Swimming, the art of controlled suffocation

By: Kyle Finneron

I have never been an incredibly strong swimmer. In my youth, my parents signed me up for swim lessons and the swim team simultaneously in hopes that I would grow to love the water. Both met early on alternating mornings which was less than ideal for any child in the summer time. On the third day of swim team the warmup was around 600 meters, I believe, maybe 200 meters; regardless, that day it may as well have been a mile. I splashed my way through the water the best I could muster and managed to finish the warmup. Exhausted and out of breath I dragged myself out of the pool and wanted to go home. That marked my last day on the swim team — I’ve never been terribly fond of the water since.
Now almost 20 years later, and in much better physical shape, I decided it would be time to try swimming again. Over the past year and a half, I have been going through strength training workouts and have lost around 40 pounds. My confidence was high and I felt like I could crush anything I attempted. Finishing the Spartan Beast definitely added to the bulletproof feeling.
As with most things I have attempted, I did as I always do and “attacked” my first lap. I say attack because I went in and swam as fast as possible. When I found myself about two-thirds of the way down the pool without having taken a breath, it dawned on me that I have no idea how to breathe while swimming. Avoiding the urge to stop in the middle of the pool to stand up and catch my breath, I tried to remember how all those Olympians breathed while they swam. I turn my head to the side on my next stroke as I had seen them do on TV and sucked in a mixture of pool water and air. Needless to say, my first lap had come to a screeching halt. I stood up, coughed, and walked my way to the end. I felt defeated and embarrassed.
“It’s just swimming, people do it all the time and look relaxed while doing it. It can’t be that hard,” I thought to myself as I tried to slow down my heart rate and catch my breath.
Once my breath returned to normal I decided try again. I took as deep a breath as possible and submerged myself,  thinking “don’t forget to breathe this time.” After just a few strokes, my heart was already beating out of my chest. I reached with my right arm and leaned my head to the side to take a breath. I exhaled as my mouth cleared the water and took in a short quick breath. I was off to a better start than last time but did not get nearly enough oxygen. I repeated this on every stroke down the pool and slowly but surely I made it across. As I rested at the other end of the pool, I contemplated how people did this nonstop for any extended period of time. I splashed through a few more laps then called it a day.
The feeling I had after  swimming was very different than the normal post-workout buzz. I was breathing heavier but none of my muscles really felt sore or tight. Swimming was not as easy and effortless as I thought it would be. I knew that I was probably going after it in the wrong way, so I decided it was time to ask for help. I spoke with a few good friends that swam and they told me all sorts of techniques and best practices. As it turns out, the best way the breath is to exhale prior to your head turn while you’re still under water! Exhaling underwater turned out to be a true game changer.
As I continued to enter the pool day after day, my technique slowly started to improve. I found the best way to “move the bar” and make progress with swimming was to research best techniques and then test them in the water. Some techniques that I read about I simply couldn’t figure out in practice and others would click immediately. I found that by breaking down what I was trying to do, I was able to slowly add new pieces to the puzzle. Eventually, I will have a full picture and swimming may just become my next favorite sport? Only time (and a lot of practice) will tell.

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