the water and repeat the previous drill. Repeat this until you can swim multiple lengths without stopping to catch your breath at the wall.
• When swimming on your back, maintain a constant breathing pattern. Do not hold your breath or breathe too fast.
When you have mastered these drills, you are ready to incorporate the breathing pattern into your strokes and begin working on developing a consistent and sustained rhythm.
Correct breathing is perhaps the most important fundamental in all of swimming. Without it, you are doomed to play oxygen catch-up and stop for frequent breaks. With it, you can learn to swim long distances with the effort required for a brisk stroll.
Sam Huff is the aquatics director at Old Town Hot Springs.
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