2. Switch emphasis by actively pushing air out. You can heighten awareness for this change by practicing a breathing exercise, known as pranayama, drawn from yoga. As you exhale, constrict your throat slightly to produce a rushing sound, loud enough to be heard by someone across the room. As you do, you'll be more conscious of the air passing through your throat than through your nostrils. Repeat eight to 10 breaths.
3. Continue your exhale-focused breathing, but consciously shift to making each inhale as passive as possible. How much of your lungs can you refill simply as a response to the "vacuum" you created with your exhale, before making your inhale more active? Repeat until you notice an increase in your ability to refill passively.
A Practice Devoted to Breathing Focus
The next time you go swimming, I suggest you put your primary focus on breathing, and specifically on using your exhale as a way to both regulate and control effort. Swim a series of three sets of repeats, with each set lasting six to 10 minutes. Choose any repeat distance from 25 to 200 yards. Rest for three (for shorter repeats) to six (if longer repeats) deep, slow breaths between repeats in each set. Rest for an additional one to two minutes between sets. Breathe every two to three strokes (not cycles) throughout.
- Swim the first round at a moderate effort, perhaps 65 percent. Maintain consistent effort throughout the set, or increase your speed slightly every few minutes. Put most of your focus on exhaling steadily, beginning as soon as you complete the inhale. As you progress through the set, consciously make the inhale more passive.
- Swim the second round at about 75 percent. Support the increased effort purely by increasing the force with which you exhale. Your goal is to gradually feel that the more emphatic exhale, rather than more muscular effort, is providing all the energy needed to support your increased speed.
- Swim the third round, faster yet, at perhaps 85 percent. On this round, increase the force of your exhale as needed, but this time, put a bit more focus on finishing each exhale—just as your mouth clears the water—with about 20 percent more force.
Feel as if you're blowing the water away from your mouth, making it easier to get your next breath. Continue to focus on a goal of inhaling passively. Certainly you'll gulp more air more quickly, but how completely can you make it occur purely as a result of emptying your lungs?