Ask Coach Sara: Returning To Swimming After A Break

Your questions about swimming as a triathlete, answered by coach and professional triathlete Sara McLarty.

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Q: I’ve just learned to swim, but freestyle exhausts me so fast. What am I doing wrong? –@littlest79

A: You are not alone—many new swimmers share the same frustration. Here are a few tips to make your training experience much easier:

Exhale out of your nose while your face is in the water. Do not hold your breath while you are swimming. Breath holding causes a build-up of carbon dioxide in your lungs, which gives you the out-of-breath, panicky feeling.

Breathe more often. Take an inhale every two or three strokes.

Relax and let your body float in the water. Do not try to swim on top of the water. Watch an elite swimmer from the pool deck and observe how little of his or her head and body is actually out of the water.

Shrink your kick to provide propulsion without creating drag. Only move your feet/legs up and down in the water 12–16 inches. Maintain a quick tempo at the surface of the water.

RELATED: Why Does Swimming Make Me So Sleepy?

Q: Do you recommend wearing earbuds while swimming? I’d love some music on long swims. –@DrewerIV 

A: Yes, there are some products on the market that are waterproof and can provide musical entertainment while swimming. However, I personally do not recommend wearing earbuds during your pool training (and especially not while cycling). Using earphones while training means that you are listening to something other than the feedback your body is giving and being distracted from the goals of the workout. Listening to music drowns out the sound of your breathing so you are unable to correctly judge your effort level. Following along to the lyrics of a song blocks you from focusing on stroke and technique in the pool.

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Q: How would you suggest starting swimming again after a long break? –@beavdan

A: After a long time out of the water, it’s best to restart your training program by progressing slowly and focusing on good technique. Follow the 10 percent rule from running (don’t increase mileage by more than 10 percent per week). You can do the same for swimming by using yardage or total workout time in the pool. If you were out of the pool for an injury, it is doubly important that you slowly build back into training to prevent a recurrence of the injury. Take advantage of your break out of the water to forget any bad techniques and relearn the correct movement patterns. Have your stroke examined by a professional swimming coach in person or via video analysis.

RELATED: Relearn Proper Stroke Habits After A Break

Q: What should I do about a rotator cuff injury? What are the typical swim causes? –@dobbyduvet

A: Rotator cuff injuries usually occur from an over-use movement or accident not related to swimming. Talk to your doctor about what you can and cannot do with your current injury. If you are given the green light to swim, observe what causes pain both in and out of the water. An incorrect catch and pull phase of the stroke might cause the smaller muscles in your shoulder and scapula to become over-worked. Other things to look at are a high arm entry, caused by not allowing the torso rotate enough to assist in the set-up of the stroke, a slow and controlled recovery, or by using paddles too often, too soon or too big.

RELATED: Prevent Or Remedy Shoulder Issues

Pro triathlete and swim coach Sara McLarty has 25-plus years of experience and knowledge about swimming mechanics, efficiency and technique.

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