By Matt Barbini//Naitonal Team High Performance Consultant | Monday, May 4, 2015
It’s been mentioned in this space before but it bears repeating: correctly diagnosing stroke issues is the first and most critical step to fixing them. In freestyle, this is evidenced in many ways but no more clearly than the distinction (or sometimes lack thereof) between a late breath and a slow breath.
In my opinion, a late breath often occurs because the swimmer uses their rotation to drive their breath as their non-breathing side arm extends, rather than turning their head independently of the body.
A slow breath, however similar it might appear to be, is a different issue. The tricky part is that a swimmer can correctly follow a cue or instruction designed to fix a late breath while still executing a breath that is too slow. For example, a common cue to address a late breath is to turn your head as your non-breathing side hand enters the water. Following that cue will initiate your breath correctly but does not guarantee that your head will return to line on time. It takes a conscious head turn in both directions to keep the breath on time and minimize the disruption to the body line. Check out the clip below for an example of what I mean.
The swimmer in question initiates the breath properly, before her opposite side hand enters, but fails to return her head to the proper position prior to her same-side hand entering. You’ll notice that when her right hand enters her head is still slightly pitched towards the camera.
An additional element is the breath itself. This point is almost swim-lesson simple but can be overlooked – if a swimmer doesn't exhale underwater before turning their head they will need to keep their head turned longer in order to get a breath. Fortunately, exhaling prior to initiating the breath is one of the easiest stroke fixes an athlete can make.
Of course, a late breath is probably still the most common freestyle flaw. However, don’t sleep on the slow breath as its effects can be similarly detrimental. In other words, in this and in all technical instruction, be sure that you’re properly diagnosing the issue at hand before moving to correction.