Swim coach Bryan Mineo explains why holding your breath will slow you down and provides advice for kicking this bad habit.
Most inexperienced swimmers mistakenly hold their breath at some point during the stroke cycle. But would you hold your breath every few strides while running? Of course not. It wouldn’t be maintainable or efficient.
Relax! Tune into the inhale/exhale pattern you naturally employ when at rest. The goal is to replicate the same smooth pattern during freestyle. Holding your breath will fill up your lungs like balloons, causing your chest to rise, and your hips and legs to drop, which means more drag and decreased efficiency in the water. Instead of pushing hard to fill up your entire lungs with every breath, try working with half of your lung capacity and completely empty them each breath.
Practice breathing every stroke to create a rhythm that provides a constant supply of oxygen. Alternate your breathing side every 100 to create symmetry in your mechanics. Next, find your trough! To ensure you are creating an optimal pocket of air to inhale from, you need proper head position in the water. Ideally you want the water line to break at the top third of your head, creating a bow wave off of it and a subsequent trough on each side to breathe into. Use the black line as your reference point and fix your gaze 2–3 feet in front of you. Tweak as necessary to find that sweet spot.
Timing the breath to properly sync with the cadence of your stroke may be the most overlooked element of freestyle breathing. When your left arm is extending forward, your head and body should be rotating to the right side. As that arm reaches full extension you should be inhaling into the trough. Nine out of 10 swimmers delay beginning their breath, creating a dead spot each stroke cycle, causing the extended arm to have a dropped elbow and straight arm pull under the body. Mastering the proper sync of your breath can eliminate other timing issues and will create a fluid, balanced stroke. Just keep swimming … and breathing!
Los Angeles-based swim mechanics coach Bryan Mineo dedicates his time to deconstructing the swim stroke and simplifying the formula for swimmers. As a marathon swimmer preparing to swim the English Channel in August, Mineo uses his own training as an ongoing study of his methodology.