Swimming Freestyle (and breathing)

As I began my fitness swimming three months ago, I focused on breaststroke because it helped me focus on breathing better than I thought freestyle would. My goal has been to get out of bed every morning and either run or swim for an hour, then go to work. After I had built up my endurance to getting 2000 yards of breaststroke in an hour, I switched to freestyle.

I thought I should just start with bilateral breathing, but this just hasn’t worked for me. I just can’t seem to develop the consistency to get multiple laps – always panting at the end of 50 yards. Then I came across a post by Gary Hall, Sr. about bilateral breathing – A Better Way To Breathe?.

What he says is “Cycling or running at maximal exertion requires between 50 and 60 respirations per minute. If you are swimming anywhere from 800 yards to 2.4 miles, chances are your stroke rate is 50 to 60 strokes per minute. A swimmer taking 60 strokes per minute and breathing to one side on every stroke cycle (1:2 ratio) takes only 30 breaths per minute, far below the body’s chosen rate. If you are an alternate breather, breathing first to one side, holding two strokes, then breathing to the other (1:3 ratio), your respiratory rate is even slower at 20 breaths per minute“. So by trying to start out using bilateral breathing, I was getting only a third of the oxygen my (not yet trained) body wanted.

This week I switched back to a 1:2 ratio breathing on the same side, which with his logic says I’m getting 50% more oxygen, and I did 2000 yards freestyle in my hour. Now I have months and years to actually improve my stroke to look like a swimmer. Oh, and now that I can do multiple laps, I have to learn how to flip turn. Actually, I like the British version “tumble turn” better.

The rest of Gary Hall’s article goes on to describe a more complicated 2:3 breathing pattern that gets you up to 40 breaths per minute, but that skill is for later, for me. Another concept he had was learning to practice breathing on one side all the way down the lane, and the other side coming back. The reason is, in an open water swim, if the wind is blowing waves into you on one side, it might be very useful to know you can breathe on the non-windy side the entire distance.

So now I’m off to run 5k, as I taper for my first 10k next Saturday.

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