How does the coach know that you need to work on your breath control and breathing mechanics?
Answer: By combining a knowledge of biology, observation skills and deduction!
I felt compelled to write this piece after a question I got from a swimmer this morning.
We were doing a breath control and diaphragm strengthening exercise in the pool. I was asking the athletes to hold their breath for more strokes than they normally do. One swimmer asked
”WHY do I always have to go pee when we do this type of thing!?”
Upon research, the answer may be complicated. This is my best attempt to answer it using some biology and physiology.
When you hold your breath, your diaphragm is in contraction, which stimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve has a sympathetic nervous system response (fight or flight) via chemoreceptors that are sensitive to low oxygen levels. These receptors send signals to enable vasoconstriction and increase blood pressure. Vasoconstriction and an increase in blood pressure may mean that fluid gets pushed into the kidneys and bladder. This in turns makes you feel like you have to pee.
(I will note that most experienced swimmers do not feel this urge to pee. This could be explained by the downregulation of the vagus nerve impulses in those who have trained their breath holding abilities)
To sum: It may be that for some breath holding pushes liquid into the core, which ends up in the kidney and bladder.
Why does this knowledge of the body help me know if an athlete is having difficulty with breath control? I can deduce that they are going into hypoxemia if they need to go to the bathroom often or complain of feeling like they have to pee. Hypoxemia when swimming can be caused by not getting enough new oxygen in when they breath, failing to empty the lungs after taking a full breath in or taking too many strokes between breaths.
Identifying and resolving any outstanding breathing issues is the absolute and unquestionable basis of swimming with ease. Some of the benefits of proper breathing mechanics will lead to better buoyancy, lower levels of stress, an increased ability to focus on arm and kick mechanics and more oxygen available for aerobic work needed for swimming fast.
If you are struggling with ‘ease’ in the water and always feel like you shouldn’t be as breathless as you are, then you may need someone to help you with your breathing mechanics.
See other articles by Ayesha and our coaches