Breathing in Swimming – the Vanilla vs. Chocolate Argument, Part 1 of 2

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by David Wendkos

You need to breathe bilaterally

Nuh-uh! I only breathe to my right, and I do fine.”

If you don’t breathe to both sides, you’ll go slower

Then why are so many Olympic swimmers breathing every two strokes, even in races as short as 100 meters? Huh?

The arguments for unilateral and bilateral breathing in swimming will continue. There will be multitudes of proponents for each view, many on each side with numerous swimming and triathlon successes to their names, and many on each side with a devotion to their view bordering on fanaticism. I admit I have my opinion as well. The one place I suppose I am a bit more ‘flexible’ is in my view that both can be effective, with a variety of contributing factors, such as the person, the distance, the body of water, the amount of training, the athlete’s swimming history, environmental factors, as well as others that I am not thinking of now.

For the record, generally, I do breathe on each stroke to my right. I have done this for most of my life, and my stroke has developed such that I can close my eyes and swim straight down the black line in a pool without a waver while breathing to my right. Ask me to do it while breathing bilaterally, and I will be in the left lane line in ten or fifteen yards. Could I fix that? Yes. Should I try to fix it? Probably. Will I ever actually work to fix it? Doubtful. I feel comfortable in the belief that, particularly in a distance event, any reduced speed or efficiency from breathing “too often” or only to one side, is more than made up for in my increased intake of oxygen.

Triathlon is NOT an event you want to start off by trying to hold your breath (IMHO). However, please notice that I did say “generally, breathe to my right”. As in ‘not always’. As in, it is, I believe, still critical that you know how to, and can be comfortable with, breathing to both sides.

David Wendkos lives in Annapolis, MD and has over 30 years of competitive swimming, coaching swimmers for the pool, open water, and triathlons. He can be followed on twitter at