Ask the experts: Swimming Tips by c2CbV38A


									                    Ask the experts: Swimming Tips
   Former competitive swimmer Susan Mellish offers advice on breathing.

         Email This Story      Print This Story Published on Tuesday, Mar 27, 2007 at 11:14 AM.

What's the most effective way to breathe when swimming freestyle? Is there any benefit
                                   to breathing on both sides?

  Relaxation is key to proper breathing technique in freestyle. Tensing up and holding your breath
  while your face is in the water makes breathing more difficult. This forces you to both inhale and
           exhale when turned to get air -- an inefficient and exhausting way to breathe.
Instead, remember that freestyle is a "long-axis" stroke -- it involves rolling the body along the
spine as the hips are rotated from side to side. Breathing should be a part of this body rotation, not
an independent twisting movement of your head.

As your body rolls sideways, bringing your face out of the water, turn your head just enough that
one goggle lens remains submerged and inhale through your mouth. When you turn back into the
water, slowly exhale through the nose and/or mouth, blowing bubbles.

Focus on exhaling air into the water more than inhaling, kind of like reverse breathing. Inhaling will
occur naturally as a result of emptying air from your lungs. Practice this reverse breathing out of
the water by making a conscious effort to forcibly exhale, while permitting your body to inhale on its
own. You'll quickly learn how deeply you need to breathe to swim efficiently; you'll probably find
yourself taking deeper, quick breaths while taking harder and more shallow, slow breaths while
warming up or cooling down.

Being able to breathe on both sides makes shoulder injuries less likely since you won't repeatedly
"torque" the same shoulder each time you take a breath. Breathing on both sides also develops
your back and shoulder muscles more equally, and in open-water races, gives you a better view of
where you are and where your competition is.

Practice breathing on both sides by taking a breath every three strokes. Breathing on your weaker
side will feel odd at first but become more comfortable with practice.

I've been swimming regularly as cross-training for my running. But I know only freestyle. Should I
learn other strokes? If so, what strokes do you suggest, and what's the benefit of each?

                              Swimming is an excellent non-impact sport that provides a full-body
                              workout, but there's more to it than freestyle. Incorporating other
                              strokes in your training will not only improve your conditioning, but it
                              will also better strengthen your muscles.

                              Switching strokes during workouts will balance the strength of
opposing major muscle groups because different strokes use different muscles. Not to mention,
swimming the same way session after session can get boring. Mixing it up adds variety to your
workout, which may help keep you motivated.

Start by learning the backstroke -- the most similar to freestyle and another "long-axis" body-rolling
stroke. Freestyle uses your triceps and latissimus dorsi (or "lats," the large upper-back muscles),
with the kick used for balance and forward progression. Backstroke uses the same muscles, but the
movement is reversed. The muscles contracting in freestyle are lengthening in the backstroke, and
vice versa.

The backstroke is also great as active recovery after a hard freestyle set. An easy swim while
floating on your back gives you a "rest" while still moving, and with your face out of the water,
breathing is easier.

The breaststroke and butterfly, "short-axis" strokes, use a variety of muscles and help develop
flexibility and coordination. The breast and fly primarily engage the abs and lower back muscles and
require simultaneous arm and leg movements.

I suggest you learn breaststroke for several reasons. The breaststroke kick works both the inner
and outer thigh muscles, and the pull is a great shoulder and upper body workout. One of the main
benefits of breaststroke is that you breathe when your head lifts up during the pull, enabling you to
see straight ahead.

Doing a few cycles of breaststroke during an open-water swim can help you get a handle on your
surroundings. If you're looking for even more of a challenge in coordination and bodywork, learn the
butterfly stroke.

Above all, perform the strokes correctly. Bad technique will hinder your training and negate the
benefits of adding a new stroke to your swimming routine. Seek out an instructor or coach for

As a triathlete, I've mainly worked on building speed in cycling and running. Now I'd like to focus on
becoming a faster swimmer. What's the best way to do this?

You have to swim correctly before you can swim fast. The first thing you need to do is master
proper technique. Just as hunching over your bike's handlebars to get in good aerodynamic position
reduces wind resistance, swimming with proper form allows you to cut through the water,
minimizing resistance, or "drag."

Using proper technique also makes you a more efficient swimmer -- you expend less energy fighting
the water and save more for the bike and run. Since you race freestyle as a triathlete, practice
freestyle and kicking drills that focus on perfecting body position and stroke technique.
Swim speed is primarily the result of stroke frequency and length. However, taking numerous
strokes doesn't necessarily equate to speed. It just wastes energy. The fastest swimmer is the one
who travels the most distance with each stroke, also known as "distance per stroke" (DPS).
Count the number of strokes it takes you to go the length of the pool, and then work on reducing
that number. Try to "catch" the water as you take a stroke and imagine pulling your body past your
hand. While kicking fast can also increase speed, as a triathlete you'll do better saving your legs for
the bike and run. Instead, use a two beat kick (one kick per stroke).

Here's a sample speed workout for a sprint-distance triathlon, which usually has a 750- to 800-
meter swim portion:

100 yards/meters freestyle, 20 seconds rest
100 kick, 20 seconds rest
4 x 50 easy drills

Main set
4 x 100 freestyle, concentrate on maintaining DPS or taking fewer strokes. Use these combinations
during your set:
A. 25 fast/75 easy
B. 50 fast/50 easy
C. 75 fast/25 easy
D. 100 all-out

Sprint set
To maximize your sprint effort, don't push off the wall at the start of each 25.
8 x 25 freestyle sprints on 1-minute (or 45 seconds depending on your speed) intervals

Easy 200, alternate between backstroke and breaststroke
There are also many great resources for increasing your swim speed. I like the Swimming Faster
Series with David Marsh, Auburn University's head coach. Here drills are taught in progression, one
building on the other, and shown in detail. Visit to find training DVDs. Some
great books are Swimming Made Easy and Triathlon Swimming Made Easy by Terry Laughlin, of
Total Immersion Swimming fame (

A former competitive swimmer, Susan Mellish of Lisbon, Ohio, has a master's degree in education
and is an American Swim Coaches Association Level 2 coach.

Her Sports is the only magazine for women who regard sports as a way of life. To subscribe to the
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