Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Breathing in Backstroke

Generally breathing in backstroke is not taught, rather understandable as there’s not any teachable technique involved in turning the head - in fact quite the opposite as the head is supposed to be kept stationary. But, despite backstroke being my best stroke my entire life, I’ve never understood the seemingly general consensus this stroke is the easiest one for breathing. I’ve always felt the opposite. It’s rare indeed when I open my mouth swimming crawl and take in water instead of air, rarer still during breaststroke. I admit it happens occasionally during fly, but that’s in practice when lanes are choppy and, of course, I’m not getting out of the water enough which is my fault entirely. But I take in water all the time swimming backstroke. Only in backstroke does one face into any splash during the breathing phase. A good analogy would be in the shower finding it easy to breathe facing towards the water by keeping your head down but almost impossible facing directly into the shower. So you must have a well established breathing pattern or you’ll run into problems.

The trick for breathing during backstroke is to breathe when the least amount of splash is around to interfere. Surface tension causes water to temporarily cling to the arms before being shed so you need to wait for them to pass overhead before breathing. Consequently everyone should try to breathe just before one arm enters the water and before the trailing arm gets high enough to cause problems. You then breathe out on the trailing arm stroke, which provides the near universal one breath per cycle breathing rate. Water splash, of course, is ever present so to minimize accidental water intake I purse my lips during the exhalation phase. On reflection I think this is a mistake, perhaps I should experiment with breathing out through my nose, which would be an even safer practice as well as complimentary to carrying out my underwater dolphin kick. And since I’m playing around I think I’ll experiment with using the same breathing pattern I use running, the popular 2-1 pattern (yes, all aerobic sport employ breathing patterns, including running). The 2-1 breathing pattern is to take a breath in on each of two consecutive strides and then breathe out in one exhale over the next two. The rationale behind this is it’s easier to completely fill a partially inflated lung than a fully deflated one. The first inhale becomes the ‘starter’ and then the second finishes the job, therefore maximizing your total oxygen intake. The longer exhale period also better clears the lungs for the next round. Such a profound change in my breathing pattern would be a long term project. I’ll be sure to post updates on my progress and on the practicality of using a 2-1 pattern for backstroke from time to time.


Joe said...

I've never really put much thought into the backstroke breathing pattern. Perhaps I should pay more attention to it. I've noticed that your mouth is quite animated during backstroke. Clearly, you are paying attention to your breathing.

Scott said...

Yes, as the mouth has to be closed to prevent splash coming in it'll always be in motion. Your use of 'animated' is particularly apt - I'm afraid I'm more animated than most because of my poor conditioning. I'm like a fish out of water struggling for breath.