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Breathing Problems in Swimming


Hi Gary, First of all, your website and book have been great – definitely an important tool for parents with kids who swim.

I would like to ask how I can help my son… he’s 11 years old, he is in the swimming squad, he trains 4 times a week (1.5hours per session) and most of all he loves swimming.

The breathing problem started early this year, at an inter school competition, and since then he has been anxious about races/competition.  He still enjoys training very much.  I have informed his coach about it.

According to him, after the dive, as he swims, his chest felt tight and he felt like he couldn’t breathe.  This happens with the breaststroke and butterfly, but more so with freestyle.

Yesterday we had a club race, he joined the backstroke event but backed out on the other styles.  I am very happy that he went to the race and joined, even though it is just one event.

He has asthma, but it hasn’t been bad in the last 4 years and I think swimming has helped him a lot.

I would appreciate if you can give me suggestions on how I can address this problem.  I thought of maybe approaching a ‘doctor’ but Im not sure who and a specialist in what field..

Thank you very much. Jinky


Hi Jinky, Many swimmers, both children and adults, have various different breathing problems when they swim.

I have coached a number of swimmers over the years who have had a similar problem to your son.  In most cases it was a small case of anxiety and then gradually it built up more and more until they didnt want to compete.

As a coach, this is what I did.

We often did time trials at training where all swimmers had to stand at the end of a lane and maybe 4 would go at a time for a 100m freestyle, then the next 4 and so on.  This way the boy got to practice a type of racing without realising it, because it was part of training.

Next we started doing some gamble swims.  For example if I put 20 x 50 on the whiteboard and then nominated someone to go within 2 seconds of their PB for a 100 freestyle time trial and if they achieved it, the set would drop to 10 x 50. Their team mates would cheer them on (more pressure) and they would often swim a PB.  After a few weeks the boy had a turn and thrived on it.  We then discussed that what he just did was harder than going in a competition and he excelled, and then entered him in a low level meet to try competition again and it worked well.

In regards to the tight chest feeling, it is important that he relaxes and enjoys racing before concerning himself with times and places.  This step must come first, with no outside pressure from anyone.  If he can enjoy racing again, he will have no problem with his breathing over time.

Having said all that, if he continues to have trouble breathing and does have a history of asthma then it would be a good idea to see a sports doctor who understands asthma.

Regards Gary

The Swimming Expert

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