9/17/03 Bi-Lateral Breathing Tip:
Freestyle breathing is one of the most basic skills that swimmers learn early
on. When and how often you should breathe, however, is a more complicated
matter that changes throughout your swimming career. For some swimmers, the
most notable of these changes involves bi-lateral breathing. Bilateral
breathing occurs while swimming freestyle when you breathe on an odd count
(every 3rd, 5th, or 7th stroke) and the head is turned to one side to breathe
and the following breath is to the other side.
One advantage of bilateral breathing for competitive swimmers is that it keeps
your body balanced because you rotate to alternate sides each time you breathe.
When you breathe to one side, you may only be rotating to your breathing side.
This uneven body rotation causes you to extend the recovering arm (the arm that
is in the air while you are breathing) less than your other arm, hindering your
distance per cycle. When you only breathe to one side, you may also encourage
uneven muscular development in your shoulders. This can lead to injury.
Many swimmers find that learning to breathe bilaterally is difficult. This seems
particularly true of Masters swimmers. The first stage in learning bilateral
breathing is learning to rotate and breathe comfortably to your non-natural
side. Practice doing 50s, breathing to the right on the first length,
then to the left on the second length. This will allow you to even-out your
body rotation while keeping your normal 2- or 4- count breathing.
When training, it is very important to keep rotation even, while breathing at an
appropriate rate. For many swimmers the appropriate rate is roughly one breath
every 2 seconds, or approximately one breath every 3 strokes.