Bilateral breathing - essential to powerful swimming
Single sided breathing is one of the biggest mistakes triathletes make when learning to swim. It’s easy to understand as one is just trying to make it from one end of the pool to the other! However, there are multiple reasons why learning bilateral breathing will make you a faster swimmer.
The biggest issue with single side breathing is that it often leads to one side being weaker than the other which creates a host of issues. We often see the following:
A) An imbalance in the rotation of the stroke where you rotate fine to one side but then swim very flat on the other making it difficult for your recovering arm to both finish the stroke and clear the surface on recovery.
B) Increased drag on the arm that is supposed to be out front during the breath cycle. When you are breathing, you are solely focused on breathing and rarely thinking about your supporting arm which then commonly drops very deep before catching. This creates increased frontal drag and voids your opportunity to have a great catch.
C) It creates an imbalance of strength that limits your ability to create propulsion and balance. Increasing propulsion is essential if you want to become a faster swimmer. If you breathe every 2 strokes then 50% of your strokes are limited!
So what is bilateral breathing? It’s breathing to both sides, both right and left, most commonly in a pattern of every 3 strokes (counting each hand entry). If this is difficult, you can also try a 3-2-3-2 pattern so you are breathing more often.
Benefits to bilateral breathing in the pool:
1) It helps create a balanced stroke with symmetrical technique, equal body roll, and power production that is equivalent on both sides.
2) You are able to watch your stroke underwater better if you aren’t breathing every stroke. If you breathe to the right every 2 strokes, you never get to watch what your left arm is doing under the water.
3) It helps keep your body more streamlined and balanced on the surface, preventing inefficiencies such as crossing your midline at any stage of your stroke, leg splay with a scissor kick, and laterally flexing your abdomen (weaving like a snake).
Benefits to bilateral breathing in the open water:
a) A more balanced stroke is more likely to track straighter from buoy to buoy (when you no longer have a black line to follow).
b) In wavy conditions, you need to be able to breath away from a wave so you aren’t taking in water every time you try to breathe. If you are proficient at breathing to both sides, you can select to dominantly breathe to either side during open water.
c) It helps with sighting and navigating both the course and people around you as you are more aware of your surroundings.
If you aren’t currently bilateral breathing for the majority of your pool swimming, it’s time to make a change. Focus on implementing this into your swim routine and after 4 weeks of consistent work, you’ll be well on your way to a more efficient and powerful stroke.