Breath control can mean the difference between a calm, efficient swim and one in which you struggle more and more with every stroke, ultimately tiring yourself out before the race even gets started.
As you inhale oxygen you do so through the nose and mouth. Through the windpipe (pharynx) the air makes its way through the bronchi, the bronchioles and the alveoli. From this point, some oxygen makes its way into the blood stream. The rate and depth of breathing is in response to the body's metabolic needs.
When working correctly, ventilation (exchange of air to and from the body when breathing) is not only low during relaxed breathing, but much more efficient. On the other hand, physical and emotional stress can alter normal breathing patterns, which changes the work load to accessory muscles, decreasing ventilation efficiency.
Learning how to use the diaphragm in a natural way can improve ventilation, encourage relaxation, and decrease the work rate of breathing.
Some common difficulties in breathing among swimmers and triathletes include:
- Labored breathing that is short, rapid and shallow
- Holding the breath underwater
- A forceful exhale
- The breath is taken too early or too late in the stroke, which disrupts the natural rhythm of the breathing pattern
- The swimmer is using accessory muscles to breathe that increase chest expansion and lower the use of the primary diaphragmatic muscles
Breathing should be neutrally aligned and synchronized with the body roll when swimming. In other words, the head should roll with the body and not be lifted up or excessively turned to breathe. Lifting the head causes the lower body to sink or shift in unwanted directions.
Breathing to both sides of the body will also help with balance. Not only does bilateral breathing encourage a balance of strength in the upper body, it's also beneficial during races where waves, swells and other competitors can hamper the tempo of your stroke. Having the ability to alternate breathing on both sides is a distinct advantage.
More: Bilateral Breathing