Triathlon - Breathing and swimming techniques | Rutland Cycling

Words by Aaron Scott

on 29/08/2013 19:49:00

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In this post Mary Hardwick of Inspire2Tri will cover some breathing and swimming techniques to help improve your efficiency and performance in the swimming section of your next triathlon.

If you're new to Triathlon you may find that one of the most difficult skills to get to grips with is swimming in open water. This is very different to swimming in a pool for a number of different reasons. Firstly, it's harder to swim straight as there are no lines to follow on the bottom. One of the other big differences is that you can follow other swimmers very closely and get some advantage by being pulled along - they call this drafting!

Open water

Probably the key barrier for me was managing my fear and anxieties about being in Open Water while trying to keep calm and focussed.  A handy tip for beginners and experienced triathletes alike that will help calm the nerves and get you off to a really good start, is to remember your training and practice until the start of the race.


When you get out into open water it can be a little bit scary, especially for the first time. But don't worry it's common to feel nervous; you're most definitely not alone in your feelings! I will explain a great exercise that will improve your core stability and help with your streamlining, to practice this technique get to a pool, if possible get yourself in to a nice warm cosy Endless Pool, if you cannot find an Endless pool in your area then a regular pool will do just fine but make sure you have some space and someone to spot you.  Now it's very simple, but something we often forget when we're apprehensive about the water or nervous about a race, is to breathe in above the water and out constantly and evenly under the water rather than holding our breath. For this technique you need a pool. Your local pool is as good as any, keep your hands above your head and take in a big breath. As you start to sink under the water let the air out of your lungs - push yourself out of the water and breathe in. Repeat this practice this until you feel you have a good grasp of the technique and then try it out in an open water situation. Once you've got the hang of this, start to swim, focussing on breathing out under the water just as you did in the pool.  And remember to relax!

Why is this important?

  1. Because it gets you into a regular breathing pattern ready to swim hard.
  2. It means that when you turn to breathe, you only have to breathe in and not out as well and you will swim  faster and more smoothly.
  3. When you hold air in, it causes the chest to float at the expense of the legs and so you'll have a lot more drag when you swim.
Its an important technique which is a 'must do' that you can easily practice in a pool, to get off to a great race start. And this is equally important for the more experienced swimmers amongst you. If you know that you have a tendency to hold your breath, make it a part of your regular session just to do a few bobs to practice breathing out and sinking down before you start your session. You're likely to find that you won't get out of breath so quickly and you'll be more relaxed and ready to go. When you get to open water, do just the same in the warm up before the race start. Building your core strength will definitely help make you more streamlined and swim faster. Good luck!

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