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The Real Reason Swimming Is Exhausting

One of the most frustrating aspects of swimming is how tired you can get, and how quickly it can happen.

And it doesn’t seem to matter how fit you are on land.

If you’re making some fundamental mistakes, you’re going to get exhausted.

For some of you, this struggle may be a not-too-distant memory.

For others, it’s a current reality.

And it’s no fun.

And if you’re like I was, you’ve probably tried all sorts of different solutions to create change.

Maybe you’ve worked on your pull.

Maybe you’ve worked on your kicking.

Maybe you tried to train longer.

Maybe you tried to train faster.

And while you may have improved a little, it probably wasn’t what you were hoping for.


So, what’s the solution?

I’ll get to that in a minute:).

First, I want you to understand why you’re getting exhausted so that you can barely finish a lap.

I want you to understand the REAL problem.

It’s not your kicking, it’s not your arm pull, it’s not your arm recovery.

99% of the time, your legs and hips are sinking OR you’re kicking like crazy to prevent them from sinking.

Here’s why it matters.

When your legs sink, it feels like YOU are sinking.

When it feels like you are sinking, it feels like you might drown.

When that happens, EVERYTHING tightens up and you get really stiff.

That wastes a LOT of energy AND it makes it really hard to execute your other skills.

To make matters worse, just about everyone will instinctively kick to keep the hips up.

While that can sort of work (but not really), doing so comes at a cost.

A BIG cost.

The legs use a lot of oxygen and kicking hard to avoid drowning is going to push your lungs to the max.

So, you need to learn how to keep the kegs up without using hardly any oxygen.

Then you’ll be able to stay loose and swim effectively without losing control of your breathing.

That’s where the endurance comes from.

It’s not about building a bigger gas tank, it’s about using less gas to drive the car.

What do you have to do to make it happen?

Improving your body position and keeping your legs up is all about the lungs.

Without the air in the lungs, you will sink no matter what.

The first step is learning how to FEEL the air in your lungs support you.

With that sense of support, you can RELAX.

That alone will make a big difference.

The Ball Float is my favorite exercise to help you FEEL this support.

For many, it will be the first time they feel comfortable and stable in the water, exactly what you need to be able to sustain your swimming.

This exercise is a great starting point because ANYONE can do it and it doesn’t require any special skill.

Just get a big breath and FLOAT!

Don’t worry if you sink a bit to start, be patient and you should rise back up.

Additionally, don’t worry about how deep you are in the water.

Everyone will have a different settling point and that’s normal.

The stability is what’s important.

Now, once you’ve established the support in the water and you can feel your lungs, it’s time to use that support to improve your position.

Here’s a great starting point…

I call it the Active Jellyfish.

What you’re trying to do is press INTO the lungs by pushing your head and chest into the water.

The goal is to lean forward.

Doing so will naturally raise the hips up in the water, just like a see-saw.

You may find that you only have to push slightly, or you may have to push a LOT.

That’s going to depend on you.

It’s also okay to use your arms and legs SLIGHTLY to cheat.

The idea is to get the hips up using your chest and head, so that should be the focus.

It’s this same skill that you’ll try to transfer into your swimming later on.

When working on this exercise, be patient.

It may be difficult for you, and that’s a GOOD thing.

It means that you can improve and that means your swimming can improve as well.

For many, this exercise can make a huge difference in your body position and your ability to avoid exhaustion.

Now, the last big step.

You may need to work on this step as well to really figure everything out.

No problem, it’s normal.

Provided you have established some solid support in your lungs, you can use that support to ‘pull’ your legs up to the surface.

Letter floats fit the bill.

You’re simply going to try to create different letter positions on the surface of the water.

You’re going to need to squeeze your butt and your legs to hold them in place.

Don’t worry if it’s perfect, at all.

You may or may not be horizontal and you may or may not be on the surface of the water.

Again, struggling is a good thing as it means there’s something for you to learn.

The idea is the ATTEMPT to figure out how to create these positions.

That’s the skill you’re working on.

It’s actually easier to execute these skills while swimming, but you need to figure out how to do them separately to know what to improve.

If you start to sink, RESIST it, and you’ll be working on what you need to improve.

The X is the easiest and the I is the hardest.

Everything else in between is fair game with an intermediate level of difficulty.

I’ve given you the path to stop getting exhausted while you swim.

To recap-

  1. You’re getting exhausted because of your body position and your inability to relax in the water.

  2. Improving your body position starts with feeling your lungs and the support they provide.

  3. Once you can feel that support, you need to learn to leverage that support with your head and chest.

  4. Then you need to leverage that support with the back of your body.

If you can get that down, you’ll find that dramatically improve how long you can swim without feeling exhausted.

Start incorporating these exercises today, in whatever way makes sense for you and your current training.

Don’t sweat the details, just PRACTICE.

Be patient, take your time, and you’ll improve.

Next time I write to you, I’ll provide you with some strategies for using these exercises in sets that will allow you to get more out of each repetition.

The more you get out of each repetition, the faster you’ll improve.

Keep it simple…


P.S. If you want more on the importance of these exercises, you can check out articles I wrote for 220 Triathlon HERE and HERE.

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