Should You Learn Bilateral Breathing?
Have you been told or read that you should learn bilateral breathing? Do you know what bilateral breathing is?!
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.
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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.
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!
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.
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!