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Blog guest: Miloš Milanović – Breathing and swimming

He has been in the water and around it for two decades now. Miloš Milanović, a multiple- time national champion of Serbia in junior and senior category in 200m butterfly, 1500m crawl. A marathon (Long distance) swimmer in 5000 and 10000m in the open water. Out of 187 participants at the FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix  2010, Miloš took 13 th position. 

After fourteen years of swimming career, Miloš Milanović jumped into coaching. As he says, he has acquired his biggest coaching knowledge while working as an assistant coach with Sebastian Higl, who was then coaching Čaba Silađi, a breaststroke swimmer, for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. After his coaching career in Serbia (Belgrade swimming club, PK Tamiš, Pančevo), he went to the Middle East. He is living and working as a swim coach in a club of the 4th Lane Swim Academy, in Abu Dhabi.

Za Swimming Dad as a #Blog guest Miloš Milanović, is telling us from his own experience how much a proper breathing is vital for swimming, not only for aquatic professionals but also for children beginners. Miloš is also explaining whether there is a “magic wand” to help children master the breathing technique more easily in the water while they’re swimming, and how proper breathing has helped him and when it affected his swimming quality?

How much has proper breathing helped your swimming?

I believe that that a big part of my results in my junior and senior category can be ascribed to proper breathing during the races and I think that it is one of the crucial factors for achieving top results in our sport. Sadly, for a great deal of my swimming career I wasn’t actually paying much attention to the part of the training which aim was to improve by breathing capacities. It took me about a few thousands kilometres of swimming to realise that an improper head position while breathing in the water can drastically affect the buoyancy of the body, that late breathing may impair the dynamics of stokes and eventually that a wrong breathing rhythm can make your muscles feel exhausted quite faster and thus make them unable to finish the race they way I planned.

I would like to use this opportunity at the very beginning of this interview to invite all my colleagues not to rush while teaching proper breathing. All the delays and skipping of methodological steps will eventually bring to a more complex and demanding work in the later stages of the swimming career.

Has the improper breathing rhythm deprived you of quality swimming and left you without a medal?

I believe that quite a few swimmers, myself included, have wondered: “How faster would I have swum if I hadn’t taken those breaths during the last stroke before the turn and during the first two strokes after it? Why didn’t I pay more attention to the underwater strokes during my trainings, if I already knew that the underwater strokes made 60% of a short-course 100m race? Why didn’t I work a bit harder on my head position in casual swimming during the training? I would have definitely reduced that pressure.” – and many such breathing-related questions.

I was representing Serbia in one popular 5000m race in Croatia in 2011. It was all uncertain until the very end. In the final part of the race, in the last 200m, the four of us were fighting for the third position, and wanting to cross the finish line the best way I could, in the part of the stroke where I was supposed to focus on the space in front of me, I took a breath (when swimming in the open water a breath should be taken only by rotating your head to the side!) As I was too tired to think properly, a bit of water entered my mouth. The consequence of my decision was minor at first, I lost a few strokes so that I could regain the rhythm. I finished the race as number four and I lost the medal in a millisecond! Though it was hard for me to accept the defeat, in the end it is important to see your own mistakes as a lesson and give your best to eliminate them next time.

I would like to recommend to young swimmers to pay great attention to the way of swimming in the part of the training with a low intensity, as that it actually the point when they will make the largest progress! Tiny details can basically make a big difference in the pool.

What should the beginners focus on when learning proper breathing and swimming?

Generally speaking, I think that theoretical and technical preparation are closely related, which makes me believe that it is necessary to start the training process outside the water by explaining the mechanisms for air intake (breathing in through your mouth and breathing out through you nose and your mouth). It is generally known that children pay most attention to the things they find interesting and which are done with pleasure. So, if you’re working with children, I would recommend to use various games and props to just make them forget about the fear of swallowing the water and the fear of insufficient oxygen intake. In this way we will trick our brain for a while which is primarily focused on surviving in the partially still unknown and unnatural surrounding to the human population.

If we are talking about adults, as I’ve already mentioned above, the situation might be a bit

complex. I would recommend them to pay attention to the buoyancy of the body and their self- confidence. They should make sure their body position is good enough to start working on breathing, otherwise they may lack self-confidence while being in the water which can lead them to mistakes.

How much are the proper swimming rhythm and breathing in focus today?

Compared to some period in the past, today I can see a great difference and more attention is paid to the proper breathing. We now have better work conditions, advanced technologies and facilitated ways for coaches to educate themselves than it was the case 15 years ago, which gives good results and swimming itself is pushing its frontier more and more.

I have to stress, however, one rather devastating fact which is that, sadly, the coaches who have the extensive knowledge and experience are mostly working with competition swimmers, as the salaries of swim instructors are always lower than of those coaches working with competition groups. This is why unfortunately many swimmers pass into the older categories while still not having mastered even those basic things related to the technique and somehow their career turns out to be limited.

We should not rush with starting with serious training processes, as the accent in the entire career should be put on the efficient technique especially in younger groups!

Do you have any breathing tricks for kids to share?

I would like to stress that there is no formula. Every swimmer is unique and this is why I believe that it is vital for every coach to have the approach adjusted to each individual swimmer. We need to set a goal first and after that I can openly say that it is the job of the coach to choose the best way to achieve that goal.

There is a variety of ways in which we can teach a person how to breathe. One trick I’ve had the chance to use in my coaching career was with children who feared being entirely under the water and who didn’t know how to breathe out under the water. I made a polygon with several stops in the shallow part of the pool and designed the entire story – the superhero is the one who saves the mermaid from the evil shark. The children had different tasks to do; to go through a tunnel, which stood there instead of an underwater rock; to blow as many bubbles as they could so that the shark couldn’t see the mermaid; to fetch the key underwater in order to liberate the mermaid; to count to three with their head underwater to make the shark go away as they were supposed to stay invisible; and in the end to kick the noodle with their legs to the other side of the pool in order to take the mermaid to the safe side.

Of course, at the end of the lesson the kids still didn’t know how to breathe properly, but they felt much more relaxed in the water and after the next two lessons we didn’t need to pay much attention to the breathing so we started with the training in the deeper side of the pool.


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