So you think you can become a better swimmer, do you ?
Well, don’t hold your breath!
One of the wonderful things about the human body is that most of the time it gets on with the job of keeping you alive without requiring the slightest intervention from the conscious mind. Can you imagine how busy we’d be if we had to remember to blink the eyes, digest our food or beat the heart ? ! By and large the conscious mind can let the body just to get on with these things – and that includes breathing.
So, let’s try a couple of experiments and introduce a little crisis into the system to learn something about how it works…
Just where you are, take a deep breath in and hold it for as long as you can. Time yourself if possible. Observe carefully what happens.
Have you done that ? Good. Now, this won’t be true for everyone but I am expecting that many of you began to feel a little light-headed during that, and far from comfortable. A little strain in the chest maybe and a build-up of pressure in the ears ? And, although you were completely in control of the situation, even a slight panic towards the end ? Then finally a big expulsion of air and….. then what ? Did you have to tell your body to start breathing again ? Or did it do it all by itself ?
There are lots of observations to make!
Before we go any further, let’s do it again. Only this time try moving your arms up and down, fairly vigourously. Notice what’s the same and what is different.
OK. So I would have thought there were two significant outcomes from that. The first being that you felt all the same things but this time slightly more intensely. You may have been unable to hold your breath for quite as long.
So what does all this tell us ? It tells us that that the body is quite capable of breathing all by itself without us having to worry about it and that even a little exercise tends to intensify the ramifications of being unable to breathe.
Photo by Stefano Zocca on Unsplash
So why do so many swimmers hold their breath while going along, or even just fail to breathe in the most efficient manner they possibly could? When we are running or cycling we wouldn’t do that; we would be taking deep breaths in an out constantly. So why do so many hold breath when swimming ?
The answer is ‘natural’. When untrained human’s face is submerged in water alarm bells will begin to ring. The brain knows that we are not naturally aquatic beings and that if we remain face down in the water very long we will drown. It is understandable then, that in order to protect its life and not accidentally breath in water, it believes the most prudent course of action is to shut everything down. So the breathing cycle stops and the breath is held. Even experienced swimmers can be found to hold their breath more than they should. The resulting discomfort and distraction (let alone the panic that some people feel) from breath holding will no doubt be detrimental to the overall efficiency of the stroke.
To overcome this, the body needs to have the skills for breathing in this submerged swimming position and the brain needs to be convinced that it this will work and all will be OK, so it can turn off the alarms and quit trying to keep itself alive so aggressively. It can take a long while – weeks and months – to build this skill and to calm the vigilant brain and its survival instinct. Consciously breathing out is the first important step to training the brain that all will be OK. The more that the brain feels all will be OK with breathing, the more space opens up for it to give attention to other things.
Thus, it is vital to practice – and keep practicing – the air exchange cycle, including that conscious exhale. The deep belly breath in, the slow release of air out, and the final blast to clear the airways as the face breaks the surface – these build confidence that the re-filling of the lungs will take happen more easily, even automatically. The more you practice, the smoother you get at this, and the more space you have to concentrate on the rest of the stroke.
Time spent practicing the air exchange is never wasted.
…Hmm, what ?
Are you still waiting for the second significant outcome from your exercise earlier ?
Oh, I thought that would be obvious eventually… You can’t hold your breath for long!
Author: Tracey Baumann; Editor: Phil Stocker
It seems that finally, possibly, we have, perhaps, come to a turning point in this extraordinary year.
Which Part To Concentrate On?
But as pools and public spaces begin to re-open, albeit under new rules and regulations it seems we can finally begin to look to the future again and begin to make tentative plans for the continuation of our swimming journey. And one question I have been asked is what is the most important part of the stroke to concentrate on after such a long break?
Of course, there is no one answer to that. People swim for many different reasons. Some swim to exercise, of course, but some do so to clear their minds or alternatively to keep their minds busy! Others enjoy the healing nature of being in water and the camaraderie they feel in the swimming community as a whole.
For competitive swimmers, the COVID crisis has often resulted in their plans for the 2020 season being cancelled completely or pushed back to 2021. Whilst a few still have their swims this season they have not been able to do their normal swim training practice to prepare. The psychological repercussions of all of the above must be acknowledged and not be taken lightly.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Locked Down But Not Idle
During the lockdown, I have been in touch with all of my clients and swimming friends and have been blown away by the support everyone has been giving and receiving. I have been intrigued to watch the determination and ingenuity shown to continue swimming, this being via pop-up swimming pools, the use of static tethered lines or even dry land exercises balanced on dustbins!
Here at SwimMastery, we have done our best to continue to grow as coaches and swimmers during this period. We have held many coach-training online classes, continual development webinars and some live lessons online sometimes with the coach and pupil several hundreds of miles apart! As a group of coaches, we have managed to submerge ourselves in the world of swimming and coaching and I would say each and every SwimMastery coach is coming out of this lockdown with a much greater understanding of the freestyle stroke and how to teach it. As the bodies of water have slowly opened again it has been very exciting to hear the stories they have to share about practising their new skills with their clients and friends. I look forward to this continuing as more and more coaches are able to begin coaching again.
And it has been amazing to watch, as the lockdown rules have slowly been lifting here in the UK, the excitement that the removal of this barrier has brought generally. It has been quite overwhelming to witness. It has brought me a renewed sense of joy that I feel about swimming and swim coaching. It is the age-old saying, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. This has been true for so many people, particularly with swimming, who have had no available body of water to use.
So, as we all begin to swim again if I had to pick just one area relevant to all swimmers I think it would be the connection between the legs and the torso. Imagine that your legs are actually part of your torso. I can see some question marks on your faces as you read that statement so I will explain further. It is literally impossible to swim freestyle efficiently using the correct sling systems in the body without using the legs. Equally, it is just as impossible to use those sling systems without the legs being connected to the rest of the body.
As a swim coach, I often see both errors in new swimmers coming for their first lessons and in more experienced swimmers coming for stroke tune-up sessions. I either see the legs trying to do nothing because often the swimmer has been told that they don’t need to use them or the opposite whereby the legs are kicking frantically but are completely unconnected. So a great way to start changing either one of these challenges above is to swim as if your torso starts at your shoulders and finishes at your feet. People are often surprised by how different they feel with this simple visualisation.
Over the coming months, we at SwimMastery will be reaching out with our top tips and ideas for getting back into the water and beginning your stroke practising sessions again. We will cover stroke-specific topics and topics on how to practice. Meanwhile, stay safe, be sensible, observe the new rules but, most of all, enjoy your swimming again!