Breathless and Exhausted After Swimming 50 Metres

I am 68 years old and not very athletic. When I swim 50 metres, I am very slow; when I get to the end, I am breathless and exhausted. I have been taught two-sided breathing and proper technique. How can I improve? I'm embarrassed about my Swim Club.

I presume you are referring to your front crawl, as you mentioned two-sided breathing. Becoming exhausted during a front crawl is very common and not something that should cause embarrassment or put you off your swimming. After all, you are doing something that loads of adults wish they could do!

Three areas to focus on that might help to get more out of your front crawl:

1. Refine your technique to help become more efficient
2. Breathing technique: when, how and how often.
3. Work to improve your stamina.

1. Fine-tune Technique for Maximum Efficiency

Sometimes it's the small things that make a difference to our swimming technique, despite how much we have previously learnt. Small things like making sure our hands enter the water in-between shoulder line and head, keeping our feet together during kicking and not allowing our head to raise when we swim.

These small aspects of technique all add up to make us more efficient through the water, resulting in us swimming longer distances with less effort - in theory.

2. How and When To Breathe

Make sure you are breathing out as you swim and not holding your breath. It is common for swimmers to hold their breath without knowing they are doing so. Breathing to the side is something you have been taught, but how often your breath will change as you cover more distance through the pool. You say you have been taught two-sided breathing, but that does not have to be set in stone.

As you become more tired and out of breath, it will be easier to breathe to the same side every stroke cycle. Watch any long-distance front crawl swimmer, a triathlete, for example. They will breathe every stroke cycle to the same side to maintain their pace over the distance they need to swim.

3. Increased Stamina Makes All The Difference

Your stamina or fitness level will ultimately determine how far you can swim before you become exhausted. You say to yourself that you are not very athletic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work on it and improve it. Stamina plays a big part in front crawl because it is physically demanding.

Are you able to swim breaststroke or swim on your back? If so, swim your 50 meters of front crawl and then swim one or two lengths of something less tiring such as breaststroke or on your back, to recover. Then swim another 25 meters front crawl, recover again, and so on. Over time (weeks or months, depending on how often you swim), your stamina will improve, and you can increase the amount of front crawl you can swim before you become exhausted.

The Simple Front Crawl Book

Basic drills for learning how to swim front crawl
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