by coach Gordon Gridley

Do you ever find yourself running out of breath when swimming freestyle, while not even sprinting?  Don't worry, this is common for beginners and even some experienced swimmers could improve in this area.  Oftentimes we focus so much on getting air into our lungs that we forget that you cannot fill a dish that is already full.  You must empty your lungs BEFORE getting fresh air.  When you breath in, your body takes the life giving oxygen and pumps it to your bloodstream for your muscles to use throughout your body.  Your body uses that oxygen and carbon dioxide (co2) is produced which your body needs to get rid of.  Without disposing of this CO2, you will become fatigued, feel like you are in need of more oxygen, when in fact it isn't your lack of oxygen, but your overabundance of carbon dioxide in your system.  You need to get rid of it!

When you swim, do you hold your breath?  Take special note of what you're doing when your face is in the water.  Most of the time when swimming freestyle a very large percentage of that time should be with your face in the water, exhaling.  There are three stages to proper breathing in freestyle:

  1. Inhale
  2. Slow release (Exhale)
  3. Quick release (Exhale right before repeating step 1)

Every swimmer remembers to get step 1, but then many swimmers skip step 2 and just hold their breath, then after 2 or more strokes go straight to step 3.  There isn't enough time in that quick release to completely empty your lungs.  The slow release allows you to take the time to get the air out in a relaxed way.  It doesn't allow for a CO2 building to occur, and allows you to spend more time with your head in the water in a streamlined position, rather than taking more breaths than really necessary.

Check out this video:  

In addition to doing a proper exhale, it is important to have your head in the right position during your breathing.  Your head creates a small wave, and when you rotate your head, there is a small pocket created by the wave.  Make sure to only rotate your head enough to get into that pocket.  Do not lift your head out of the water.  Your body should already by rotated so you shouldn't have to turn your head very much at all.  

When you hold your breath, you tense up, and your chest is too high in the water.  A good drill to overcome any anxiousness and practice good exhaling is sink downs.


At water depth of about 7-8 feet, in an area that doesn't interfere with other swimmers, and where you are safe to do this drill (check with the lifeguard if there are questions):

  1. Tread water at the start for about 10 seconds to check out your surroundings above water.
  2. Take a quick breath and raise your hands up above your head.
  3. Keep your legs together and you will sink down under the surface.  
  4. Slowly release the air from your lungs.  You will notice that as you let out more air you will sink faster. 
  5. Continue to slowly release the air at a controlled rate.  When you get to the bottom, if you still have a good percentage of air in your lungs. keep your feet on the bottom.
  6. Push off the bottom while still letting out more air.  You should not be completely out of air at any point.  Keep your arms up above your head in a streamlined position. Right before you get to the surface you should have approximately 80% left and then right before surfacing, blasting out the remaining portion, as you also use your arms to pull down along your side.  
  7. Once surfaced your arms should be down at your hips.  Take a quick breath and then raise your arms back up above your head.  Do not kick your feet.  Keep them straight.  This should be a quick breath, not a rest.  Take that breath and sink back down repeating Step 3.

This drill is fun and helps you to relax and understand the rate at which you should be exhaling in the water.  

For more details on this important topic visithttp://www.swimsmooth.com/exhalation.html

Once you master this sinkdown drill, try taking it to the next level, and try blowing a bubble ring!  Can you make quality bubble rings?  Here's my best so far. Submit your video if you've got it down!



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