Beginner Triathlon Swimming Tips
Aside from wondering how to get rid of those ugly goggle marks that never seem to go away, one of the most common things that beginner triathletes are concerned about when swimming is how to breathe. And naturally, this should be a concern because unless you’re a mermaid (or merman), you probably can’t breathe under water.
Maybe you feel out of breath after just one lap in the pool. Maybe you get lightheaded or feel nauseated while swimming. Or maybe you get a big gulp of pool water instead of air whenever you turn your head for a breath. Whatever your breathing challenge may be, here are a few tricks and tips to help you breath better and easier easier during your swim.
1. Don’t Hold Your Breath
Let’s do a little experiment. Even though I just told you not to, I want you to take a minute and try holding your breath. After a few seconds, you may notice that your heart starts to beat faster, your face turns red and you feel lightheaded and anxious. Even though you are on dry land with plenty of oxygen, when you hold your breath, your body automatically goes into panic mode. Now add water to the equation and you’ve got yourself a full blown panic attack.
Many beginner triathletes hold their breath when their face is under water and then try to exhale and inhale at the same time when they turn their head out of the water. There is simply not enough time to exhale AND inhale during that split second you turn your head to breathe. Also, holding your breath under water causes more carbon dioxide to build up in your body which makes you to feel like you can’t catch your breath and that usually sends most swimmers into a panic.
The first step in establishing a breathing pattern that works for you is to exhale through your nose when your head is under water and then inhale when you turn your head out of the water.
*Trainer Tip – Davey finds it helpful to complete his exhale as he’s turning his head out of the water. Then, he waits until his head is far enough away from the water to take in a gulp of air. This helps prevent getting a mouth full of water.
When I was training for my first triathlon, I would hum when I exhaled under the water. I’ve done it ever since and I’ve found that it makes a huge difference. This simple little trick helps you control your breathing because it encourages you to exhale slowly and continuously.
Not only will you be able to create a more steady and rhythmic breathing pattern, but for some reason, humming also has a calming effect.
Have you ever taken a yoga class where the instructor had your continuously hum the word “Om”? Well, it’s the same idea. For me, humming when I exhale helps take my mind off of how anxious or panicked I feel and it helps me concentrate on swimming strong and on maintaining a steady breathing pattern.
3. Relax & Look Back
During your open water swim, it’s inevitable that you will get water in your mouth. If this happens, DON’T PANIC! The best thing you can do is to relax. If you get water in your mouth, just spit it out and keep on swimming. One tip here is to not open your mouth so wide when breathing. You really don’t get a better breath by opening your mouth wider, so if you open it just enough to get in a good gulp of air, chances are, you probably won’t be getting as many gulps of water.
Another tip is to look back. Instead of simply turning your head to the side when you come up for a breath, try turning your head at an angle. When I do this, I try to look over my shoulder and then my head naturally comes up for a breath at an angle. By turning your head this way, you decrease your chances of getting water in your mouth because your head comes up in the wake of your swim stroke and the water is usually less choppy there.
4. Pick A Pattern
Whether you prefer bilateral breathing (take a breath on the right, swim 3 strokes, take a breath on the left, and repeat) or your have to breathe every stroke like I do, find a breathing pattern that works for YOU. Don’t worry about what the experts recommend or what other swimmers do. Find YOUR pattern and then get in the groove and practice it!
Be aware that you may need to breathe more often on race day because the adrenaline rush of the swim start will probably speed up your breathing. The best thing you can do is to be flexible and just go with the flow and do whatever you need to do to breathe easy on race day. Practice different patterns and if you breathe every stroke, make sure you practice breathing on BOTH sides.
When I was training for my first triathlon, I found that breathing every stroke worked best for me. So when I swam laps, I took a breath on the right side every time. Well, on the day of my triathlon, I realized that buoys would be on my left and I wouldn’t be able to see them if I swam how I practiced. I started the swim by breathing on my right, just like I had practiced, but about half way through, I looked up and saw that I had veered off course because I couldn’t see the buoys. So right in the middle of my swim, I had to “learn” to breath on the left. My advice to you: PRACTICE breathing on both sides!
Breathing is something that we all have to do. It’s pretty easy to breathe when you bike and run, but it can be a bit more challenging when you swim. By using these tips, practicing your swimming a few times a week and doing a few open water swims before your triathlon, you’ll be more confident and relaxed on race day. Breathe easy and rest assured that you have trained well and you’re ready to have an AWESOME swim! So take a deep breath and dive in!
Leave a comment and tell us some of your favorite triathlon swimming tips!