The pool where Barbara coaches is only a few minutes from a major hospital so, as you might expect, her early morning practices are filled with nurses, PTs, cardiologists, surgeons, otolaryngologists, microbiologists, dentists, OBGYNs, internists, hospitalists, and other assorted medical personnel. It’s one of the safest places you can be at 5:30 am, but these swimmers are a tough audience when you start talking about anatomy and physiology as it relates to swimming.
Today, for example, Barbara presented what she thought was a straightforward practice, with an emphasis on EXHALING. The focus in each set was to try for a steady, relaxed exhalation of air. Things were going well until the first set of 100s, when a cardio expert called Barbara over to say, "There are two reasons why I think it’s better to mostly hold your air and then expel it just before the breath." His first reason was that holding air in the lungs provided buoyancy, which kept him higher in the water. Good point…because many cyclists and runners (like our doc) have "heavy" legs. His second reason was that the back pressure caused by the quick/forcful expulsion of air…with pursed lips… helped maintain open-ness of the alveoli and thus was an aid to oxygenating the blood in the lungs. He had a medical term for this (and we apologize if we haven’t described the physiology correctly). This hypothesis quickly made its way through the lanes and resulted in what can only be called "learned debate." One swimmer drew a schematic of the pulmonary system on the white board. Others pondered the many physiological factors that might determine which is more advantageous to a swimmer: steady exhale or holding the breath and giving a forceful exhale just before inhaling. A few of them were eager to get to their computers for further research.
Conventional wisdom is that a steady exhale is more advantageous than holding your breath. What do YOU think?
Here’s the workout that sparked the debate.
WARMUP: 400 on your own
BREATHING PRACTICE: 150
Based on our Drill of the Week: Freestyle – The New Hypoxic
Take a deep breath, note your starting time, and go into the classic position of "dead-man’s float." Let your air out in a relaxed, steady stream. You may start to sink a bit at the end, but keep exhaling. Come up when you need air and note your ending time. Now…
6 X 25 relaxed freestyle, exhaling a constant stream of air. Breathe when necessary.
MAIN SET: 1900
8 X 50 IM order twice through, on moderate sendoff (fins optional)
No matter what stroke you’re swimming, your focus is to relax and have a constant exhale. Don’t hold your breath!
4 X 100 freestyle pull at relaxed pace. Focus on steady exhale. Breathe when necessary.
2 X 200 pull or swim (choice of stroke and equipment). See if you can keep your controlled exhale going for a longer distance. Mixing 25 breast/25 free is a good option on these 200s.
12 X 25 choice
#1: easy, focus on exhaling
#2: build, focus on exhaling
#3: fast, try to relax the breathing even when going fast
Your choice of 1 X 400 or 2 X 200 or 4 X 100
Choice of stroke and equipment. Focus on relaxed and continuous exhale.
100 easy kick
4 X 25 silent swimming, choice of stroke