Gerry Rodrigues Swim Tips: Breathing

Posted: March 13, 2014 by kirisyko in Fitness and Training, Ironman, SykOtic, Triathlon
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Efficient Breathing Techniques
I never think it’s beneficial to tell people not to do something but I firmly believe there are traditional drills, many which have come from the world of pool swimming, that have little value to open water swimming for the triathlete. I can explain my reasoning for saying this. In fact, I have written a list of things ‘not to do’ in order to become a faster open water swimmer on my website ( I would like to take a couple of examples and explain my reasoning, so you can avoid these mistakes to become a faster open water swimmer.

The person who breathes every third or fourth stroke will take a big breath because they are taking a breath every third or fourth stroke. If you breathe every two strokes it’s easier to regulate the intake of air. There is some merit in breathing every third stroke (known as bilateral breathing where you breathe to alternate sides) in your warm up. This offers 30-45 minutes of bilateral breathing, which for many is a good way to provide balance to their stroke, but once we get to the main set or during a race we should revert to breathing every second stroke.

We can breathe to each side during a main set or race, but you need to breathe every second stroke for six or seven strokes to one side before switching. This will help to provide balance. In the pool you might want to alternate lengths of breathing to one side so you are familiar and happy with breathing to either side. The reason for this is that come race day you might only be able to breath to one side because of the water conditions or the sun shining in your eyes.

Any time you are holding your breath for longer than necessary – anything above every second stroke –you are starving the body of oxygen. You don’t hold your breath when you’re running or cycling, so why do so in the water? When running, most runners will breathe 40 times per minute. Most elite triathlon swimmers have a cadence rate of 80 to 100 strokes per minute. If they are breathing with a cadence of 80 that means they are breathing 40 times per minute when breathing every second stroke. Compare this to a less talented swimmer, who typically swims 1:05 or slower for 3.8K, typically has a cadence of 60 strokes per minute. If they breathe every third stroke they get 20 opportunities per minute to oxygenate their body.

With oxygen as the number one source of fuel for the body this doesn’t add up. It doesn’t matter what magic drink you have on the bike you are taking from the body. This means that regular breathing every second stroke is essential. If you’re breathing every third stroke the effort level also slows because the swimmer has to make that breath last until they get to third stroke. The muscles are still working but they’re not getting the same supply of oxygen. Ultimately, breathing every third stroke or higher will result in a slower swim time. Breathing every third stroke comes from traditional pool swim training; it’s of low value to the triathlete and definitely not for those with low cadence stroke rates and tougher open water swims found in triathlon.

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