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How The Sport’s Best Swimmer Avoids Panic Attacks

  • By Jené Shaw
  • Published Feb 11, 2013

In his keynote speech at the Triathlon Business International conference in San Diego today, Andy Potts confessed that he ignores the notion of “don’t try something new on race day,” and changes at least one or two things every race.

Sometimes his experiments don’t work—like the time he copied swim sprinters who slap themselves before a race and wound up with slap-induced quad cramps on the bike—but other times he finds something that sticks.

Three or four years ago, Potts struggled with panic attacks (yes, it happens to even the best swimmer in our sport) before the swim. “I’m a good swimmer, but it would take me 300–400 yards to get going, to get my breathing in control,” Potts says. “Panic attacks could be going on inside your head, but they’re very real. You feel like the walls are closing in, the ceiling is shrinking down…so I was getting panic attacks because I couldn’t breathe. So I just made up this breathing technique and now I do it before every race to get the kinks out.”

His technique, which he readily admits looks ridiculous, resembles a combination of Lamaze and spastic Yoga breaths (after performing his technique, a woman in the audience said, “You can push now!”). If you want to see it in action, just find Potts five minutes before the race—he usually ducks behind a tree or swims out to a buoy to do it during his warm up.

“The way I think about it is I fill my lungs with air. I start with a few deep breaths, then I really build the breaths faster, faster, faster [picture panting], then I do a deep one and hold it in,” Potts says. He repeats it a couple times.

“I picture in my mind, to fill it up deeper, fill it up deeper, until the bottom recesses of my lungs are activated and I’m getting the oxygen to be accepted by the deep recesses of my lungs,” he says. “I have no idea if that’s what’s happening, but it works! It works because it helps my mind, and it jacks my heart rate up. I tried that technique a couple years ago and it worked, so I stuck with it.”

RELATED: Andy Potts’ Five Rules Of Recovery

Check back to Triathlete.com for more from the Triathlon Business International conference.

FILED UNDER: Race Tips / Swim / Training TAGS:

Jené Shaw

Jené Shaw

Jené Shaw is a senior editor at Triathlete magazine, a four-time Ironman finisher and a USAT Level 1 certified coach

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