Obviously, there are many differences between swimming and other athletic endeavors. Apart from the fact swimming takes place in the water as opposed to on land like many other sports, one of the most significant differences is that swimmers are required to exert energy while holding their breath.
Unlike any land-based sport – a swimmer’s speed is based on finding the right balance between breath control and physical exertion. Back in 1988, a swimmer named David Berkoff made waves in the international swimming community back when he stayed under water for 35 meters off the start of the 100m backstroke and broke the world record. Berkoff, who swam for Harvard University, consulted with experts at his school who confirmed what he believed – he was faster underwater. As a result of Berkoff’s performances (and later, in the butterfly, Misty Hyman’s performances in the late 1990s), the rules of swimming changed and athletes are no longer allowed to go more than 15 meters off of any wall underwater. The best swimmers still take advantage of every allowable meter, however. Michael Phelps, for example, stays under water for nearly 15 meters off the last wall of a 400 I.M. – one of the most impressive feats in all of sports.
The fastest parts of each race come in the seconds after a swimmer pushes off the wall (or the starting block). By maintaining a tight streamline and butterfly kick underwater, a swimmer can hold this top speed for longer periods of time and reduce the drag associated with swimming on the surface. As a result, one of the easiest ways to become a better swimmer is to improve your breath control.
So what steps can you take to improve your breath control?
Start with core strength. The stronger your core, the better you will be able to control your diaphragm and breathing. You will also need to work on shoulder flexibility so as to maintain a tight streamline underwater. And it goes without saying you have to put in the time to actually practice kicking underwater. Try to do at least 5 underwater dolphin kicks every time you push off the wall swimming butterfly or backstroke. Try to do at least 2 underwater dolphin kicks every time you push off the wall doing freestyle. Practice varying the amplitude of your kicks. Each kick should start with (surprise!) your core and result in the whipping of your feet. You also may want to try ending every practice by doing at least 4 x 25 yards underwater. In time, you’ll find yourself doing best times and passing other swimmers underwater off of every wall!