There is no greater demand placed upon your lungs than in competitive swimming. The constant motion of every inch of your body requires the constant dispersing of oxygen to every part. The pull and drag of the body that comes with swimming makes it obvious that without stellar respiratory strength, you will be pulling up the backend in whatever swimming competition you find yourself in. When swimming, you must utilize your breathing wisely and create a breathing technique that supplies enough oxygen to your extremities, but also keeps your heart at a steady rate.
Utilizing your breath during swimming competitions, whether for high school, college, or triathlons, is an imperative key to being successful in the water.
Regardless of where or why you’re swimming, control is the key. Bruce Lee’s famous saying, “Be water,” rings true for swimmers. Everything you do should be in a fluid motion. Creating less movement enables for better breathing, which establishes more control throughout the swim. Stay within yourself. Know what you can do in the water. Don’t try to gun it from the get-go when you know you won’t be able to last. Pick up your pace toward the end of the race or at a time you’ve been working toward. Just like timing your swim movements, timing your race for certain spurts is smart and ensures your lungs and heart don’t overwork themselves. Download the Breathing Dynamics white paper to better understand how to time your breathing.
Use Your Head
One of the most important parts of the body to pay attention to is the head. Sure, it’s not pushing or pulling, but it plays a vital role in your success and not just from a breathing standpoint (although, trying to swim in one breath is not recommended). As we mentioned before, control your movement – this includes your head. Don’t swivel it back and forth. Don’t look to the sky for breath. Try to move it as little as possible. Exhale when under the water and inhale above only to get air, not to just inhale. An explosive exhale is critical to producing power and clearing the lungs for inhale, especially on fly and breast stroke. As you continue to train in the water, you will become accustom to breathing right and on time. The fewer the breaths the better. This can only happen when you build up the strength of your respiratory system. The stronger your lungs, the fewer breaths you need. The fewer breaths you need, the more oxygen you will be able to store for your body. This all stems from more focus on swimming and less on trying to catch your breath.
Trust the Air Pocket
When swimming, you create a momentum wave that is higher than your head. This push through the water creates a space or pocket for you to breathe. Trust and utilize this area. Doing this will keep you from feeling like you have to lift your head above the water for air.
When using the pocket, keep in mind there is little time for consideration. Your body is in constant motion while swimming, so your breathing needs to be in rhythm. Know when to go for air. Remember not to waste air by overworking. It reminds me of the movie “Sanctum,” which was simply terrible, but it was interesting how the youngest, and only survivor (spoiler-alert) used air pockets along an underwater cave to help him reach the surface. These air pockets weren’t huge buckets of air, but they were just enough. Just like the pocket you create for yourself when swimming, it will always be enough – use it wisely.
Creating Stronger Lungs
Practice, practice, practice. Gaining respiratory strength happens through practice. Swimming laps and pushing yourself for fewer breaths. Competitive swimming involves all types of heats, which include short or really long distances. As you continue to progress as a swimmer, your respiratory system should progress as well. You need something to help your lungs gain strength outside of long distance or sprint swims. Studies have shown that when PowerLung is added to practice, respiratory muscle power and performance improves. Utilizing the PowerLung has proven to help swimmers build their respiratory muscles. Much like swimming causes you to pull against the drag of your body to strengthen your core, the PowerLung device does the same for your lungs. To truly push your respiratory strength, and as a result, the rest of your body, you may consider utilizing this training tool.
Remember to remain in control of your body. Everything – arms, body, legs, and, yes, your head – should be in rhythm. Think of swimming as a dance. Always stay in time with the beat of the music. As your respiratory strength expands and grows, you’ll be able to push yourself faster and further and soon you won’t worry about being in the middle or end of the pack. You’ll be waiting for everyone else to reach the finish. Remember the swimming phrase: “He who breathes first, loses.”