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9667 Views 9 Replies Latest reply: Jan 17, 2010 9:30 PM by Wittymermaid
NKersten Amateur 17 posts since
Jul 14, 2009
Currently Being Moderated

Dec 31, 2009 5:14 AM

Tried swimming this morning, out of breath in one length, need advice please

I am an active runner and enjoy cycling a tremendous amount but I want to try swimming for cross training.  This morning was the first time I got in the pool to swim laps (lengths) and it was so much harder than I thought it was going to be.  I had to stop and rest at each end of the pool to catch my breath before I could swim back.  I know that I have to work on my breathing technique but I am also sure I need to work on so much more than that.  If there is any advice anyone can give me to start me out in the right direction to improve on my swimming, it would be greatly appreciated.

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  • PedDoc1 Pro 159 posts since
    Apr 25, 2008

    Welcome.  This is a VERY quiet community compared to the running community, I'm sorry to say.  I am no expert either, but I AM a runner turned swimmer due to a knee gone bad.  Short and sweet... You're working too hard. (DOH, you say, I could've told you that!)  Ok, so I'm not much help yet, however, it really is the key issue.  You're spending a great deal of energy staying afloat and no energy on moving forward!  And, to add insult to injury, you probably have that wonderful runner's blessing of low body fat (ie. no fat to keep you afloat).

    My first recommendation, go to the library and find a copy of the Total Immersion book and, if they have it, one of the Total Immersion DVD's.  You'll find a lot more information on on these materials scattered throughout this web-site.  The book and DVD truly are worth it.

    Second, don't give up!  Yesterday, I put in a mile and a half without stopping.  It's just a matter of teaching yourself to swim instead of flounder.  You will get better if you keep at it and you'll find it's worth it.

    Finally, when you look at the book and DVD, you'll say, but I want to swim, not drill.  Do yourself a favor, drill for awhile.  Drilling will teach you to float.  Once you can float, you can swim without a lot of exertion.

    05/09 Bridge the Gap, Quincy, Ill HM: 1:45:27
  • Brogan75 Rookie 2 posts since
    Jun 10, 2009

    Hi, I would have to second what peddoc1 says.  After hurting my knee in late september I tried to swim, got frustrated, then got the Total Immersion book and Easy Freestyle DVD.  After a month of drilling, I started swimming whole stroke and now can swim two miles without stopping.  It really is all about the balance and relaxation in the water.  Swimming is soooooo much technique over fitness.  You can youtube total immersion to see what it looks like or go to their website,  The forum there is much more active, with some very good advice and support.  Sorry I just sounded like an ad, but it has been beneficial to me.  Good luck with your swimming!

  • scottuf Amateur 36 posts since
    Jul 20, 2009

    i have to agree with what the others have said - Total Immersion really helped me learn the proper stroke.  however, it wasn't as easy as just "ok, now that i can do a proper crawl, i can swim forever!".  there is a certain amount of endurance that needs to be built.  being in water and not on land is intimidating, and it wasn't until i found the 0 to 1 mile program that i got any endurance.  it is NOT easy, but if you follow what she says exactly (don't take 15 breaths where it says 8!), it will work.  i had to do week 1 twice, but after that it was smooth sailing for me.  basically the program builds your endurance by pushing you to your limits.  when running or biking, its easy to push yourself because the chances of dying are rather small, but in swimming, as soon as i'd get tired, i'd stop immediately, wait too long to catch my breath and then start again, because of the ever present fear of drowning.  But i never built any endurance that way and was stuck at 25-50 m max.  but by forcing myself to do what the program says, i have successfully built my endurance.  i know this sounds like an infomercial, but i'm not related in any way to the program, just someone who found it very very helpful.


    read the page, then go to the 0 to 700 page and start there.



  • bigB Ellison Rookie 3 posts since
    May 11, 2008

    Glad you are getting started !  Make sure you keep going and work on your technique.  Dont worry, it will get much better.


    Checking out videos and following some workout plans is a great idea, but you should also get some feedback from a coach or at least an experienced swimmer.  I have coached a lot of beginer swimmers, and there is a very good chance you have some common technique problems. You mentioned your breathing technique. I hope you arent lifting your head up and looking forward at any time ! (its pretty much like slamming on the brakes ). Keep your head down and keep it centered so you are always going in a straight line. You may also be moving your arms and legs alot faster than you need to.  I would recomend trying to swim at a slower pace with long slow strokes to see if you can go down and back without stoping.  Try some time with a kick board to make sure your kick is working. This will also add some time to your workout that isnt high intensity.


    See if you can find a local masters swim team that is beginer friendly, so you can get some feedback about how your stroke looks !  Most triathalon clubs have some members that need help on their swim technique too, so that might be a great place to find people to workout with, and get some feedback on your technique.

  • KurtinSC Pro 126 posts since
    Nov 23, 2009

    While swimming (like any athletic activity) requires physical fitness, it's much more dependent upon technique then things like cycling and running are.


    You can build up endurance in the muscles that are needed for swimming, but if you don't get your technique fixes as soon as possible, you'll be repeating bad habits and have a horribly inefficient stroke.  You'll waste a lot of energy for very little reward (in terms of distance/speed).


    I'd recommend working on drills to fix the problem parts of your stroke.  There are a lot of different things to think about with swimming, and if you try to think of all of them while you're going along... you'll probably get frustrated.


    Some things to try:


    1.  Finger-tip drag drill - During the part of your stroke where your arm is out of the water, drag your fingertips along the surface of the the water, with your thumb dragging along the side of your body to the armpit.  This works on getting a high elbow recovery on your stroke, and helps force your shoulders to roll (a key part of swimming effectively... it all starts with rolling the shoulders)


    2.  Streamline kicking - Without a kickboard, sandwich your head between your arms with your fingertips pointing toward the opposite wall... your face pointing straight down.  Kick a short but fast flutter kick, taking a stroke when you need a breath.  Focus on turning your head straight to the side when you breath.  This works on having the correct head and body position in the water, developing an efficient kick.


    3.  Catch up drill - keep one arm in front while completing the entire stroke whith the other arm, touching your other hand before starting the next stroke.  At the start of each stroke, make a concious effort to stretch the arm that is beginning its stroke toward the wall.  On each stroke, focus on rolling the shoulders so that when the arm is pulling through the water, your body is rotated so that shoulder is pointed toward the pool bottom, and when the arm is out of the water (the recovery part of the stroke) your OPPOSITE shoulder is pointed toward the pool bottom.


    4.  1-arm swimming - similar to above, but one arm stays out and you do the entire length with one arm, then come back with the other.  Still focus on the shoulder position as noted above.



    Getting the shoulder roll correct is the biggest step toward an efficient stroke (at least in this former swimmer's opinion).  Training for swimming is a lot more like golf then running.  But instead of doing exercises to develop an efficient golf swing, you're working on an efficient stroke.  Once the stroke is down, then physical fitness becomes the big factor in dropping time... but you have to get the technique down first.

  • LorsTriathlete Rookie 1 posts since
    Jan 16, 2010

    You could be describing me several years ago!  I even grew up on a lake and spent a lot of time swimming.  But rarely the freestyle stroke.  I could swim quite a few lengths doing backstroke or breast stroke but literally could only make half a length doing the crawl.  My advice:  First: just keep trying and push yourself a little each length - try to go another 1/4 length or 1/2 length.  After a few weeks I was able to go 8 lengths without stopping - something just finally clicked and eventually I could swim 1/2 mile in a pool after just a few more weeks.  Second:  once you gain swim endurance through practice, really consider enrolling in a Total Immersion workshop.  It was pricey but well worth the money.  Total Immersion is especially helpful in teaching you to use less energy swimming and now I feel like I can go forever, even when I am feeling out of shape.  When I exit the water leg of a traithlon I no longer feel dead and that really helps for the upcoming legs.  But, I really recommend taking the TI class AFTER you have mastered some endurance on your own. And, I tried reading the book first but it was the in the water class and getting to watch myself on under water video that was really helpful.

  • Wittymermaid Rookie 4 posts since
    Jan 17, 2010

    As a former runner-turned swimmer due to worsening asthma & injuries, the biggest impact on my journey was a personal swim coach.  If you can afford this, it is worth it.  If you're teachable, you won't need many lessons.  Just accept that you're starting at "tadpole" level, throw out all your embarrassment, and let a person teach you individually.  The eyeballs of a coach watching your performance cannot be underestimated.  If you can swim with a friend also, this helps tremendously. (Some coaches will also split lesson fees for two people.) When I started out, I couldn't work on any stroke techniques because I couldn't breathe at all--kept gasping & choking.  The drill that remedied this for me was breathing while the coach led me by the hands from side of the pool to the other, back & forth.  Then I graduated to kick board with face in the water.  Once you get the breathing down, the rest starts to slowly fall into place.


    I cannot stress enough what others have said about developing proper technique early.  If you only watch videos & read books, then you may develop significant improper technique because you cannot see yourself & have no one to critique what you're doing. Improper technique causes you to waste energy flapping around, instead of moving smoothly through the water.


    All this sounds fine until you're out of breath in the water thinking, "Oh my gosh, I don't know if this is worth it."  Just keep going.  It will get better! I promise.


    ~~From one former tadpole to another...

  • Wittymermaid Rookie 4 posts since
    Jan 17, 2010

    I saw your post back in October, 2009 about "how long til I don't feel like I'm drowning?!"  That made me laugh.

    Cool to see that you stuck with it.  I'm sure you're "expert" by now!

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