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What Swimming Can Teach Us About Breathing

04/01/2016, 5:00am PDT
By Kelvin Cech

 

There’s very little we can’t learn by drawing parallels between the world in which we live and the most contentious, intense, and bloody institution on Earth:

Youth sports. 

(Haha oh man I’m on a roll today.)

Breathing is sorta important to our daily functionality as human beings. Riding the stationary bike? Breathe properly. Shopping for groceries? Gotta breathe or you’ll pass out before arriving at the bananas. Dealing with a child arriving home way past curfew who all of a sudden remembers a gigantic assignment due in eight hours?

Breathe.

There’s no sport in the world that places more importance on breathing than swimming. Each stroke requires a different method of breathing as well, so it’s not like you can establish one consistent pattern. Breathing is a skill developed over time in swimming, but we can still borrow from those lessons in the three minutes it will take to read the rest of this post.

Breathing Properly Underwater

Valuable time is saved when a swimmer breathes at the right time. In order to maintain proper motion and form, breaths are timed properly to coincide with the stroke being used. It takes a great deal of practice to nail this timing, particularly in the earlier swimming levels. The payoff is huge, however. If a young swimmer can gain total control of their breathing, then they’re free to deal with swimming’s other challenges. Sounds like life, right? (I know, a bit of a reach, but stick with me.)

Anxiety is the Enemy of Breathing

Swim coaches spend a lot of time strengthening breathing habits. Swimming is the only sport on earth that takes place inside a completely different world, a different reality. Soccer, hockey, baseball, tennis - all these sports simply exaggerate the conditions we feel every day, while swimming might as well happen on Mars. Anxiety and panic speed up our breathing and make it much more difficult to execute the necessary skills, which could be said of most of life’s daily activities. When it’s hard to breathe, it’s hard to do anything.

Breathing is an Athlete's Fuel

Interruptions in breathing lead to interruptions in a swimmer’s stroke. A similar statement could be made about any athlete, but with swimmers, the effect is multiplied. Most swim coaches tell young and intermediate swimmers to focus on exhaling rather than inhaling. This helps with a swimmer’s focus as they only have to concentrate and expelling CO2 from their lungs. With practice, inhaling will take care of itself and send oxygen to every corner of the body and mind. 

Focusing on Performance

We’d all love to focus on the result of our actions instead of the process required to create those results. We want to be thinner, we want to be stronger, our children want to swim and skate faster. It’s the results we crave, but results are impossible without process. Swimming has figured it out - this is a sport that’s diving deeper into the importance of the process and starting with the most basic function of human anatomy - breathing - before moving on to more complex strokes. For swim coaches, everything starts with breathing. Once we master breathing, it’s a lot easier to focus on performance and improvement. 

Performance is what we all crave. Whether we’re performing mundane tasks like driving the kids to school or doing something for ourselves, like swinging a tennis racquet, performance is the reward we give ourselves for being healthy, friendly and active. 

And it all starts with your lungs. Who knew?

 

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