MC Breathing Course Summer 2019

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    Mat Hudson

    Hello Tim,

    This is where we can discuss your progress in the Master Class Breathing course. You may leave your reports on practice, questions and comments here.

    Tim Gofine
    This reply has been marked as private.
    Mat Hudson

    Hi Tim,


    Oops! I am not sure what’s happened. The course is 2 months, or 8 weeks long and it expires after that. The first cycle of practices permits access right away and should stay open the whole time, and the second cycle opens up after 3 weeks I think, and stays open until the end. Your subscription should go through the end of this month.

    Try clicking on both of these (if you are logged in already) and see if the pages appear for you. Let me know if not.


    We can set up some video analysis, sure.

    There are some instructions for how to prepare and send videos on this page.



    Mat Hudson


    You may work through these drills, from simple to more complex, to help you isolate the particular  failure on the weak side, comparing it to your strong side.

    First, examine body parts holding good position. Then examine the timing of the turn/return of the head. Then examine air management, with exhale and then inhale technique.

    These drills help you isolate the body in Skate and turning the head without actually breathing…

    Superman To Skate with Nod


    Superman To Skate with Split The Face
    Superman To Skate with Hooked Fish


    The course should take you through the focal points in a particular order of priority. As you do these drills, you may do a few of each, for each focal point. Choose a focal point and keep that focal point and examine its success or failure as you work your way up the drill complexity sequence, working on strong side first, then switch to weak side at each drill step.


    Then you may use these to increase complexity and see what is failing when you add whole strokes.

    First, read about how to do the 3-Part Breathing Drill –

    Then work through this progression, strong side and then weak side…

    3-Strokes To Skate with Turn To Breath
    3-Strokes To 3-Part Breathing To Stroke
    Whole Stroke with 3-Part Breathing Drill


    At this point, don’t worry about over-gliding. Like learning to walk a tightrope or slackline, you need to balance the body and time the movements in a fairly stationary position for a little while. You will work with an exaggerated Skate position for a while, until you dial things in, then you can gradually smooth out (remove pauses) the movements, and eventually increase tempo. Adding pauses and segmenting the actions will help your brain be able to identify and resist the old patterns that take over when its overloaded or unsure of how to move. Once you get familiar and consistent with doing the actions with pauses in the stroke, you will remove those pauses and smooth it all out.

    Yes, momentum is much less with the drills, but you need to learn to hold position and execute movements with precision and timing when forces are low before increasing forces. And these drills are best done for a while without an attempt to inhale. Just work with short repeats. As the movements get more familiar, more precise, you’ll find the opportunity to breathe growing more obvious, more comfortable, then you can take a ‘quick sip’ from time to time and see how it works.As a matter of fact, many people don’t quite get to actual inhale in the simple drills because the body is slower and slightly lower in the water. That’s OK – just work on positioning body parts and timing of movements with just 1 or 2 turns toward air. The longer you hold your breath in a drill the more stressed the body will feel and quality will go down. So do lots of short repeats, not long extended ones.

    And keep in mind that you need hundreds of successful repeats to provoke the learning and refinement process in the brain. The process will work over days and weeks, but it needs repeated stimulation to have the opportunity to figure things out (done more subconsciously than consciously).


    Tim Gofine
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    Mat Hudson

    Your neural circuits serve your fitness and fitness serves the neural circuits. They need each other, but when one is significantly weaker than the other, you have to design your training to accommodate that weaker part. If you can’t hold on to multiple focal points (if some portion of those are not autonomous yet in your brain, so you don’t have to always consciously make them happen) then you must slow down or simplify the activity until some portion of them get to that autonomous state. Once that happens you can increase the intensity because the brain can now handle it.

    You do want to work at a level of complexity (which might be in terms of pace or distance or intensity) where you are greatly challenged to maintain an assigned focal point or quality, where you will start to fail if you lose concentration even a bit. But it is not productive to work at a challenge level where you are trying to hold too much in attention and then most of your focal points are failing. Like juggling balls, you can only work with so many balls at a certain intensity level. At lower intensity, you can handle juggling more balls. If you are going to work at a higher intensity, then you need to reduce the number of balls you juggle at one time to keep yourself on the edge of failure.

    This is where you should organize the focal points in order of priority and work through them cyclically, with gradually increasing challenge level.

    For example, you may choose and organize a few key focal points like this:

    • A – hold long, stretched Skate position (while turning/returning)
    • B – turn/return the head as soon as possible
    • C – emphasize diaphragmatic exhale on last stroke as you are turning to air

    (You may read this article for more ideas on that… )

    Then divide the activity into 3 parts:

    • Part 1 – work on your strong side breathing
    • Part 2 – work on your weak side breathing
    • Part 3 – work on bilaterial breathing

    Then you may work out some quantities and some increasing intensity (pace, in this case) to gradually increase the challenge and eventually come to some failure point (you are seeking failure toward the end, not trying to avoid it completely).

    For each focal point do this set (3 rounds of 2x 50):

    • 2x 50 strong side
    • 2x 50 weak side
    • 2x 50 bilateral

    First set do it at easy pace – or easy tempo TE.

    Second set do it at medium pace – like tempo TE – 0.08.

    Third set do it at brisk pace – like tempo TE – 0.16.

    You may do drills before each set, if that helps you tune up your perception and control over that assigned focal point.

    To be precise about the intensity for each set, you may assign a specific tempo, or assign a specific ‘stroke count x tempo’ for precise pace).

    Something like this help you see how it could be designed?

    Mat Hudson

    If swimming whole stroke is still too much, then you can reduce the complexity further.

    Work with a set like this:

    6 whole strokes, with a single turn toward air in the middle, without actually inhaling

    • 6x on stronger side
    • 6x on weaker side

    6 whole strokes, with a single turn toward air in the middle, with inhale

    • 6x on stronger side
    • 6x on weaker side

    1/2 length of whole stroke, with two turns toward air, with inhale

    • 8x on stronger side
    • 8x on weaker side
    • 8x alternating sides

    25 of whole stroke, with inhale

    • 2x on stronger side
    • 2x on weaker side
    • 2x alternating sides

    You could either work through this entire progression with a single focal point, then go through it again with another focal point. Or you could start at the first step, cycle through your list of focal points, then move to the next step and cycle through your FP list again, and so on.

    Doing a set like this gives your nervous system both repetition and variety, with a very systematic way of increasing the challenge, and monitoring what, when, how failure occurs.

    One may need like 4000 to 6000 mindful, successful repetitions of an action to let your brain figure it out, refine the action and then memorize that action (autonomous state). So, working over many weeks with a set like this, periodically making small, incremental adjustments to the challenge level, is what it takes to make steady progress.

    Tim Gofine


    I was swimming in a lake today ( something that occurs about once a year) when I was aware of something different. If I stretched in skate completely, turned to breath and returned to head down very slightly before I felt I was initiating recovery I felt as if I had gained all the time in the world to complete the stroke. I  tried the sequence again later in the day while in my pool. Is that breath happening just a bit too early? I like to think that the recovery is still being driven my core, but perhaps I’m making a mistake.

    Tim Gofine
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    Tim Gofine

    <p style=”text-align: left;”>Mat,</p>
    Could you comment and n the timing question? Does the head very soon follow the initiation of recovery when in full skate extension?


    Mat Hudson

    You are questioning the timing of the breath? Earlier feels better to you? It should.

    In breathing, you want the breathing stroke to look exactly like the non-breathing stroke. The turning of the head, ideally, should not disrupt the choreography of the stroke at all. The head should be cooperative with the torso rotation, of course, but turn independent of the torso and disconnected from the arm movements. The head starts turning toward the air at the same moment the catch starts, but the head turns a bit faster than the torso is turning. Ideally, your face breaks the surface a moment before your underwater arm finishes the catch and then you finish inhalation and are turning that face back down before the recovery arm comes forward. The head should be turning back ahead of the recovery arm. If you can see your own recovery arm, the head has turned back too late or turning back too slowly.

    I may assign the 3-Part Breathing Drill in order to help a swimmer more easily disconnect the turning of the head from the moving of the arms, to allow the swimmer to really feel the head and arms operating independent of each other.  Then we remove the pauses between until its one smooth breathing motion, but the swimmer then should have the ability to make slight adjustments to the timing of the turn of the head without causing any adjustment to the timing of the recovery arm. This is trickier than it sounds for some people who have body these parts all wired to move together and only together.

    It’s not intuitive to turn toward air as soon as possible, a bit faster than the torso turning, but it allows the breath to happen at maximum acceleration moment, and it should help you feel like you have more time to breathe, if needed (or not as rushed while face is at air).

    And, that recovery arm should remain tied to the torso, entering with the torso rotation – the head should already be back in face-down position when the arm switch initiates.

    Did that address the question, and explain the context?

    Tim Gofine


    The head turning exercises were extremely important. I was purposely looking for the recovering arm: no wonder it always felt like there wasn’t enough time to breath. My head is independent now, and the question that I had was how early to turn. It’s one thing to feel like I have all the time in world, but another to have my head on the wrong rhythm. I think I understand that the head and torso are connected but that head zips a little ahead to get the job done, so to speak. I’ll keep working on it.

    I’ve noticed that when I fail on a stroke it tends to be the result of not being enough in the balanced skate position on my weak side, so that it feels like I’m recovering with too much of my torso flat to the water. Is there a specific way to work on that other than to focus?

    One more thing that I may have stolen from Terry. Regarding the two beat kick: to ensure that my legs remain stream lined, it is an idea to have my ankles touch before the bottom foot kicks? When I focus on that I feel like it helps me remember to streamline and lengthen.



    Mat Hudson

    We would aim to have a low rotation angle, but certainly not flat. More than 45 degrees is too much and indicates some other issues.

    Being able to remain stable in Skate, during recovery, is a job for the internal (torso) stabilizing muscles. The less the control from the center the more the brain will force the arms and legs to do something to help stabilize, which means rushing them or pulling them away from streamline or from their propulsion role. Those stabilizing movements of the appendages give the illusion of helping propulsion when in fact they are diverting energy away from propulsion to serve stability.

    Most everyone seems to have a stronger side and weaker side in terms of motor control and strength. You can compare your weak side to your strong side, going down a list of focal points, one by one, to identify what’s not as good on that weak side. In this case, you’d be examining individual details, one by one, of your stronger skate position during the breathing stroke, then comparing it to the same detail on the weaker skate position on the opposite breath. Notice especially if arms, legs or feet are in any different positions, or move in different patterns, or the timing is different.

    Also, the lead arm position is intimately tied to the recovery arm swing on the other side. The lead arm on a wide track, at appropriate depth helps counter-balance the wide swing on the other side. A mis position or mis movement of either arm can cause a stability protection reaction in the other arm. It takes a little experimenting to find out which arm is causing and which is reacting. Both are equally common: If the lead arm slides inward on the breathing stroke then this almost invariably makes the exiting (recovery) arm pull up above the torso (rather than wide to the side), causing the torso to rotate farther, into some degree of over-rotation. And vice versa, if the swimmer pulls his elbow behind the plane of the back on exit, this encourages excessive torso rotation and the lead arm slides inward toward the center line in reaction.

    So, often the rotation angle is corrected by maintaining better arm positions and movement patterns. And the torso needs to learn to hold its stability from within and not depend on the arms and legs to do extra things to help.

    Mat Hudson

    One cautiously challenges the master’s (Terry’s) teachings – but I do feel I’ve seen a consistent problem with Terry’s manner of bringing the feet back together, side by side, between kicks: the legs will sway slightly in response to the torso rotation. I’ve seen him in videos and I’ve swam with him and he had that manner of bringing the feet back together between kicks, and they sway a bit.

    But TI has evolved, originally coming up with some solutions that caused new problems, for which prompted more experimentation and new solutions that prevented new problems. I think, in this case, the idea for touching the ankles helps in one way and harms in another.

    But there is another way to interpret this teaching – every video he made had a context, helping a particular kind of swimmer in a particular situation, make an improvement. Training the legs and the kick can be one of the more challenging skills to learn because one cannot see and many cannot feel their feet position. So, having the ankles come back and touch each other between the kicks can help the swimmer realize and control where their feet are. I would consider this a useful and good idea for those challenged in learning the foot position. But I would eventually expect the swimmer to grow out of it as their proprioception improved.

    I have an approach that prevents that swaying legs issue while providing increased stability and protecting streamline: first learn the counter-balanced foot position (CBF), which is the set up for the 2 Beat Kick.

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