Breathing in a Triathlon Swim – the Vanilla vs. Chocolate Argument, Part 2 of 2

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(continued from Part 1)

Open water swimming is different that swimming in a pool in so many ways. The first way that comes to most peoples minds is the common inability to see the bottom, combined with the lack of the black line on the bottom to guide you where to go. There are two other differences I want to point out here. First, there is no separator between you and the other competitors. Open water swimming is a contact sport. Second, turns are not 180 degrees. You don’t swim to a point and simply reverse direction. Even if you are going to go back the way you came, you will first need to circle around a turn buoy. There are so many reasons I could give for being able to breathe to both sides, but I will focus on these three now.

Breathing to both sides can make you faster while sighting and maintaining the correct heading. By breathing to both sides, you have the opportunity to observe what is off to those sides. If your swim is bringing you down along a shoreline, you can verify you are in line with the shore as you breath to one side, and that you have not moved inside of the course buoys as you breath to the other. Now, you do not need to lift your head and look forward as often. This will reduce the times you slow or stop your swimming, and hence make you a faster swimmer.

Breathing to both sides can aid you in avoiding any unnecessary contact with other swimmers, which in turn reduces your risks of such things as being submerged, being struck, being impeded, having your goggles knocked off, and possibly even injuring yourself. When you breathe to the sides and see what is going on, you know if you need to take action to avoid any possible problems. You can’t know that if you don’t ever see it.

Finally, breathing to both sides will allow you to breathe toward a buoy as you approach it, and away from it as you round it, both of which will help you to take the shortest line possible, making your swim faster.

So, chocolate or vanilla? You choose, and I won’t be the one to say you’re wrong. Just make sure that either way, you CAN breathe to both sides – it will get you there sooner.

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