One of the biggest discussion points in swimming and triathlon is whether you should breathe on both sides with Lifeguard Training. If you do some research on the internet you will find many articles from swimming coaches who explain that you should not put effort into bilateral breathing (breathing on both sides) and that it is best to keep breathing on one side. If it is already difficult to breathe on both sides, it is of course an easy solution to follow this advice and keep breathing on one side.
At Swim Smooth we think differently. Breathing on both sides is a powerful way to develop your technique, and it also gives you advantages during competitions. It would therefore not be wise not to at least try.
The way you breathe has such a big influence on your swimming technique that many mistakes are made by breathing on the same side all the time. Those mistakes can include cross-overs, scissors in the legs, wrong timing, weak catch movement, and even shoulder injuries.
Bilateral breathing is when you frequently switch sides when breathing. The most common way is to breathe every 3 strokes (or every 5 or 7 strokes) switching sides. However, breathing 2 or 3 times on the same side and then breathing on the other side 2 or 3 times in succession is also bilateral breathing. The most important thing is that you switch sides regularly so that you learn to breathe equally easily on both sides.
We’re now going to take a look at 10 common reasons why you shouldn’t breathe on both sides, along with our counterargument for why we think this line of reasoning is wrong:
Reason 1. Elite swimmers never breathe on both sides – why should I.
It is indeed correct that sprinters at major championships very often continue to breathe on one side. But those elite swimmers do breathe on both sides of training to develop a symmetrical swimming technique. The elite swimmers will adjust their side during a competition depending on where their closest competitor swims to keep an eye on it.
Reason 2. You cannot take in enough oxygen during the competition.
That will only happen if you do it wrong. If a swimmer cannot absorb enough oxygen, it is very often because breathing out underwater is not enough. During your workouts, work on blowing out the air more efficiently, and breathing bilaterally will be much easier. In addition, you have the advantage when you swim in a sea that you can always turn your head away from the waves to avoid ingesting water.
The challenge with breathing in swimming is not to get enough air in, but to exhale that air again.
Reason 3. If I always swim at an angle by breathing on one side in open water, then I look a bit more ahead.
The problem with this argument is that the more you look ahead, the more your legs will sink (even with a wetsuit). That is the case for any swimmer, of any level. In addition, it is much more difficult to keep adjusting to swimming in the right direction.
Bilateral breathing in training will help you develop a symmetrical technique that will also allow you to swim straighter. If you swim right you will have to look less forward and you will also have to make fewer adjustments and those are the only advantages.
Reason 4. I’m way too old to learn that now.
Of course, it is still possible …. but you have to want it yourself. Many swimmers have it ingrained in their heads in such a way that ” I can’t do that ” rather quickly becomes ” I don’t want to “.
It’s far too easy to give up breathing on both sides before you’ve tried it hard and discovered the benefits.
How about solving the problem NOW? Not tomorrow, not next week, not after the season, but now. Here’s a short set that can make you feel the benefits of bilateral breathing fairly quickly:
Swim 3 sets of 5x100m each. Rest for 15 seconds between every 100m and take an additional 45 seconds between sets. Swim the first set of 5 x 100m breathing only on the left side (every 4 strokes), the second set of 5 x 100m breathing only on the right side (every 4 strokes), and the last 5 x 100m swimming with bilateral breathing. Take your time for every 100m.
Are you faster than thought on your least favorite side? Could it be because of the bad habits you’ve learned on your good side but don’t exist on your bad side yet? Is it worth continuing to work on improving bilateral breathing? I think so…
Reason 5. My neck will get stiff if I breathe on the other side
While breathing, your entire body should rotate around your longitudinal axis. You probably naturally do this on your good side, but much less so on your other side.
Breathing on your lesser side without enough rotation (try at least 45-60º) will cause you to force your neck too much and lift your head out of the water. This is the cause of the neck pain. Work on better body rotation and that neck pain will be a thing of the past.
Reason 6. Under no circumstances will you ever breathe so well on your lesser side compared to your good side.
We’ve done many video analysis and correction sessions at Swim Smooth and time and again we find that swimmers swim with a much better technique when forced to breathe on their least favorite side. Of course, it feels really weird because you’re not used to this, but the timing is usually better and your head stays in a better position because you haven’t learned any bad habits on your least favorite side.
Reason 7. Your feet go back and forth as you try to breathe on both sides.
In fact, it’s just the other way around. If you develop good body rotation on both sides, you will swim much more symmetrically. That’s the perfect way to get rid of crossing over (which is one of the causes of swinging legs). It is mainly the people who continue to breathe on one side who are especially bothered by the swinging leg movements.