Home Training for a Triathlon

Very out of breath swimming

Any suggestions or theories welcome. I'm learning front crawl from scratch and have been having lessons for about 8 weeks or more. I now have the basic technique but I can't do a length without being very very out of breath and this doesn't seem right based on my general fitness (eg: I can run 5km around the 20 minute mark fine and can cycle a 20km in a Sprint tri around the 35 minute mark).

My coach says I might not be expelling enough air but other than that doesn't seem to be able to help. I'm breathing on every third stroke, left then right. Am I kicking my legs too fast? I've been told to kick fast to maintain buoyancy but it seems to be a bit like sprinting underwater but only breathing on every third stride. Everyone I see in the pool seems to be going as fast as me but able to maintain it indefinitely, whereas I'm stopping on each length - and of course I know that's not right.

Do I just need to shut up and get on with practising or is there anything in particular to watch out for??


  • risris Posts: 1,002

    i think that technique and practice has a lot to do with it - it might be you aren't very relaxed in the water and are holding in more air than you realise. 

    as your general technique improves you will need less oxygen to travel the same distance. can you do backstroke, and if so how does that tire you out?

    it is possible you are kicking too much - i don't think a fast kick is that necessary, a nice, steady, 4 beat kick should be fine, with 6 beat for faster blocks. for most tri swimming reducing the kick is often recommended anyway - so if you can get a 2 beat kick even better! 

    if you swim with a pull buoy are you more or less out of breathe?

    relax into it - you've only been doing this a few weeks and it takes time to get right. focus on drills that get you body in the right position and make your stroke lean, long and efficient. spend time on the drills and stitch the stroke together from there. 

    goes without saying that not seeing you swim means all of the above might be no use at all! 

  • scottyjayscottyjay Posts: 3

    This year I moved from breaststroke to crawl and at first faced exactly the same issues as you mate. The other comment is certainly right in that practice counts massively here.

    Initially I could only do 1-2 lengths before stopping as I couldn't breathe! I then spent a couple of months just doing short drills, groups of 4 lengths (100m) and no more than that. After about 2-3 months of doing this, interspersed with breaststroke to address the monotony, I tried to push past the 4 lengths to do 6.  Suddenly I found I could manage that and thought hell, let's keep going. I managed 400m that day and have never looked back!

    The continual practice helped me to start to perfect the technique.  Now the kicking has cut down a bit, my head is held lower in the water and my position is thus better.

    So please take heart that persistence does pay off.  And don't watch the others in the pool as it can get you down!  Focus on yourself!

    Good luck

  • I too started swimming in February this year. I could barely manage a length without stopping to gasp for air. Things have improved greatly with practice and the best advice I can give is to try and imagine yourself swimming in slow motion. If your arms are going too fast you are not giving yourself time to breathe. I tried to conciously swim as slow as possible the other day and actually knocked 3 minutes off my best 400m time.
  • HarryDHarryD Posts: 425

    Having taught many to swim front crawl from zero breathing has proved to be the most difficult thing to get right.

    To practice breathing out get into a dead man's float position (a mushroom float will do) and breathe out hard until you sink to the bottom of the pool. Expect to exhale a lot. Come up when you are ready. This can be very difficult and may need lots of practice. You may panic or get tightness in your upper chest. Relax and keep trying. The panic will die and the chest tightness will quickly go with practice. Soon you'll be able to sit on the bottom. Now you can breathe out. Best let the lifeguard know what you're doing

    Most swimmers breathlessness is because they try and breathe in too much and build pressure in the lungs/chest which gives the same feeling as being breathless. This stops fresh air replacing stale air containing the waste CO2. Try breathing in fully, pause, breathe in some more, pause, breathe in even more without breathing out. How do you feel? Now breathe out, pause, open your mouth and let the air in without deliberately inhaling. Now breathe out and see how much air you you took in. Should be the same volume. When you swim breathe out hard under water and simply open your mouth to let the air in as you rotate - the air comes in very quickly and effortlessly. Do not deliberately inhale.

    You don't say whether your coach is a triathlon coach, a swimming swim coach or a swim teacher. In my experience they are all different beasts. Swimming coaches generally like vigorous kicking because they nearly always work with sprinters and short distance (up to 400m) racers who have years of swimming experience/teaching before they even start being coached and who are the select group of those who started out swimming at school or in swim classes. Anyway back to your leg kick. Except for the top few your leg kick doesn't have to be fast or hard - it does have to be effective though for balance and timing. Legs use lots of oxygen for very little propulsion. Try lying face down in the pool stretched out in the streamlined position. Now kick hard so that your legs rise and you are horizontal with your feet making splashes as they move the water but do not let your feet come out of the water. You will hear the splashes. Now gradually slow down your kick and keep it in the drag shadow of your body. Slow it down to the point where your legs start to sink. The effort level just before they start to sink is how much you should be kicking when swimming.

    Hope this helps


  • tomg1tomg1 Posts: 17

    Wow - thank you to everyone who responded in such detail. This is great information and I'll do my best to put what I can into practice.

    My 'coach' is a swimming teacher because I needed to learn the absolute basics and, to her credit, she did say that tri-specific swim coaches will tell you save your legs and kick less.

    Lots of homework for me - sincere thanks again to all.

  • HarryDHarryD Posts: 425

    Let us know how you get on


  • DDTTRIDDTTRI Posts: 21

    I'm a big fan of swim smooth! check it out.

    Being out of breath could be kicking too hard, something like 10% of propulsion comes from kicking, the legs are predominately to keep you flatter in the water.

    Not exhaling properly could also be doing it, consequently not exhaling properly can add to buoyancy in the chest and drop the legs, meaning you need to kick more to not drag yourself through the pool.

    If you are turning your arms over too quick you may also not be allowing yourself long enough to exhale properly. One important thing to do when first learning is to learn to breath bilateral, I didn't and regret it as I now have to go back and learn it.

    Swim smooths list of things to get right first is Exhaling Kicking Body rotation catch and pull.

  • breathe every stroke even at the beginning of the race, breathe at both sides is possible  
    here is a cool Video I watched when I'm having the same problem

  • The original post made me laugh ...... I'm 5 weeks into learning front crawl and feel exactly the same!

    tomg1 (4 years on from original post) either died trying, gave up or is now a freestyle god!

    Just wondered how it went / how long it took to crack this? I'm 11 months to blast off and currently feel like I'm going to be doing the 2.4 miles breast stroke.

  • tomg1tomg1 Posts: 17

    Ha! I got a notification from 220 about this post today and thought it was a glitch!

    Well Mike, you'll be pleased to hear that though I'm not a freestyle god I am certainly not the same swimmer I was when I posted that panicky, frustrated message! As with most things in tri (and life) there was no magic solution, just a long process of keeping at it, trying a few of the suggestions above and others, discarding some, trying more and discarding more but basically just putting the lengths in. That, above all else, did the trick - 3 or 4 sessions a week where I could, even just 20 (quality) mins in my lunch hour and gradually it came right.

    One final thing I would say though: my local pool instructors did their best but were very much focused on getting the group just to a certain level of competency. The real turning point for me was when I quit those and did two SwimSmooth sessions with a proper coach. It was an absolute godsend - they video your stroke, break it down and give you drills to fix things based on your specific bio-mechanics, not some notional idea of how everyone should swim. It was amazing the difference it made - the best money I ever spent on tri, honestly. I took 2 minutes off my 800m time in just two sessions. I was pretty bad beforehand but still that's a huge improvement!

    I went to Coach Morg in Doncaster but I am sure any SwimSmooth coach would be worth it. 

  • I found some great swimming techniques on this Sports Clinic's facebook page..

    There are videos on how to roll while swimming, as well as the correct hand entry position. I found them very useful tips.



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