I recently sent out an inquiry in the Mediterra Newsletter asking about what questions people still have about breathing troubles, questions that have not been sufficiently answered by the resources they’ve used so far. I received several questions or comments and my responses that I would like to share with you. Let’s start with a few of them…
50 Meter Barrier
D from India described his struggle – though she has been practicing for over 3 years and can swim 1000, he still feels he has to stop after 50m to rest for up to a minute or more. (Curiously, 50 meters seems to be a barrier for many people).
In order to help him identify the root causes of this limitation, we would have to investigate and gather a lot more information. I asked:
First, how old are you and how many times per week do you swim?How would you describe the intensity of the swimming you are doing when you feel you have to stop? Are you swimming as easy as you can? Or do you have only one speed and intensity and it still feels too effortful?Could you describe for me what you feel at about 50m that makes you stop? Just feeling out of breath? Heart pounding? Muscles feel tired? What happens if, after 50m, you immediately took off and swam just 1/2 length or a full length more? Does it get worse? Do you feel that it is just going to get worse and worse if you don’t rest for a moment?
Those are some starting questions I sent off to him. Behind those questions, I am looking for clues that would point us toward the possible root problems. If the swimmer is attentive he can provide a lot of useful details. If he is not knowing where to look, then I may have to suggest some test activities to help him isolate areas that affect breathing and find which ones may hold the root.
Better Breathing occurs because things are working well in:
The Nervous System
And vice versa – if a person is feeling breathlessness (when he knows he shouldn’t be) it is because there is a problem in one or more of these areas.
How much is the problem a matter of fitness? How much a matter of stroke technique? How much is it a matter of breathing technique? How much a matter of perception? How much a matter of trust (deep in the brain and body)? These are questions we work on answering through an interview, or testing in the pool.
We all know how frustrating it is to be working with a solution someone gave us but it doesn’t even touch the cause!
Bi-Lateral And Busy Legs
B from Sidney noted that making himself learn bilateral breathing helped because then he could make the breathing pattern fit his need rather than he remain a slave to a particular pattern on only one side. Breathing always on one side is very limiting.
Another one of the solutions to his breathlessness was doing some Silent Swimming, which required him to quiet his entry arm and quiet his kick. Then he noticed how unnecessary much of his kick was and when he turned it down, realized how much energy it was wasting. Turn that way down and guess what? Breathing got a lot easier.
I often catch people, even though they learned from us how to finally balance their body without a kick, still kicking frantically out of habit when focused on new things. I have them slow things down and then lengthen those legs out behind in balanced and braced position be more of an extension of the torso frame and less of an independent motor. There often seems to be a direct relationship between a frantic kick and a lack of core stabilization because proper core stabilization should include the thighs straightened (stretched) out behind the torso, and that works directly against frantic kicking. A frantic kick is usually breaking that frame at the hips and knees, creating enormous drag, using enormous energy and helping forward motion very little.
Head Position Is Key
K (currently) in Norway described how he was working at following the late Coach Terry’s advice given in a recent TI blog post, specifically for keeping his head down and top of head pointed down the lane, what is called the ‘Laser Lead’ in Coach Terry lingo.
The crazy thing about the best head position for breathing is that it is totally counter-intuitive. Everything in our land-mammal brains scream, “Tilt your head up to breathe!” But it is the head that is nearly all submerged that is actually in the easiest position to breathe because it doesn’t have to push up against gravity – which shoves right back down, or shoves some lower part of the body to compensate. The face just roles toward the air on the spine axis. Lifting that head up out of the water to breathe is extremely consequential to the rest of the body to forward motion.
K was also trying to reduce the tension he feels in his neck while breathing. This indicates that those neck muscles are having to work hard each time to hold the head in some position out of alignment with the rest of the spine for the moment of the breathing action. He was wondering about Coach Terry’s advice to have the chin follow the shoulder when turning toward the air. Would that help him reduce tension?
One could interpret that focal point to mean turning the head at a certain time, or turn the head in a certain direction. That could help hold the head in alignment while turning if it had a tendency to tilt (as if to look) forward while turning toward air, or to turn lazy or turn late after the torso has turned.
I would like to use such focal points as ‘correctives’ because I would look for what the problem is, and then make sure the swimmer knows how to apply that focal point to get the result we are looking for. If we regard that focal point as an adjustment on direction, a swimmer could be looking forward a bit too much, actually tilting the cervical spine out of alignment with the rest of the spine, causing more tension, not less. Or a swimmer could be looking back in such a way that it is taking their face away from the ideal position, not closer and we would not want to apply this focal point. Sometimes a swimmer might need to look slightly ahead in order to get his head in a better position from where it was. So, don’t regard any corrective focal point as an absolute – every focal point has a context and needs to be applied in that context, otherwise you likely cause a new problem. (More on this in Correction Versus Over-Correction).
The amazing thing about having the head in line with the spine and deep in the water is that that deep forehead presses through the water and a bow wave forms, and behind it this little trough appears right where the mouth happens to be, and that trough allows you to turn the face much less. That means you get to the air sooner, feel like you have more time there, and then get back to face-down position sooner because it is a lot closer. The farther you have to turn the face the more time it takes to get there and back, which means less time at the inhalation position.