One of the most commonly asked questions in the world of triathlons involves breathing. While swimming freestyle, the first step on the road to proper form is body positioning. Add in breathing, and suddenly everything is turned on its head! More than anything else, this has to do with a lack of balance. Instead of the core, you’re using your head to breathe.
Listed below are the top five challenges you’ll face in learning to properly breathe while doing the freestyle stroke, as well as the steps you’ll need to take to overcome them.
1. Not getting sufficient air: This happens for a couple of different reasons. Primarily, you need to make sure you’re breathing out all of the air in your body before starting to rotate to breathe. Some novices try to both exhale and also inhale while in the process of rolling. You need to understand that there just isn’t sufficient time for both! Breathing out should always result in bubbles, because you should always be under water! In the beginning, you’ll likely find the timing to be difficult, but eventually, you’ll become accustomed to it. Second, there is a chance that you’re sinking during your breathing. Be certain that you are rolling to the side while breathing, not rotating the head and looking straight up. Start to practice the side kick and shark fin drills, thoroughly deconstructed in The Triathlon Swimming Essentials, as well as the The 3 Essential Elements to Master Freestyle for Triathlon.
2. While Taking a Breath, Your Extended Arm Sinks. More than anything else, this has to do with balance. While breathing to one side, extend your other arm. A number of swimmers push down the extended arm into the water, and thus sink while attempting to inhale. Both the shark fin and side kicking drills will assist you in improving this. Another drill you may find helpful is called the fist drill. This forces you to use your lower body, rather than your upper body, drastically improving balance in the water.
3. You Sacrifice Speed Because You “Pause” During Your Breathing. You’re really cruising along, but when you stop to take a breath, your momentum crumbles. Here’s the fix: when you breathe, first concentrate on forcing your breath to the side (as in drill one), then on making your mouth parallel to the water (rather than perpendicular). This will take some time to fully master, but once mastered, your pause will vanish, and your speed will quickly improve.
4. Trouble Navigating During the Race. While swimming a triathlon, you must look up to have a sense of direction, while at the same time sucking in air. How can you accomplish both feats? The first step is learning bilateral breathing (which is simply breathing to both sides each three strokes). You’ll start to see where you’re going, but without lifting your head out of the water as much. If you do need to see, make every attempt not to look ahead, but rather to the side: looking straight ahead will kill your balance, and at the same make your hips sink. The better alternative is to take just a quick peek at the target while rolling off to one side, then bringing your head straight back into the proper position.
5. Sucking Water In While Breathing. While practicing, this might occur because of the first two problems listed above. In a racing situation, however, the problem could be waves. The answer once again is bilateral breathing. To train for this potential problem, you’ll want to practice both the side kicking drill and the shark fin drill.
Another great drill to practice is the one-arm drill, which involves swimming a full stroke with only one arm, while the other arm hangs out at the side. While doing this, try to breathe on the opposite side of the arm that is stroking. While this drill is somewhat more difficult than the others, in time it will reap huge rewards. For additional tips and tricks, along with many more drills, check out the Full Package available from Tri Swim Coach.