Another Tri Query

I know this is a running website but since I got such a helpful response to my last tri query and there are no decent tri forums(?)anywhere I thought I would ask another tri type question.

It relates to swimming which is probably my weakest discipline, does anyone know how important the regularity of breathing is as a training tool and race performance driver?
When I breath every 2 strokes on front crawl I feel strong and can swim with little fatigue up to 2 miles. However when I try 3's & 4's my stroke becomes erratic and I lose speed and strength as well as tiring easily. The fact that changing breathing makes me more tired suggests to me that this is a more efficient training method, but is it worth it if it slows me down?

Also when swimming in a triathlon is it right that you should minimise the leg kick in order to maintain energy for the cycle & run? If so should you be doing this on training swims as well?

All advice welcomed... Cheers
The "Tri-baby"


  • NessieNessie ✭✭✭
    I'm not exactly an expert, but I think the more often you breathe during the swimming leg of a tri, the better. It is very easy to get into oxygen debt swimming - something to do with the %age of air expelled in each breath, and it can take a while to recover from it, which can hinder the first few miles on the nike. I'm not a great swimmer, but I breath every time my right arm goes in the water (not sure if this is every stroke or every 2 - not up on the terminology) and find I can maintain this longest and feel the best at the start of the bike. If swimming is your weakest discipline (mine too) I think the small amount of time you would save breathing less often will be more than written off if you feel [email protected] for the first 3 miles of cycling.

    As for the leg kick, I don't kick much anyway, so I can't say from experience, but I have read the same as you, and it does seem to make sense. I think the "experts" recon that a small flutter every other stroke is enough to keep the legs horizontal in the water. Probably worth experimenting in training, although leg kicks in the pool do strenghten the legs a lot.

    If you can find a copy (it may be out of print), Dave Scott's Triathlon Training goes into it all in depth, although it is quite technical.
  • Thanks nessie,
    JFTR when I said every "two" strokes I probably should have said "one" since I, like you, breathe every time my right arm goes in the water.
  • I alternate breathing every / every other stroke, deep quality breathing, and avoiding oxygen debt is key
    Don't get out of the water knackered, you've a long way to go.
    As for leg kick, Popov reckoned that if your stroke is efficient, you'll only get a max of 10% thrust from your legs anyway. I find if I kick alot, it starts to slow me down. Just use legs to keep your body straight.
  • Yep, Neil's right, save your legs as much as poss. Alternate side breathing is best if you can do it, it contributes to a faster stroke and also helps with sighting in open water swims - I have a tendency to drift left.
  • I agree with the replies so far. Get into a rhythm with your breathing in the same way you would for a long run - don't get into oxygen debt - for me that means breathing on every stroke, ie every time my right arm comes forward. Bilateral breathing is best but not really necessary, although it should be done frequently in training as it gives a very balanced stroke.
    Leg kicking doesn't contribute much propulsion but is important for body position - you need to be horizontal in the water. It is important to kick from the hip keeping the legs straight.
    The best thing would be to join a club, either tri or swimming, and get a coach to check out your stroke. This will result in significant improvements as technique is far more important than fitness.
  • Stuart, I think it's a case of whatever works for you.
    I breathe on every right arm stroke, and find that if I change pattern for any length of time I get out of breath quickly.
    As for the legs - in most Tri's the swims are open water and you have to wear a wetsuit - this keeps your legs high in the water - so no need to kick - just flutter to maintain balance.
    I've gone from only being able to manage a couple of lengths 2 years ago to doing Ironman swims in a little over 75 mins.
    If I can do it anyone can !!
  • HillyHilly ✭✭✭
    I've been having swimming lessons now since summer and on front crawl the teacher has trained us to breathe using bilateral breathing every 3rd stroke. So if starting with right hand for the first stroke then the first breath will be when the right arm enters the water again. The head should turn to the left to take the breath using the right arm for support. I have now built up from not even being able to complete one 25m length to doing 50x25m lengths since having lessons.

    It's strange because now I can't swim in the old stroke I used to. If you can have improver lessons, they are well worth the effort.
  • I agree that swimming coaching is valuable. I had 8 sessions, that only marginally speeded me up, but I now get out of the water un tired and without needing a recovery period on the bike.
    If you can't get to the swimming club, try:
  • Go to Club La Santa, take your bike and all the tri toys you can find. Free swim coaching, endless hilly/windy biking, brilliant offroad running, great gym. The atmosphere alone will improve your swimming and motivation. Great pizza that you really earn and huge numbers of like-minded tri folk.If you don't like it and don't improve, sell your bike and take up fishing.
    Go - its great.
  • I'll second that ! - been 6 times in the last 3 years (sad or what?)
    Doing Lanzarote Ironman next May - hopefully !
    CLS is a great place - I don't work for them !!!!
  • CLS sounds great I think I've seen it (or similar) advertised in 220 tri mag. No prices though is it v expensive?? Bearing in mind I am looking at spending the next six months paying the CC bill for the bike!
    It's not the cheapest of pastimes is it?!
  • 2 weeks at Club la Santa for 2 sharing usally works out around 4 to 500 pounds each (depending on time of year etc)
    No you're right this sport isn't the cheapest - average Ironman entry fee is £150 - to "beast" yourself for 12hrs plus !
    Visit for details of training camps etc.
  • back to the swimming -

    it is important that you are not shortening your stroke in order to get your next breath. it's better for you to breathe every two (ie every time your right arm goes in the water) and to have a long relaxed but strong stoke than to cycle your arms in the water faster but less efficiently just so you can breathe every three. i'd highly reccommend joining your local masters swimming club or improver swimming lessons to improve your swimming. unlike running and cycling, swimming is all about technique and not much about fitness. you can gain so much by swimming more efficiently so that when you leave the water you'll just feel like you've had a gentle warm up and are ready for your ride.
    one reccommendation (apart from lessons) is to read the TI books and emmet hines 'fitness swimming' which teach what i call 'triathon crawl' that is a very efficient frontcrawl. also look at the articles on the houston masters swimming club website they are very informative.

    hope this helps -sorry if i rattled on!
  • Yes, I'll go with that - the Total Immersion book is a good read - I "lost" 3 strokes a length after trying the "downhill swimming"
    (sounds bizarre doesn't it?)
    The website has some good articles too - just do a search on total immersion.
  • Silly question, but have you considered taking lessons? I attended a one day 'workshop' with Robin Brew (who does training camps at La Santa - lovely place, got to do it !) about 3 years ago where he talks you through the process of more efficient swimming, good form and you spend about 2 hours in the pool. He also films you underwater and provides some commentary of your form for you to take home and have a look at. Can't remember how much it was, but I remember coming away feeling thaat was value for money. I should have some gumph somewhere. Let me know if you're interested and I'll dig out what I can.

  • there's been alot of discussion about total immersion and whether the principles can actually make you a faster swimmer as well as being more efficient. we'll i've been applying the principles for the last few months and have definitely got alot faster. last night we were doing sprints in my masters session. in the lane next to me was a girl who is the same height and build as me and who used to be the same speed as me a couple of months ago. we'll last night i could easily beat her. she was taking double the amount of strokes i was but they just we'ren't getting her anywhere! cool eh!!
  • I think the general opinion is that I should take lessons. I am thinking of joining the Cardiff tri club anyway. Just a bit worried about trying to swim against ironmen! Suppose it will be ok. Also sorry to be dense but what is a masters club?? Can anyone go given that I am not a master of anything, least of all swimming?!
  • A Vets club. I am in that age group and I definitely prefer being called a Master than an old git!
  • So where can us young(er) gits go?
    Suppose I should take a deep breath and join the Triathlon club, don't know what I'm scared of really, I think it's just I've got so used to running which is a solitary sport (which is how I like it) that I feel strange going and training with a group of people. I think I'm pretty fit but I suppose deep down just worried of being embarassed.
    Sad eh!!
  • After having breathing problems in swimming I went to see a coach (actually one of the occasional England coaches – He drinks in my local) and found Drills to be the solution

    I occasionally do a breathing drill set in my drills session, which takes the form of:

    5 x 25m breathing on 2 (right)
    5 x 25m breathing on 3
    5 x 25m breathing on 4 (left)
    5 x 25m breathing on 5
    5 x 25m breathing on 4 (left)
    5 x 25m breathing on 3
    5 x 25m breathing on 2 (Right)

    Total 875m

    The problem with limiting yourself to only breathing on one side is that if you swim in unfavourable water conditions and the waves are breaking from the side you normally breath you may find yourself in trouble – the above drill – is like any other drill aimed at improving a specific aspect of your swim – in this case breathing

  • OOPS

    The last riht / left are the wrong way round, it should read:

    5 x 25m breathing on 2 (right)
    5 x 25m breathing on 3
    5 x 25m breathing on 4 (left)
    5 x 25m breathing on 5
    5 x 25m breathing on 4 (right)
    5 x 25m breathing on 3
    5 x 25m breathing on 2 (left)

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