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7928 Views 12 Replies Latest reply: Feb 8, 2011 1:43 PM by ChristopherM of Boston
AmyU Rookie 1 posts since
Aug 24, 2008
Currently Being Moderated

Dec 4, 2010 6:02 AM

Hyperventilating when entering water for tri



I am just starting triathlons.  I find that when I enter the water (ocean) I am so cold that I hyperventilate and the race begins with me already being winded.  I wear a Xterra wetsuit but can't seem to breathe at first.  Then I feel tired the whole way.


Any suggestions?



  • kapfast Pro 53 posts since
    May 30, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    1. Dec 4, 2010 3:43 PM (in response to AmyU)
    Re: Hyperventilating when entering water for tri

    What is happening is fairly common. When I first get into colder water, my body tenses up and my breathing gets real short. The best thing to do is warm up in the water 10-15 minutes berfore your start time. Jump in and let your body get used to the water temp, take a few strokes and warm up slowly. You'll quickly get used to the water and your breathing will become more consistant.


    Also, when you first get into the water, there will be a small amount of water that gets in your wetsuit. This will seem cold at first, but as you begin warming up, the water in your wetsuit will also warm up.


    You should be fine after a good warm up in the water, and then you can start the race with your breathing under control!


    Good Luck,



  • IronMakeover Community Moderator 738 posts since
    Jul 7, 2008
    Currently Being Moderated
    2. Dec 6, 2010 12:32 PM (in response to AmyU)
    Re: Hyperventilating when entering water for tri

    Hi AmyU,

    Welcome and thanks for asking the question. It is common and that means you're not the only one with this situation. :-) And for a good strong swim, we want you feeling comfortable and confident in the water and to do that, you do need to breathe, right?


    So with the cold there are many things to prep your body. I think doing some bobs and getting used to the water helps, as long as the timing works with your warmup and swim start.


    There are several other useful articles within active:


    I also like the double-swim cap and ear-plug suggestion.

    Be safe and train well,


    Sara Cox Landolt

  • Emersonius Amateur 21 posts since
    Jul 13, 2009
    Currently Being Moderated
    3. Dec 8, 2010 12:17 PM (in response to AmyU)
    Re: Hyperventilating when entering water for tri



    You have good advice here already.  Quick points:

    - this is VERY common, even in warm water, but the cold definitely makes it much worse.  So, you are not a weenie.  You are normal.

    - in cold water, it is imperative that you get in the water early and try to get used to it.  It is uncomfortable, but it makes all the difference. 

    - some Xterra wet suits are a bit tight around the neck, which makes the whole trying to breathe thing a bit worse, which in turn makes the feeling of panic worse.  There are some wet suits that work well that aren't so tight around the neck.  You may be able to try on several at a tri shop that has rentals (then you can sell yours on eBay!).  I tried four before I found one I could afford that didn't choke me.  (Also, when you try on a wet suit, lie down on the floor on your stomach - in swimming position.  The wet suit will rotate a bit on your body, and you'll get a better indication of how it is going to feel on your neck than simply trying it on and then standing up the whole time.) 





  • Frank_ Amateur 10 posts since
    Nov 10, 2008
    Currently Being Moderated
    4. Jan 11, 2011 3:39 PM (in response to AmyU)
    Re: Hyperventilating when entering water for tri

    Practice, practice, practice. You need more time in the open water. Very common to hyperventilate. Be glad you have a wetsuit! But even if you do, or don't, always acclimate before the race start. You must! I practice in Santa Monica, CA if you ever need a swim buddy

  • NzAndy Pro 77 posts since
    Oct 23, 2010
    Currently Being Moderated
    5. Jan 14, 2011 9:07 AM (in response to AmyU)
    Re: Hyperventilating when entering water for tri

    I'll throw in my 2 cents because there's a few tricks that I learned for wet suits that haven't been mentioned.  I use a Orca S2 suit but the principles are the same.


    First, buy some cheap spray on olive oil and use it on your wrists and ankles before you suit up.  This will help those tighter points get off later and the suit will settle easier while you get into it.  Olive oil is also harmless to the neoprene in the wetsuit unlike any petroleum based lubes and is far cheaper than the specialty glide sticks.  I never needed to spray the neck line but that varies from suit to suit and also by how it fits your body.  Some of my friends did it to help the suit settle and prevent discomfort while swimming too.  Be sure to get any sunscreen you want done at least 15 minutes before you grease up so it can get set up first.


    Second is repeating some of the earlier advice about getting in the water before you start the race.  You need to get the suit filled up with water and then get out to let most of it drain again.  You'll end up with a thin layer that will keep you warmer and will also help you get out of it again when you hit the first transition.  As pointed out this also gets that initial shock over before you actually have to perform.


    One side note worth mentioning is that the water temperature is going to determine the amount of time you can spend in it without special equipment.  Hypothermia will set in eventually and a 5mm neoprene wet suit will help along with the swim caps but when it's really cold you just can't spend that long in the water.  I tried for a while and eventually asked my friends in the tri club and their response was "well, of course you can't stay in too long!!!"  So for me I spend the winters in the pool and try to practice sighting at least once per length so it's no big deal when I finally hit the open water.


    Hopefully some of this is helpful, it took me some time to learn these.



  • Moriates Legend 292 posts since
    Jul 19, 2008
    Currently Being Moderated
    6. Jan 21, 2011 6:29 AM (in response to AmyU)
    Re: Hyperventilating when entering water for tri

    Join the club.  It is normal.  One of the most overlooked pre-race routein is getting in the water and warming up.  Get in the water, get settled in and warm up.  That will minimize the impact of the cold water on your body.


    Congrats to entering the world of triathlons.  Once you step in the arena, it is almost impossible to get out.



    GCM Endurance

    Team/Club Xtreme Multisports, Inc.


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  • Anthony5450 Amateur 25 posts since
    Nov 17, 2010
    Currently Being Moderated
    7. Jan 27, 2011 6:13 AM (in response to AmyU)
    Re: Hyperventilating when entering water for tri

    Welcome to the club! A triathlon start is really stressful - you're in water (not a natural environment) and there are a lot of people thrashing around. The best advice I can offer is to stay calm! Focus on your training and be confident that you're ready to perform. A good warm-up will also help stave off the cold.

    Sprint Triathlon Training Program

  • Rob Mella-Wojtowich Rookie 1 posts since
    Mar 24, 2009
    Currently Being Moderated
    8. Jan 31, 2011 8:19 PM (in response to Anthony5450)
    Re: Hyperventilating when entering water for tri

    I have participated in two tris and I hyperventilated in both.  The first time was one of the worst experiences of my life and I even considering quitting it was so bad.  I had trained in open water, but had never felt that before.  Every time I put my face in the water for a few seconds, I would pop right back up in total out of control breathing.  I finally settled in at about half-way through the race and finished in the bottom 20% of the field.  The second tri, I began experiencing it again after about 200 yards, but it wasn't nearly as bad, a side stroke for a couple of minutes settled me down.  I'm sure warming up is the key, but many tris don't have that available, so I guess taking your pain the first few times is probably par for the course.  Perhaps 3rd time is a charm?  I'll let you know in August!       

  • Murdoughnut Rookie 1 posts since
    Oct 31, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    9. Feb 2, 2011 6:03 AM (in response to AmyU)
    Re: Hyperventilating when entering water for tri

    It's something that will get better the more races you do.  I experienced this my first race (.25 mile swim) and was about at the point of calling for a lifeguard when I finally stepped foot on the bottom.  By my third race, (St. Anthony's - a 1-mile swim in choppy water) I was rid of it.  First and foremost, it's uncertainty that causes anxiety, which increases your breathing rate.


    There are some things you can do to alleviate this.  As others have said, get into the water and warm up a bit before.  Even just swimming a slow stroke for 50-yards will help, plus you'll be acclomated to the water.


    If it happens in the water, I've found the best thing to do is to focus your brain on one thing - mechanics.  I'm a pilot - and the first time I flew into clouds (0-visibility) I started to freak out.  I had trained wearing a hood before that kept me from looking outside of the aircraft, but the real thing was completely different.  To alleviate this panic, I focused on one thing - scanning my instruments, and that helped me to push aside all of the fear based thoughts and anxiety that were otherwise holding me back.  I took this same approach to triathlon swimming.  When I felt a panic coming on, I started really focusing on my swim stroke ... counting each phase and repeating.  I even started humming songs I liked to distract myself.


    Hope that helps - I think a lot of people suffer from it.  After my first swim I swore I would never race again - I'm glad I didn't stick to that.

  • CatAclysm Rookie 5 posts since
    May 25, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    10. Feb 2, 2011 12:10 PM (in response to AmyU)
    Water Confidence

    All of these suggestions are great, but I'm going to address something completely different that could be the root of your problem.  Water Confidence.  What is water confidence?  It is the training of the mind not to freak out under highly stressful situations involving water.  So many people drown because of panic alone.  Many military special forces train water confidence with drills that are designed to make you calm under near drowning conditions.  Just being able to swim miles in a pool or open water doesn't give you water confidence.  Warming up can acclimate your body to the cold water, but it can't keep you calm when some one kicks you in the head or swims over you.  Google "water confidence drills" for tips that may help this aspect of your triathlon swim.

  • BT.ROB Legend 270 posts since
    May 12, 2009
    Currently Being Moderated
    11. Feb 2, 2011 2:02 PM (in response to CatAclysm)
    Re: Water Confidence

    Cat makes a really good point about water confidence. I relate it to beginning SCUBA where you do a number of drills at the bottom of a pool or shallow water taking out the regulator, filling your mask with water then clearing it, dropping your regulator and recovering it, etc. Mostly it is to get you comfortable in an unfamiliar environment and drilling in exercises to get you confident in your ability to perform.


    Good luck and have fun.



  • ChristopherM of Boston Amateur 22 posts since
    Aug 23, 2010
    Currently Being Moderated
    12. Feb 8, 2011 1:43 PM (in response to AmyU)
    Re: Hyperventilating when entering water for tri

    It's called "Mammalian diving reflex," according to this acticle posted on the Triumph Triathlon blog site:





    The long and the short of the article is, spend some time warming up in the water before the race starts.  I like to float facedown with my head in the water and just try to meditate, slowing my heartrate and getting my breathing into a rhythm.  Once you get out of the water, try to keep your heart rate from spiking again once the gun goes off and you hit the water.  Sometimes I have to go through the whole process again after the gun has gone off - I find it's worth the 60 seconds or so it takes off my time.

    -Christopher M

    Boston, MA

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