Synchro Unders = Risky Business


DSC02082I am very passionate about the subject of unders. I admit that up until about 9 years ago I really did not question “our” synchro practices and unders, but that all changed when one of my coaches told me that one of our alumni was a world record free diver. I tracked Mandi-Rae Krack down and invited her and coach/husband Kirk Krack to our practice.

Working with Kirk and Mandy from Performance Free Diving was life changing for a few reasons:

  1. I was taught how to train breath holding on land. Many of my swimmers and myself were able to hold our breath to 3 minutes in less then 30 minutes.
  2. I learned and practiced safe practices of protecting the airways if a swimmer was having issues.
  3. I learned signs of distress.
  4. I got an understanding of the physiology of what happens during a breath hold.
  5. I learned safe practices for training breath holding.

I have had the pleasure of being taught several times by Kirk and Mandy and since that first session this is how I changed how I approach unders in practice.

  • All unders are supervised. Supervised means me walking along side the swimmers or the swimmers have partners watching them. I never have the group do more than they can handle if I am the only one watching them.
  • I train only a maximum of 25m unders and not in competitive settings. Most synchro swimmers are not required to hold their breath for very long periods of time and it in unnecessary to swim long distances under water. The longest breath holds are for figures, but the nature of figures is different from long lap breath holds. In a 50m or more under the swimmers are moving fast to finish the laps where as in figures often the goal is to be slow and controlled.
  • I train longer maximum holds on land after specific breathing sets. These holds can go over 3 minutes.
  • If swimmers black out or see stars while doing unders they are out for the rest of the practice. I know when I swam it was common place to keep going.
  • Whole figures that are over 1 minute are always done with partners watching.
  • No hyper ventilating or blowing out of air prior to the end of breath hold laps. Both of these practices mess with mechanisms that tell you to breath. This can lead to major problems fast.

I am hearing about too many breath holding accidents happening in synchro and I believe with safe practices we can prevent a lot of bad things from happening. In all my years of coaching I have never had any bad breath holding instances. I have had swimmers black out and lose consciousness, but they were all in controlled settings with partners who retrieved their partner immediately. These swimmers were on the surface of the water and never being rescued form under the water. I always educate my swimmers about the dangers of breath holding and I pay close attention to their body language, breathing rates and skin/lip colour during sets.

I never have breath holding competitions between swimmers. They only compete against themselves. Our sport does not need swimmers who can hold their breath the longest.

Click here to go to an amazing website on shallow water blackout prevention. 

I hope you have found this article helpful and I encourage you to share this information with your parents, coaches and swimmers.

Yours in Synchro,

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 9.28.10 AM


  1. Laura on January 5, 2016 at 10:29 AM

    Awesome article! Keep posting them. I shared it on my facebook page if that’s ok with you.

    • Vanessa Keenan on January 5, 2016 at 11:46 AM

      Great that you shared it. I am glad you thought it was useful topic.

  2. Katrina on January 5, 2016 at 12:09 PM

    I was wondering if you would be able to share what the land breathing sets looked like? I think this is an awesome article and would like to try it out in my practices!

    • Vanessa Keenan on January 5, 2016 at 12:29 PM

      I’ll work on getting something out. I just want to make sure I get it correct. I am glad you enjoyed the article.

  3. Ashley on February 2, 2016 at 3:18 PM

    Could you please tell us how you held your breath for 3 min and what are the steps to achieving this?



    • Vanessa Keenan on February 8, 2016 at 11:17 AM

      I will work on getting something out.

Leave a Reply Cancel Reply

Top 4 Olympic Qualifier Tech Teams 2016

Get your FREE DOWNLOAD today!

Includes all pattern changes and swimmer positions.