Aqua Notes - The Race Club

Tristan and Timothy Hartman

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“I wish we didn’t have to stop..” Those were the words of my youngest boy after him and his brother had spent this past weekend being coached by the fabulous and fantastic Amy Hall!
The sessions were intense, exciting, fun and highly informative and the boys could feel the difference in their swimming after a very short time of being coached. Amy’s knowledge and experience were very evident and she could advise the boys every step of the way. However, the her greatest ability and gift that she has is her ability to really relate to her swimmers. Her kindness and friendliness and willingness to listen meant a huge amount and ensured that the boys really enjoyed every moment of the sessions. She is a fantastic coach and a fantastic person and we were privileged to benefit from her knowledge and experience.
Thank you Amy!!
Anthony, Timothy and Tristan Hartman, Cape Town, South Africa

Timmy and Tristan Hartman copy

Backstroke Spin Drill


The backstroke spin drill is one of the most effective ways of teaching swimmers to accelerate the straight arms quickly through the recovery phase of the stroke cycle. One of the greatest challenges we see with our swimmers at The Race Club is getting them to turn their arms over fast enough in backstroke. In this Race Club Swimisode, World champion backstroker Junya Koga demonstrates how fast one can move the arms with the backstroke spin drill, preparing for a strong backstroke race. While a fast stroke rate in backstroke is not the only important technique to swim faster, it is critical, since most backstrokers turn their arms over way too slowly.

Many backstrokers are taught to deliberately slow their arms down before the hand enters the water, yet that is not what you should do. The faster the arm accelerates through the recovery, the more energy is coupled with the arm pulling underwater and the faster you will go. Don’t worry about being delicate or getting air bubbles trapped behind your hand. It is far more important to throw the arm backward aggressively and forcefully,with the little finger entering the water first, increasing the power and the speed of the stroke.

At the Race Club we are proud of the many backstrokers we have helped by using the backstroke spin drill. Try the spin drill with hands open or closed to increase your backstroke speed.

The Dynamics of Dolphin Kick Part II: Why Dolphin is Faster on the Back

The Dynamics of Dolphin Kick Part II: Why Dolphin is Faster on the Back

Using The Race Club’s Velocity Meter technology, I analyze the dolphin kick of world champion backstroker, Junya Koga. While on his stomach, he generates acceleration of about .7 m/sec2 on the up kick and 14 m/sec2 on the down kick, a significantly greater difference than one would expect on the basis of strength alone. The up kick results in a peak velocity of about 1.5 m/sec while the down kick results in a peak velocity of over 2 m/sec. However, like acceleration, a better representation of the power of the kicks is the difference between trough and peak velocities from both the up and down kicks (Delta PT). For the up kick, the delta PT is a trivial .1 m/sec and for the down kick, it is around .8 m/sec, also a significantly greater difference than one would expect based purely on strength.

When Junya dolphin kicks on his back, we find an extremely different velocity curve. Now, on the up kick, the stronger motion, we find a peak acceleration of around 3 m/sec2, while on the weaker down kick, we find an acceleration of around 5 m/sec2. The peak velocities of the down kick are also greater than the up kick, 2.1 m/sec compared to 1.9 m/sec. The delta PT is still greater on the up kick, but not by much, .4 m/sec compared to .35 m/sec. All of this suggests that the propulsion from the weaker down kick while dolphin kicking on the back is about the same or greater than the propulsion of the stronger up kick.

With the vast difference in biomechanical strength between these two motions, how can this be? It cannot be explained by a difference frontal drag, since the body positions are very similar. One coach, Rick Madge has proposed that the differences in power comparing the up kick and down kick while kicking on the back versus the stomach can be attributed to gravitational force. I don’t agree.

While gravity still applies in water, the actual force in water, reflected by our body weight, is considerably different. While the legs have negative buoyancy, they probably weigh only a few pounds in the water. That is not enough to affect our ability to kick up or down in water. I believe the differences observed on the velocity meter studies from front to back can be attributed to the vortices formed behind the body and feet of the swimmer.

When Junya is on his stomach, the down kick begins with the knees bent and the feet pushing back against the stream of water moving forward behind the body. The result from this strong motion against a current of water results in an extraordinarily strong surge of power and speed forward; more than one would expect from just the biomechanics.

With the up kick, the feet begin the upward movement below the stream from the body’s vortex and do not produce any meaningful propulsion until they enter the stream. By that time, the amount of propulsion is significantly less than that provided by the down kick. However, a strong upward and forward movement of the feet will create another vortex that will contribute to the stream and result in a greater force with the following down kick.

While on his back, Junya’s up kick begins with the feet below the stream and consequently, the feet do not produce as much force as when they are pushing against the stream. Again, the up kick will add even more power to the stream from the stronger vortex following the feet. When he begins the weaker down kick, he is now pushing against a substantial forward movement of water, almost as if he were pushing against a wall. As a result, there is a greater surge of velocity after the down kick than one would expect from this motion.

While all of these differing vortices may change the fluid mechanics of the kick, the important question is, which way is faster? In this particular study, Junya’s average dolphin kick speed on his stomach was 1.76 m/sec. On his back, it was 1.81 m/sec. .05 m/sec difference may not seem like much, but on an underwater kick off a start or turn lasting five seconds, that is 10 inches further ahead or behind that the swimmer would be; enough to win or lose a race.

I suspect that the difference in a swimmer’s speed from stomach to back has more to do with the law of inertia than to any difference in biomechanical strength or frontal drag. The lower delta PT on the back simply means that the kick is more efficient than while kicking on the stomach, since the swimmer maintains a more constant speed.

For completeness sake, we also tested Junya on his side and found that the velocity curves are similar to the ones on his stomach. The average velocity was measured at 1.71 m/sec, slightly slower than on the stomach, so there does not appear to be any clear benefit to kicking on one’s side compared to the stomach. Since the rules preclude us from remaining on our backs dolphin kicking during the underwater portion of a freestyle or fly race, we cannot recommend using this technique on any race other than the backstroke.

Ryan Lochte and other great backstrokers have figured out that they can kick dolphin kick faster on their backs than on their stomachs or sides. Now we know why.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

Read The Dynamics of Dolphin Kick Part I: Using the Vortex

Come to The Race Club and get Velocity Meter test done for yourself.

dynamics of dolphin

Butterfly with Roland Schoeman

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Butterfly is a tough stroke to swim. It demands excellent fitness, strong legs, upper body and core, along with exceptional shoulder and ankle flexibility in order to perform well. Olympian and former butterfly world record holder Roland Schoeman makes it look easier with his graceful, yet powerful strokes across the pool. One of Roland’s secrets to swimming a faster butterfly is to enter his hands directly in front of his shoulders, rather than over or under reaching with the arm swing. He then initiates the pull quickly but maintains the elbows in a rather high position as he forcefully pushes his hands backward through the water . The high elbow position enables him to create propulsion from his hands without causing an excessive amount of frontal drag from the upper arms. Similar to the freestyle pull, but with both arms moving underwater at the same time, the high elbow pull in butterfly is a compromise from the maximum power possible, but is a technique that is required to reach the fastest speeds.

In swimming, we often need to learn to do what is right, rather than what feels right. That can be a challenge when we don’t feel the frontal drag forces working to slow us down. At The Race Club, we teach the right technique for each swimmer for all strokes With every stroke of butterfly taken, the precise timing of the two down kicks coupled with the recovery of the arms and the high elbow underwater pull is absolutely crucial for speed. Keeping the arm pull in the high elbow position enables the swimmer to get the hands through the stroke cycle faster, while reducing frontal drag. Watch Roland in this Race Club Swimisode and see how he has mastered this challenging butterfly stroke.

The Dynamics of Dolphin Kick Part I: Using the Vortex


The Dynamics of Dolphin Kick Part I: Using the Vortex

The two sources of propulsion we use while swimming, the hands and the feet, work in different environments. Although the hands and feet are creating nearly all of the propulsion in the water, the flow dynamics where the forces are taking place for each one differ considerably.

In order to produce propulsion, the surface areas creating the forces (from the hands and feet) must move backwards relative to the water. The hands begin to create propulsion when they are about one foot in front of the shoulder. Since the hand is in front of and to the side of the body when the pulling propulsion begins, the vortex created by the body does not affect the water where the hand is pulling until the end of the pulling motion. In other words, the hand is pushing backward against relatively still water during the times it is producing most of the propulsion. Not so with the feet.

Behind every swimmer moving forward is a vortex of water (wake) created by the separation of the water moving along the body (as the body moves forward). This vortex creates a stream of water that follows the swimmer. It is this stream that enables a swimmer to swim right behind another swimmer and catch a ride. The bigger and the faster the swimmer, the bigger the vortex and the faster the stream is moving. The wake behind a swimmer extends for a few feet behind him and funnels out wider from the feet, but it does not extend very deep in the water. The width of the stream even enables a swimmer that is swimming in the next lane, yet close enough to the swimmer, to catch some of the ride. The most famous example of that was Jason Lezak riding Alain Bernard’s wake as long as he could in the 4 x100 free relay in Beijing, completing the fastest relay leg in history.

Since the propulsion from the feet is occurring, for the most part, within this stream, the stream affects the dynamics of the kicking motion. Relative to a stationary point in the pool, the feet in the dolphin kick (while the swimmer is on the stomach) are moving backward only during the beginning of the down kick. There is virtually no backward motion of the feet at all during the up kick. Yet the feet can create propulsion on both the down and the up kicks. The reason is that the feet need to be moving backward relative to the water only, and since the water is moving forward, propulsion can occur when the feet are moving upward or downward, in addition to backward.

The dynamics of the kick are made even more complicated by another smaller vortex that forms behind the feet as they move across the stream of the body’s vortex. Since most of the motion of the foot is upward, downward or forward, the vortex of the moving foot, somewhat like a tributary connecting to a river, contributes to the fluid dynamics of the body’s stream, generally adding more water moving forward behind the swimmer.

Using the velocity meter technology at The Race Club, from the changes of the body’s velocity and acceleration resulting from each of the down or up kicks, one can gain an appreciation for the amount of propulsive force generated by the foot moving in each direction. With the swimmer on his stomach, the down kick, which involves extension of the knee and flexion of the hip, is a biomechanically stronger motion than the motion of the up kick, which involves extension of the hip and flexion of the knee. Further, with the extraordinary plantar flexibility of the ankle of a fast kicker, the surface area of the foot moving backward relative to the water is greater on the down kick (top of the foot) than it is during the up kick (sole of the foot).

In the gym, for example, I can lift about 70 pounds 50 times before exhaustion on the down kick motion. However, using the up kick motion, I can lift 30 pounds for about 30 reps before exhaustion. The difference would suggest that the down kick motion is at least twice as powerful as the up kick motion. Therefore, when analyzing the velocity and acceleration of the swimmer’s body while dolphin kicking, one would expect to see the greatest acceleration and peak velocity occur from the down kick, rather than from the up kick. While a swimmer is on his stomach that is precisely what one sees. However, the difference in speed resulting from the down kick and the up kick on the stomach will surprise you.

In the next article, we will examine in detail the acceleration, velocity and differences between peak and trough velocities resulting from the dolphin kick performed on the stomach, side and on the back.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

Read Dynamics of Dolphin Kick Part II: Why Dolphin is Faster on Your Back

dolphin kick

Pictured is Olympian Junya Koga from Japan.


Oxygen! How Often Should I Breathe in Swimming?


The Art of Breathing in Swimming Part III

In part II of this series, we discussed where and how to breathe in freestyle and butterfly, but the question that remains is ‘how often should we breathe in swimming’? In the first article we established that, for the most part, swimmers train hypoxically. In other words, they don’t breathe quite as often as they would if they could breathe at will. Further, we know that depriving swimmers of oxygen by training at altitude significantly improves all of the aerobic systems involved in the production of ATP. While training hypoxically may make sense for most swimmers, racing hypoxically in any event other than a 50-meter sprint does not. After about 20 seconds of near maximal exertion, we must rely on both aerobic and anaerobic systems of energy production to keep going. Bring on the oxygen!

Since the respiratory rate that seems to work most efficiently on land during maximal exercise is 50-60 breaths per minute, we must assume that the ideal respiratory rate for a swimmer racing should be similar. In freestyle, if we consider that breathing every cycle (every other stroke) is the most often we can breathe, then a stroke rate of at least 100 is needed to achieve that respiratory rate. In shoulder-driven freestyle, that is often the stroke rate we see among elite swimmers in the 100 freestyle. The hybrid freestylers, such as Phelps, Lochte or Lezak, may drop down to the mid 80’s, leading to a respiratory rate lower than the ideal.

In the 1500 meter freestyle, particularly on the men’s side, we find an interesting variety of freestyle techniques with substantially different stroke and respiratory rates. World record holder Sun Yang uses a hip-driven technique with a stroke rate of 60 for most of the race. If he used a conventional one-breath per cycle breathing pattern and without considering the turns, that would mean a very low respiratory rate of 30 per minute, but he doesn’t. In the middle of most laps and going into and out of each turn, Sun Yang takes a breath to each side in succession, breathing three or even four strokes in a row. Those extra three or four breaths per length likely have a huge impact on his ability to sustain his speed and finish faster than any other swimmer in the race.

Comparing Sun Yang’s breaths in the 1500 to Ryan Cochrane from Canada, who uses a shoulder driven freestyle technique with a stroke rate of 86, here is what we find. Ryan breathes every third stroke for the first 800 meters or so, then switches to every cycle for the final 700 meters. So for approximately half of the race, Ryan’s respiratory rate is around 28 and for the other half it is 43. If we consider the race to be 15 minutes of duration, that means that Ryan would be getting around 532 breaths. With four extra breaths per length, Sun Yang would be getting around 570 breaths, even with a stroke rate of 60 compared to Ryan’s 86.

Connor Jaeger and Katie Ledecky both swim the 1500 with a hybrid technique and a similar stroke rate of around 86, breathing every cycle. Over 15 minutes of sustained swimming at this rate, they each would have around 645 breaths, more than Sun Yang or Ryan Cochrane.

I am not sure what conclusion we can draw from this, except that both Sun Yang and Ryan Cochrane modify their traditional breathing patterns in order to get more oxygen delivery. Perhaps in the future, we will see more swimmers modify their breathing patterns to get more oxygen delivery by breathing to both sides or abandoning the 1:3 pattern of breathing like Ryan begins the race with.

In the butterfly, there is a growing trend, particularly on the men’s side, toward breathing every stroke for both the 100 and 200 meter events. In the 100 meters, with stroke rates typically in the mid 50’s, that would be very close to the ideal respiratory rate. In the 200, with stroke rates usually in the mid to high 40’s, the respiratory rate breathing every stroke is less than ideal, but not far from it. However, if one breathes every other stroke in fly, in either event, the respiratory rate drops down into the 20’s, which is far from ideal.

It is no wonder that the fastest finishers in the fly are typically the swimmers breathing every stroke. The key points to breathing more are to practice the breathing pattern to be used in races often, develop the ability to get the breath quickly and with the least amount of disruption to the stroke cycle or increase in frontal drag, and to use the kinetic energy of the head drop or head turn as a coupling motion to augment the propulsive forces of the hands and feet. The last point is really what I call ‘using your head’.

Remember, oxygen is the most important nutrient we have, so I say, ‘Let’s get more of it, not less’. Besides that, it is lot more fun to pass people at the end of a race, rather than being the one who is passed.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

Read How Oxygen Affects Our Bodies in a Swim Race: The Art of Breathing in Swimming Part I 

Read How to Inhale and Exhale While Swimming Fast: The Art of Breathing in Swimming Part II

Summer Swim Camp Los Angeles

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Come join us for our Los Angeles Summer Swim Camp! Below are the details of each session. You can sign up for as many sessions as you’d like, but you can see why we encourage you to sign up for all 8 sessions and the enhanced sessions. Lots of Great material to cover! These sessions are for any swimmer that wants to swim faster. We have had swimmers and triathletes from age 7- 86 ranging in abilities from beginner wanting to learn a flip turn or a stroke, to Olympians. Sign up and we hope you’ll have a great time!
July 9th 9:30am -11:30am – Science of Swimming – Reducing Frontal Drag – Freestyle technique
July 9th 2pm-4pm – Race Club mobility routine – Increasing Propulsion – Freestyle technique
July 10th 9:30am-11:30am – Nutrition – Conforming to the Law of Inertia – Freestyle
July 10th 2pm-4pm – Yoga – Progression to a Fast Backstroke
July 11th 8am-10am – Strength training – Key Points to Improve Breaststroke
July 11th 2pm-4pm – Starts – Race Club Swim Strength Circuit
July 12th 8am-10am – Mental training – Developing an Easier and Faster Butterfly
July 12th 2pm-4pm – Race Practice and Strategy
July 9th 11:30am-12:30pm Breathing Technique and Breathing Patterns
July 10th 11:30am-12:30pm Dolphin Kick Technique and Drills
July 11th 10am-11am Back to Breast Transition Turn
July 12th 10am-11am Starts and Turns
-All 8 camp sessions plus 4 enhanced sessions = $1300 ($300 savings if you register by June 8th, 2016)
-All 8 camp sessions = $1000 ($200 savings if you register by June 8th, 2016)
-Each camp session is $150
-Each enhanced session is $100
*The schedule may vary slightly, depending on who is at the summer swim camp. We try to cater to each swimmer’s specific needs.
Location: Pacific Palisades High School, 15777 Bowdoin Street, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
We recommend finding an apartment or house to rent in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood near the pool. Otherwise there are many hotels in Santa Monica. Email for questions. Or Register Here.

Labor Day Swim Camp

Come join us for our Labor Day Swim Camp in Islamorada, FL! Below are the details of each session. You can sign up for as many sessions as you’d like, but you can see why we encourage you to sign up for all 8 sessions and the enhanced sessions. Lots of Great material to cover! These sessions are for any swimmer that wants to swim faster. We have had swimmers and triathletes from age 7- 86 ranging in abilities from beginner wanting to learn a flip turn or a stroke, to Olympians. Sign up and we hope you’ll have a great time!
September 2nd 8am-10am – Science of Swimming – Reducing Frontal Drag – Freestyle technique
September 2nd 3pm-5pm – Race Club mobility routine – Increasing Propulsion – Freestyle technique
September 3rd 10am-12noon – Nutrition – Conforming to the Law of Inertia – Freestyle
September 3rd 3pm-5pm – Yoga – Progression to a Fast Backstroke
September 4th 10am-12noon – Strength training – Key Points to Improve Breaststroke
September 4th 3pm-5pm – Starts – Race Club Circuit Swim Strength Training
September 5th 8am-10am – Mental training – Developing an Easier and Faster Butterfly
September 5th 3pm-5pm – Race Practice and Strategy
September 2nd 10am-11am Breathing Technique and Breathing Patterns
September 3rd 12noon-1pm Dolphin Kick Technique and Drills
September 4th 12noon-1pm Back to Breast Transition Turn
September 5th 10am-11am Starts and Turns
-All 8 camp sessions plus 4 enhanced sessions = $1300 ($300 savings if you register by August 1st, 2016)
-All 8 camp sessions = $1000 ($200 savings if you register by August 1st, 2016)
-Each camp session is $150
-Each enhanced session is $100
Location: 87000 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL. Email for questions. Or Register Here.

Swimisodes – Dolphin Kick Backstroke


Dolphin kick backstroke is one of the best ways to learn how to develop a fast stroke rate. Many swimmers struggle in getting their arms through the stroke cycle fast enough in backstroke. It is difficult to know how to maintain that high stroke rate throughout a race if it is not practiced so we like to use the dolphin kick backstroke drill to learn how to maintain a high stroke rate. Synchronizing each kick with a single arm pull, Junya shows us how this technique enables a swimmer to pull faster and increase the overall speed of the backstroke. In this Race Club #swimisodes, you will see how Junya still manages to rotate his body quickly from side to side while pulling at this higher stroke rate, gaining power and speed.

There are only two stroke rates for backstroke, fast and faster. Dolphin kick backstroke drill is a wonderful technique to develop a faster stroke rate. Swimmers who cannot find a way to turn their arms over quickly might discover a faster way to swim with dolphin kick backstroke. Introduce fins using this technique while synchronizing the arms and suddenly the swimmer is backstroking on the freeway, motoring down the pool. At the Race Club, we have found this technique to be very effective in improving backstroke among swimmers who come to us of all ages and abilities.

How to Inhale and Exhale While Swimming Fast


The Art of Breathing Part II – How to Inhale & Exhale While Swimming Fast

First, I want to dispel one myth about breathing during intense exercise. In no sport does an athlete ever take a complete inhalation or expiration. The breaths during intense exercise are relatively quick and shallow, meaning that a little O2 comes in and a little CO2 goes out with each breath. It is an air exchange, not a deep breath.

The most detrimental part of breathing in swimming is likely not the associated increase in frontal drag, though that can be significant, depending on how the breath is taken, but rather the slowing of the stroke rate. Particularly in shorter races, a long, ‘star-gazing’ breath that slows the stroke rate can have disastrous consequences for both speed and inertia. To help with stroke rate and frontal drag, getting the breath quickly and with the least amount of change in body position is vital. In freestyle, that means turning the head minimally (keeping one goggle lens in the water during the breath), elevating the mouth to one side to meet the air, and rotating the head posteriorly (backward) rather than straight to the side or forward. In butterfly, it means extending the neck forward maximally for the breath, keeping the mouth close to the water, while maintaining the body in a more horizontal position. Or in cases where swimmers can’t seem to avoid lifting the shoulders too high for the front breath, breathing to the side in butterfly may be a better option.

While in land-based sports, the inhalations are immediately followed by expirations and vice versa, or, in other words, there is no ‘breath holding’, in swimming, there may be a theoretical advantage in doing so. On land, our weight does not change appreciably with each breath, but in the water it does. The weight of a swimmer ranges from zero with the lungs inflated to around 8 lbs (4kg) after a maximal expiration (there is always some residual volume of air in the lungs). The buoyancy of the human body also goes from neutral to negative after expiration. The question is, do we hold the air in our lungs for as long as possible after putting our face back in the water, then exhaling with a quick burst prior to capturing the next breath? Or, do we do as the Red Cross teachers told us to do as children, trickle the air out of our nose or mouth, prior to the next breath?

The changes in body weight and buoyancy can impact frontal drag of a swimmer, particularly while swimming on the surface. The higher the swimmer can be on the surface, the less frontal drag and the faster the swimmer can go. A swimmer is faster in salt water, where there is more buoyancy, than in fresh water. The density of water is so great that just a few millimeters of difference in body position on the surface can have a significant impact on a swimmer’s speed. So, it would seem logical that swimmers would want to keep the air in the lungs as long as possible, weigh less, be more buoyant and burst the air out of their lungs at the last moment, before turning the head for the breath.

But that is not what great swimmers do. Katie Ledecky, Sun Yang, Grant Hackett, Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps and virtually all of the other great freestylers release some air through the nose immediately upon planting their faces back in the water after the breath. The great butterflyers of the world do the same. With the speed of their bodies moving forward, those air bubbles from the nose move underneath their bodies before finding their way to the surface. The rest of the exhalation comes just before and while the head is turning or elevating for the next breath. In that manner, the inhalation can begin immediately once the mouth reaches air, so the head can return promptly to the face down position without slowing the stroke rate.

I did not recognize the significance of those bubbles until one of my swimming colleagues at the pool in Islamorada, Florida brought the Emperor Penguins to my attention. The Emperor Penguins of the Antarctic Ocean have evolved to develop a unique way of swimming faster in order to escape the wrath of the hungry seals chasing them. Under the plumes of their feathers, they manage to trap air bubbles. When the seals are chasing the penguins for lunch, the penguins release the air from under the feathers and gain a significant amount of speed, presumably while kicking with the same amount of force with their webbed feet. By releasing the air bubbles, surrounding themselves with air instead of water, they effectively lower their frontal drag forces, which enables them to spurt forward out of harm’s way.

Could it be that the air bubbles under the swimmer’s body released after the breath do the same to a lesser degree? Perhaps. What I do know is that great swimmers usually do the right thing, whether they understand the reason for doing so or not. Releasing some air through the nose after the breath may just be another example of that. So that is what I do and recommend others do.

In the upcoming third and final article of this series, we will examine the most controversial breathing topic of all and that is how often to breathe.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

Read How Oxygen Affects Our Bodies in a Swim Race: The Art of Breathing Part I

Read Oxygen! How Often Should I Breathe in Swimming?: The Art of Breathing Part III