To breathe (on both sides) or not to breathe

On a weekly basis I troll the internet and read swimming blogs, newsletters, reports, studies and well just about everything I can find. Often, I see patterns emerging, this week I would like to address the battle on bilateral breathing also referred to as breathing on both sides.

First let me tell you that I am not opposed to breathing on both sides, I in fact use bilateral breathing as a strategy on long swims to help relax my shoulders. I however, don’t agree with what I see as the major reason given by assorted blogs and articles for why you should breathe on both sides.

The most used reason is you over roll to the breathing side and under roll to the nonbreathing side creating an uneven stroke, shoulder strain and potentially a poor kick.  Which one or one of these reasons depends on whose material you are reading. According to these sources bilateral breathing will solve this problem. Evening out your roll to both sides.

Here is the problem with that. When swimmers who over roll to one side and flat on the other side switch up their breathing, they tend to simply alternate which side they are over rolling to and which side they are flat on. Or put another way they alternate over rolling to the left with being flat on the left, while simultaneously alternating over rolling on the right with being flat on the right. They don’t correct the problem they simply alternate which side is making which mistake.

So how do you fix this problem? Focus on your breathing.

Figure 1: Rolling to see ceiling

Keep your breathing low. A common error shown in Figure 1, is to look at the ceiling with each breath. Figure 2 shows our swimmer no longer looking at the ceiling, but they are still over turning to breath. While a step in the right direction is also wrong to allow both eyes to clear the water.  A swimmer should keep one eye in the water, so you can

Figure 2: Breathing with both eyes out of the water

not over roll from the neck.  Now that you are not over rolling from the neck, focus on keeping your shoulders rolling equally. To do that, try swimming with out breathing, or wear a snorkel to take the neck roll out of the equation. Focus each stroke on allowing the shoulders to roll with the body on both sides.

Figure 3: Low breathing with one eye remaining in the water

This will feel odd at first, but with time will become the new natural for you.

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