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 50’s, 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.