How world champion swimmers breathe

author : garyhallsr
comments : 2

Question from a BeginnerTriathlete member:

"Grant Hackett's 10 year old 1500 record fell recently to 19 year old Sun Yang of China. His last 50 meters is amazing. He nearly broke it earlier this year missing by less than a second but did it today. Here is a good video on it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvLO0wM7RSE

What can triathletes learn from this?"

Answer By Gary Hall Sr.

Watching Sun Yang break Grant Hackett's amazing record in the 1500 meters in Shanghai at the World Swimming Championships was very interesting. Why? He did it in the last 100 meters (under 55 seconds), or more specifically in the last 50 meters (under 26 seconds). Before that last 100 he did not seem to be within reach of breaking the record, but he came home way faster than any 1500 swimmer in history. How did he do it?

The technical elements of the win

Sun Yang is a hip-driven freestyler, much like Grant Hackett was. Both have tremendous legs and kick to drive them forward while they push out the front with their lead arm. Both pull with extraordinarily high elbows underwater. Their stroke rates are very similar (except for the finish) and very slow, considering their speed, at around 60 strokes per minute. That translates into about 27 or so strokes per 50 meters for each of them. The hip-driven technique gives them more time for a bigger hip turn and gets them more distance per stroke than the shoulder-driven swimmers. Yet Sun Yang did something that was revolutionary in this mile, besides coming home faster than anyone ever has. In fact, what he did really enabled him to come home faster than anyone else. He breathed 3 successive times going into every wall and breathed 3 or 4 successive times coming out of every turn. Not since Kieran Perkins (Australia 90's) have I seen a world-class distance swimmer breathe consecutively. Kieran would throw in an occasional consecutive breath in the middle of the pool, but did it more routinely before each turn.

With a stroke rate of 60, breathing every cycle means your respiratory rate is 30 breaths per minute...considerably lower than the physiological respiratory rate at maximal effort, which is 50 to 60 breaths per minute. By throwing in the extra breaths going in to and out of each turn, Sun Yang increased his oxygen intake and CO2 release substantially, enabling him to have the burst speed at the end of the race. His stroke rate on the final 50 meters was actually close to 90. His legs looked like Mercury outboard motors.

Breathe more, not less

Since watching Kieran do this (to a lesser extent) I have been an advocate of breathing more, not less. Breathing every stroke is problematic, however, as it requires too much head turning and the act of breathing involves compromises. Breathing slows the stroke rate and, if not done properly, will increase frontal drag. Sun Yang has confirmed my belief in breathing more than every cycle, particularly with a slow stroke rate.

Though this may not be for you

Don't get too enamored with Sun Yang's technique, though. If you try to swim with a hip-driven freestyle, pushing your hands out the front and you have little or no kick, you are going on a Sunday stroll swim. It takes a strong kick to swim with the hip-driven freestyle technique very fast. Also, notice Sun's head position...how he drops the head after the breath and the bow wave goes right over the top of his head.

Mostly, I want you to pay attention to the technique of Ryan Cochrane (Canada silver) and Gergo Kis (Hungary bronze) that used a shoulder driven freestyle with a stroke rate in the high 80's the entire way. Yes, they were 10 seconds behind Sun, but with the kick you likely have, you are better off swimming like them than Sun Yang for a better result. Just remember to breathe more than every cycle and definitely more than every 3rd stroke (alternate pattern)...preferably the 2:3 pattern if you can. You can find some videos to teach you this breathing on our website at www.theraceclub.com. You can also learn about the different freestyle techniques with our DVD, called The Three Styles of Freestyle, available on our site.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.
The Race Club


Gary Hall Sr. has held 10 world records. In both 1969 and 1970 he was named World Swimmer of the Year.
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date: September 13, 2011

Author


garyhallsr

Hall's record is one of amazing successes. Gary has held 10 world records. In both 1969 and 1970 he was named World Swimmer of the Year.

Since retiring in 2006 as a physician and moving with his wife Mary, to Islamorada in the Florida Keys, Dr. Gary Hall has now dedicated his life to coaching technique and training methods to children, masters, fitness and health swimmers, triathletes and others at The Race Club Camps.

Author

avatargaryhallsr

Hall's record is one of amazing successes. Gary has held 10 world records. In both 1969 and 1970 he was named World Swimmer of the Year.

Since retiring in 2006 as a physician and moving with his wife Mary, to Islamorada in the Florida Keys, Dr. Gary Hall has now dedicated his life to coaching technique and training methods to children, masters, fitness and health swimmers, triathletes and others at The Race Club Camps.

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