Benefits of bilateral breathing in freestyle

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bilateral breathingAt TSC, we are not die hard believers in bilateral breathing (breathing to both sides). If you are able to breath to one side WHILE maintaining good form, then more power to you. However, very few of you can do this.

The problem with only breathing to one side is that your form can become unbalanced and your weak side can have minute flaws, like crossing over and a low elbow, that will slow you down. Moreover, when only breathing to one side and breathing every other stroke like so many do, you do not completely exhale and thus breath out partially when you rotate to breath. This last bit is incredibly problematic because your heart rate and rate of perceived exertion will rise without an increase in speed or effort. Wouldn’t it be nice to actually swim more smoothly, with less effort but still get faster? Read on…

Here is a simple experiment that I did last week to prove to myself that bilateral breathing can actually make you faster but with less energy and lower RPE. I did a second main set of 10×200. The odd reps I performed at race pace but the even paces I performed breathing every three strokes (so alternating sides); my effort would be relaxed. When I touched the wall, I did not believe the pace clock. Although I felt I was going slower, I actually swam 5 seconds faster than when I thought I was going race pace. The same was true for the 4th rep, 6th rep, and 8th rep too.I was pretty shocked at the results.

Many factors could explain this significant improvement. For one, that extra stroke between breaths allowed me to exhale more and empty my lungs completely before taking a breath. Then when I took a breath, I could get more air in, lowering my heart rate and perceived exertion. Secondly, I was able to smooth out my stroke by keeping a higher elbow pull and wider entry for both arms.

If you want to try this out for yourself, here are three recommendations:

  1. Try breathing out through your mouth and nose which will allow you to empty your lungs more
  2. Create a rhythm by repeating something like “1-2-3-Breath.” This will also get your cadence up
  3. Build your distances. Since it is hard to immediately switch to bilateral breathing, start by just doing a few reps, then move to doing it your entire warm up and cool down. Then parts of your main set. The more you practice the better.

If you are struggling to break through a plateau of speed or just want to improve, try it out for yourself and see the results