The ‘breathing issue’ often comes up in Old Tired Frontcrawl. A tired swimmer will often hold their breath because it is a natural thing to hold your breath when you are in water. However holding your breath is hard work. If you don’t see any bubbles coming up around their neck and head they are likely holding their breath.
It isn’t a difficult thing to change this habit but certainly one worth investigating. A nice full exchange of air into the lungs and out of the lungs is the best way to maximise the oxygen carrying capacity of a swimmers red blood cells.
Another good reason for ensuring a swimmer is exhaling well is to consider the stress on the medulla oblongata. This is the base of your brain and controls respiration. You could not mess with a more important part of your brain. It controls all autonomous actions. A nice flow of air in and a flow out will calm your ‘primordial’ brain and take a great deal of stress off.
In a very basic description the medulla measures the amount of carbon dioxide in the lungs and causes you to take your next breath.
If you are holding your breath this part of your brain, which is very accustomed to being listened to, tells you to BREATHE NOW! As ‘not breathing’ constitutes an error message that makes your primal brain think you are about to die, it is important to try to breathe often.
So considering that this can be very stressful on your subconscious it is worth the time to teach regular exhaling and inhaling to your swimmers. Once breathing issues are understood by your swimmer then you can start to ensure that both balance and breathing are shared corrections.
A useful drill to help to ingrain exhalation into a swimmers stroke is to ask them to take a big breath and exhale as long as they can. Ask them not to count strokes but simply keep stroking until the breath is completely exhaled. This style is often called trickle breathing. There are some other breathing drills that are pretty common like counting strokes but I find that this often makes swimmers hold their breath and not exhale.
Once balance and breathing patterns are easily maintained a coach should start to look closely at; timing issues caused by Old Tired Frontcrawl.