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I am now starting to learn how to swim and have found that I have trouble swimming with my head in the water. Although I breathe every 1 or 2 strokes (front crawl) I found that my heart rate rises pretty high and soon I found myself gasping for air.

I am not out of shape; I run marathons and do long MTB races (80km) so I thought I can control my breathing during effort, but this seems a different kind of challenge.

Thank you.

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How comfortable are you in the water? It sounds to me more like nerves than anything physical. Also, are you counting 1 stroke as one right+left arm motion? Because if you are breathing every 1 (right/left) stroke and you aren't going really fast, you might actually be hyperventilating. You might want to slow down your breathing some. –  Mike Hedman Mar 18 '12 at 18:45
    
You are probably right that i don't feel very comfortable in the water. I count a stroke as a right+left motion. –  solomongaby Mar 20 '12 at 19:57

6 Answers 6

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A good bet is that this is probably caused by being nervous, and you might be hyperventilating. Given your fitness level, there's probably not a physical reason for getting out of breath - and I bet your breath very quickly returns to normal when you grab the side of the pool.

The good news is that this is 100% fixable - and you've already taken a big step: recognizing that there is a problem.

Time in the water, and maybe some coaching will quickly bring up your experience level, and your confidence, which should smooth out those nerves.

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The cause was indeed i was being nervous. Now i can almost swim 25m front crawl :D. I will start training with a coach in about 2 weeks, he is out of the country right now. Thanks for your advice. –  solomongaby Mar 23 '12 at 12:23

How much are you kicking? Try holding a flutterboard/kickboard/buoy between your legs and continuing the arm motion of front crawl.

This does two things.

  1. Removes the leg muscles from the equation
  2. Keeps your legs up, which makes swimming MUCH easier.

The main trick in efficient swimming is to learn to swim downhill. You want to 'Press the Buoy' which is push your chest (full of air) down, and use it as leverage to get your legs higher. You sort of eventually end up swimming downhill a bit.

Another trick is to tuck your chin into your chest, imagining you are pulling your neck and spine far enough to tug your legs up. (Its just a trick to teach you to lean forward and press the buoy, but the image works). If you try to feel yourself pulling your legs up by your chin it can be effective.

Basically these are approaches to being more efficient.

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This might seem a stupid question, but are you breathing out when your head is underwater?

Most swimmers that I see struggling to catch their breath are holding their breath when their head is in the water, and then trying to both breathe out and in when they turn their head above water.

There's not enough time to do both in crawl and they inevitably struggle to catch their breath, as you've got to breathe out before you can breathe in.

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In fact as soon as your head reenters the water you start slowly exhaling, timed to finish on the third stroke, ready to inhale again. –  geoffc Oct 14 '12 at 11:18
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I was breathing under water but apparently not enough –  solomongaby Oct 16 '12 at 11:28

I'm in a similar situation, albeit I only run half-marathons and bike up to 60km.

When I started swimming I had the exact same problem, that I couldn't breathe according to what felt a good swim effort. In the end I relaxed my swim speed as well as allowed my self to breathe every time I pulled back with an arm. I really focused on my breath and feeling good in the water. Everything else was secondary to being able to breathe calmly.

I train in a group, and before I would have to take a break every 50m and wait till my breathing came from a frantic gasping to a relaxed in-/exhale as while running. After the change I swam slower, but could actually manage 1h30 of training, where previously I would be at the end of my strength after 30min. Now, a few months later I can keep up with my group, and I breathe every 2 arm pulls, sometimes every 3 to switch breathing sides.

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When I started swimming seriously, about 4 years ago, I struggled with exactly the same problem. It took me a long time to break the 100m barrier for front crawl, doing bi-lateral bretahing. Uni-lateral breathing was a little better but I still struggled with a sensation of panic and being out of breath.

Once I had broken the 100m limit, suddenly it became possible to go much further, as if there is a transition between how I would breath normally on land and how I needed to breath whilst swimming. I still feel a slight pinch during training warm-up at this point, as if my lungs 'change gear'.

To beat the limit I :

  • slowed my swimming to a very gentle pace so as to be as relaxed as possible
  • repeated 50m swims at first, with a break between each to recover, then 100m swims with a break
  • eventually, I felt I could attempt to go past the 100m and try for 150m

Once I was getting to 150m, I very quickly made it to 200, 300 etc. One of the key things that helped me was to beat the barrier was expelling 50% of each breath immediately after inhaling, ie. as my face re-entered the water, I already started to breath out. The remainder of the air I slowly breathed out, through nose and mouth simultaneously, during the time my face remained under water, such that after 3 strokes it was all gone and ready for the next inhale.

As others have indicated here, breathing out is very important. My coach explained the panicy feeling you get as being the need to expel the C0-2 from your lungs following breathing in, which is not the instinctive reaction.

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For the past couple months, I, too, have run out of breath typically after swimming (front crawl) one to two lengths of the [60 foot] pool. Yesterday, I placed a pull buoy between my legs (and paddles on my hands) and found that I could swim 22 lengths (front crawl)!! The breathing was okay. Next, I removed the pull buoy (kept the paddles on my hands) and swam only 6 lengths… the breathing problem was back!! This indicated to me that the breathing problem was seemingly being caused by my lower body. Finally, I removed the hand paddles, placed the pull buoy back between my legs, and swam 22 more lengths (front crawl)!! The breathing was okay!!

Other swimmers may have breathing problems for other reasons, so the path forward is to try to isolate certain functions and/or parts of the body in order to determine root cause (i.e. use a kickboard, pull buoy, paddles, etc. to rule in/out potential causes).

QUESTION: Now that I’ve determined that the breathing problem seemingly is being caused by my lower body (i.e. possibly problems with position of legs/feet, possibly problems with the kick, possibly problems with both the position and the kick), what are your recommendations for preventing the lower body from inducing the breathing issue?

Thanks in advance!!

Jon

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Hi, Jon, and welcome to Sports SE. It looks like you have a question here. You can ask this question (and link this one if necessary) separately. See this for more information. –  edmastermind29 Jul 9 at 22:53

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