Efficient, relaxed breathing is a key technical skill to master in order to become a successful swimmer. It impacts timing, streamlining, technical/physiological development and transfers into open-water sighting, drafting and racing starts, yet it’s rarely coached/practised.
So let’s start with some key basics: learning to exhale in a relaxed, continuous out breath into the water. Sink-down drills are perfect for this: inhale, then relax, exhaling to sink to the bottom. Progress this into stroke breathing. Inhale to the side on a short silent count of one, turning your face back into the water, saying an audible long ‘twwoooooo’ as you continue to exhale back to the mid line, and repeat. Practise on both sides breathing every two strokes, to encourage better stroke symmetry.
In tri, if you learn how to bilateral breathe (breathing to either side) it will help you easily adapt to race demands, water conditions and drafting. This breathing-focused swim set has it all!
Breathing every 3 strokes
Alternate 25m head-up, 25m swim
Sighting every 6 strokes
5 x ‘sink-downs’
Small breath in, breathe out and sink to bottom
8 x hypoxic starts
As 50m hard, no breathing for first 10 strokes
4 x 100m
Each 100m as: breathe every 2/3/2/3 strokes; breathe every 3/4/3/4; breathe every 5/4/5/4; breathe every 6/5/6/5
15secs rest after each 100m
12 x 100m
Each 100m as: breath every 2 strokes left; every 3 strokes; every 4 left; every 5; every 6 left; every 7; every 7; every 6 strokes right; every 5; every 4 right; every 3; every 2
20secs rest after each 100m
200m mixed stroke
ADAPT FOR BEGINNERS
Reduce hypoxic starts to 6 strokes no breath. Over a period of weeks increase the number of strokes per breath in the main set from 2, 3, 4s to the above.
ADAPT FOR IRONMAN
Gradually increase the main set to 14-16 x 100m with breath every 8 strokes left/ right and 9 strokes. Increase the hypoxic starts to 100m, first 50m as described then 50m at target race-pace effort.
3 TIPS FROM RICHARD
By exhaling continuously through your mouth and nose as your head returns under water to the centre line of your stroke, breathing in will become more streamlined.
Use winter pool sessions to develop and practise ‘crocodile eyes’, where they just come out over the water line, combined with effective breathing to significantly enhance your race performance.
Using a swim snorkel can be useful if you struggle to relax your breathing while maintaining good stroke mechanics. It also helps build confidence breathing out under water.