Should You Learn Bilateral Breathing? #SwimTechTues

Have you been told or read that you should learn bilateral breathing? Do you know what bilateral breathing is?!

bilateral breathing

What Is Bilateral Breathing?

Bilateral breathing is breathing to both sides. It normally equates to breathing on an odd number of strokes – 3, 5, 7 etc. It CAN be really useful in keeping your stroke even and help you maintain a straight line as you swim. Additionally the swimmers who tend to get shoulder/neck injuries and problems tend to be the swimmers who only breath to one side – a feature of poorer posture and reliance on one side doing the majority of the work.

[Tweet “Breathing to one side CAN potentially increase the risk of overuse injury”]

However I’d argue that breathing bilaterally is not a necessity and could potentially hold athletes back in the water. Especially with (but not confined to) new swimmers, there are so many things to try and focus on that breath control becomes really difficult, and trying to hold on to breathing every third stroke results in very quick fatigue.

In most sports, we don’t have to work very hard to get oxygen. But in swimming, specifically in freestyle , we have to turn our head to get air.

bilateral breathing

Maintaining good posture and a straight spine will keep your stroke as smooth as possible while breathing.

Cycling or running at maximal exertion requires between 50 and 60 breaths per minute. If you are swimming anywhere from 400 metres to 2.4 miles, chances are your stroke rate is 50 to 60 strokes per minute. If you are an alternate breather, breathing every third stroke (1:3 ratio), your respiratory rate is only 20 breaths per minute. A swimmer taking 60 strokes per minute and breathing to one side on every stroke cycle (1:2 ratio) takes only 30 breaths per minute, far below the body’s chosen rate.

So it’s not surprising that maintaining bilateral breathing can potentially be a challenge!

[Tweet “Breathing bilaterally severely reduces your body’s chance to get oxygen.”]

When coaching I prefer to focus on making sure that the swimmer in front of me has a balanced stroke – that both the left side and right side are doing the same thing, that the core and spine are staying straight and not bending round to one side or another. From there you can ensure that general breathing technique is good. The next step is to make sure that when breathing, you don’t let your hand cross under your body. My favourite drill is to swim with out breathing, and slowly reduce the number of strokes between breaths. Try to maintain the smoothness as you add in more breaths per length!

Obviously it is a great asset to be able to breath to both sides; specially in open water where waves, wind or bright sunshine could make breathing one way more difficult.

[Tweet “Breathing bilaterally is a useful skill but not a necessity.”]

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Bilateral Breathing #SwimTechTues

Bilateral Breathing

If you are able to breath to one side WHILE maintaining good form, then more power to you. However, very few people can do this. Bilateral breathing is seen as a must have skill, a must do with regards to technique.

Bilateral Breathing

The problem with only breathing to one side is that your form can become unbalanced and your weak side can have minute flaws, like crossing over and a low elbow, that will slow you down, or not provide enough power. Moreover, when only breathing to one side and breathing every other stroke like so many do, you do not completely exhale and thus breath out partially when you rotate to breath.

This last bit is incredibly problematic because your heart rate and rate of perceived exertion will rise without an increase in speed or effort. Wouldn’t it be nice to actually swim more smoothly, with less effort but still get faster?

Being able to undertake bilateral breathing is a skill that will allow you to swim straighter. Remember, if you’re pull is uneven and unbalanced, then without a black line to follow swimming in open water you are more likely to go awry. With your hands pulling in different directions, and with differing levels of power, staying on course requires a lot more care and consideration.

I don’t try and encourage bilateral breathing with my clients and swimmers, but I do teach them the skills to be able to breath both directions with ease. This means that in bad weather with waves and wind – or even in very sunny weather – that you can breath to an easier side and hopefully more freely.

How To Do It

Swim sets of 5*25 with plenty of recovery – 20 to 30s each – Do the first with no breathing (or as far as you can manage). Then for 2-5, swim with breaths every 9 strokes, then 7, then 5, then 3. What you will find is that rather than trying to rush through the strokes each breath, you will be more comfortable and more successful when you take a little more time and control over your strokes. By swimming slightly slower, you will use less oxygen, and feel less panicked. This in turn will help you be more relaxed and smoother about your stroke as a whole.

How To Do It Really Well

Focus on driving hip rotation  – this will give you the space to breath into.

Turn your chin toward your shoulder rather than trying to lift your head – this will be the easiest way to get your mouth out of the water.

Turn your head to breath as your hand comes under your nose – this will give you the time to breath in properly rather than feeling rushed when your hand recovers back over the water.

Bilateral Breathing

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!