Christmas is the only time of year when many of us get to show off our vocal talents, singing a few carols at our children’s nativity productions or belting out the hits at the office karaoke party. Obviously some people have better singing voices than others, but it is possible to improve vocally through better breathing technique. In a similar way our learners often find that in order to take their swimming to the next level, improvement of breathing technique is crucial. I have taken a few extracts of breathing advise from the singwise.com website that I think are relevant to swimming. Simply replace the word ‘singing’ with ‘swimming’ and discover some valuable insights.
“The difference between how we breathe for singing and how we breathe for other daily activities lies not in the mechanisms but in how the airflow is regulated, as the demands that our bodies have for air changes with different activities. Although it is still in accordance with the natural functioning of the body, ‘natural breathing’ as employed for speech is not adequate for intense singing demands. During normal demands, such as speaking or resting, we tend to inhale and exhale more shallowly and evenly because our bodies don’t require as much oxygen. Air is exchanged in cycles of approximately four to six seconds; this differs slightly from person to person. During singing, however, we need to inhale quickly and often deeply, then exhale slowly and steadily, in a long breath, as we sing our phrases or notes.”
“ Common Breathing Technique Mistakes
Tanking up: Most singers inhale as deeply and as fully as they possibly can as they prepare to sing each line of their songs or their vocal exercises, often in an attempt to avoid running out of air before the end of their vocal tasks. They may have also been taught that more air necessarily means a better supported tone. However, ‘tanking up’ or ‘overcrowding the lungs’ like this unnecessarily increases the subglottic pressure (the air pressure below the larynx).
Pushing out the air: Ideally, we want to think of the air as being ‘allowed’ out, rather than being ‘pushed’ out, to create voice. Singers must be assured that the air will flow out of their lungs virtually on its own, thanks to the elastic recoil of the lungs, and there is, therefore, no need to either ‘help’ it along or to force it out. (This is why we should learn to relax the abdominal muscles.)
Holding back the air: Many singers hold back the air, or choke it off, either at the laryngeal level, in which the singer closes the glottis immediately after inhalation and briefly pauses before producing voice (known as compression of the breath), or at the supraglottic level, in which the muscles of the throat constrict or squeeze and inhibit the airflow.”
When swimming a stroke, we have a relatively short space of time to inhale so we have to make sure that the quality of the breath is good ( deep, not shallow) and the quantity is right (not tanking up). We have longer to exhale and need to make sure that we don’t hold our breath at any point (choke it off) or force it out (pushing out the air).
The best singing performances look effortless and this is a lot to do with comfort and confidence that good breathing technique provides. The same can be said for swimming, control over you breathing is the key for a calm controlled, effortless stroke.