Since taking up swimming again, I've been reminded of how poor I am at front crawl, and how rapidly it becomes an out of breath experience. I'm not interested in swimming for competition, so the restrictions on having 'perfect' technique are less strict, allowing me to search around and find a creative solution to optimise my swimming experience.
Enter the Powerbreather: I first saw it on display in a shop window in Munich, and on the ensuing flight back talked myself into the expense.
Let's get this out of the way first: I think people who use this probably look a bit dorky. I have seen little evidence to the contrary. Countering that, everyone swimming looks a bit dorky. Hats, bug-eyed goggles, nose clips. It's just the sport's look.
According to the manual, one needs to get used to the Powerbreather slowly. I read the manual, I might have even watched a video, and decided that didn't apply to me, so off I went to the pool, 'flip caps' (caps to reduce water ingress during a tumble/flip turn) in place, got through two lengths, and decided to revist their statement. I completed that swim with the Powerbreather looking forlorn on the side.
This pattern continued for a few swims: I'd swim a few lengths at the beginning or end with it, but that was it. I was resigned to a $150 boondogggle, probably my fourth swim with it, I was able to do the entire swim with the Powerbreather. And then the next swim with the flip caps in place.
Once I hit this happy plateau, my swimming experience changed dramatically: previously I was swimming 1:3 crawl:breaststroke, and that changed to 1:1. My breathing rate decreased from an average of 33rpm to 30rpm, despite increasing the distance swum, and the amount of front crawl. Consequently, I was swimming with a lower heart rate, which is good for increasing endurance, if one follows the school of large volumes of lower HR exercise.
Tiring of work, I took a few days off, and planned two swims in Lake Tahoe, taking my Powerbreather with me.
The lake is usually calm, and on my first swim it was as expected: a simple swim out and back, and with the longer breathing tubes on, I was able to have a calm, relaxed swim, enjoying the clear lake water and view of the bottom (finding three golf balls, one baseball cap, one beer bottle, and one pair of sunglasses).
My second swim was a little longer, following the shore south to Secret Cove, and back up again to my insertion point. The water was choppier (wind and boats), and the current moved me around a lot: I had to swim strategically in order to not be washed into rocks, or on the way back, out into the lake. During the 2.5km, I was able to concentrate on the more technical nature of the swim, navigating comfortably, getting no water in my mouth or down the snorkel pipes. The snorkel enabled me to maintain a head down, hydrodynamic posture the entire time, probably saving energy. During extended sprints to deal with stronger currents, I never felt out of breath.
Under the water in Tahoe
Conditions under the surface:
Breathing through the snorkel:
I now find swimming with the Powerbreather a relaxing treat, and haven't swum wihtout it since adjusting to it. I am not interested in competing, just in a relaxing trip up and down the (pool|lake|sea): swimming with it delivers that.
Skills for the Powerbreather
Donning the Powerbreather
- Wear a swimming hat, as it'll help the strap grip.
- Take your time to familiarise yourself with it: initially it can look complex, but taking the time to fully loosen the strap prior to donning or doffing will make life a lot easier.
- After loosening the strap, I put the mouthpiece in first, then slightly rotate the breathing pipes back to position, such that the gripping plate is on the front half of my skull, just, as I swim. This ensures that the water pushes the snorkel into place, especially important during turns.
Initially, I found it harder to breath with the Powerbreather on, and when combined with a noseclip, woeful. I think most of this is psychological, despite me having experience SCUBA diving and snorkeling. It could also be due to increasing baseline swimming fitness, as my lungs will have gotten stronger as I got used to it.
Calm, easy breaths, with the mouthpiece loose in the mouth, are the order of the day. No need to clamp down or chew through the rubber: hold it gently, and breath.
Once you're used to it, add the flip caps, if desired. Don't rush to them: they slightly increase the effort required to breath, complicating calm, easy breaths for the beginner.