I have been thinking lately about the motion sickness I used to get while I was swimming.   It just kind of went away as fast as it first appeared.  It is important to understand the cause of motion sickness so that a proper resolution can be found.  The best way that I can think of to describe the cause of motion sickness is that you feel a motion that your eyes don’t see.  This can be counteracted in some cases by anticipating the motion before it happens.  In a car, for example, I often get motion sickness when I think the driver is about to turn right, but instead they turn left.  In the case of swimming laps, I think the motion sickness may have been caused by a few things:

  • My swim goggles fogging up
  • The motion of the water in the pool
  • Breathing issues while swimming

Swim Goggles Fogging Up

I noticed at one point that my goggles were fogging up and making it hard for me to see.  When I took a break, the water movement combined with the blurred vision seemed to make me dizzy.  Dizziness always translates to motion sickness for me.

Solution: I have tried a couple of things.  I bought some anti-fog solution which holds the fog off for the most part.  My head gets hot when I exercise, so that causes most of the fogging.  The anti-fog helps substantially, but they still do fog from time to time, especially when the anti-fog wears out.  I have gotten into the practice of taking my goggles off at each break (which is very for me right now) and wetting them to clear the fog.  That certainly helps.  I read once that contact solution in the goggles before you put them on would help.  I guess it sloshes around in them while you’re swimming.  I haven’t tried that, but I think for people with motion sickness the sloshing around might make matters worse.

The Motion of the Water

At one point I really thought the motion of the water was the culprit.  That freaked me out because I can’t control that.  I still think there might be some merit to that one, especially if you are resting and not in motion.  While you’re swimming, however, your body is in constant motion.  If you are swimming correctly, the motion of the water will be negligible compared to your forward motion, and your body rotation.  Since you are controlling both the forward motion, and the body rotation it shouldn’t be too bad.

Solution:  This is a tough one.  At this point I don’t think the motion of the water was causing my motion sickness.  I think it may have been accentuating the issues I was having with the fogging.  Of course, if you aren’t holding your head still during the body rotation (i.e. stay facing the bottom of the pool) the constant rocking of the head could be a cause of the motion sickness as well.  Keeping your head in the same spot relative to the bottom of the pool, except when you’re breathing, could be the key to helping the motion sickness.  Another possible solution is to use Dramamine or some other motion sickness medicine.  I’m not sure how that will impact your performance however.  Aside from the drowsiness, it may cause issues with water retention, heart rate, and race nutrition.  I would advise seeking the advice of a doctor before trying that, and of course always try it in training before the big race.

Breathing Issues

I think this might be the biggie.  When I first started swimming, and even now at times, I would rock my head to get air.  That quick twist was obviously more of a panicked reaction than a proper breathing technique.  It’s that quick jerky motion that may have caused my motion sickness.  I also tended to over-rotate to get to the air.  Any of these excessive movements combined with the fact that I was holding my breath under water instead of exhaling, and I was really setting myself up to get sick.

Solution: I have been breathing much better lately.  I don’t twist as far around, in fact the other day I had my first session of swimming where I was able to breath while keeping one goggle in the water.  Also, you should always be exhaling while your head is in the water.  That will help make sure that you minimize the amount of time you spend with your head out of water.  I think learning how to breath properly is the key to feeling comfortable in the pool.

In my first triathlon, there was a ton of small waves in the pool from everyone swimming and from the fact that there were no swim lane markers to break the waves.  I felt a lot of swaying, and although I had plenty of other issues with the swim, I didn’t have any issues with motion sickness.  I think that if you give it time, eventually you will stop getting sick.  Of course, when I get to open water swimming, I may start getting sick again.  If that happens, it’s back to the drawing board!  I have also heard about physical therapy for motion sickness.  Apparently there is some sort of controlled motion technique that is supposed to recalibrate the motion/vision issues and help to reduce or eliminate motion sickness.  If I ever give that a try, I’ll write a post about it.