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Want to learn how to Bilateral Breathe...you should!
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Do you breathe bilaterally in most of your swim training sessions?
Yes
63%
 63%  [ 95 ]
No
36%
 36%  [ 54 ]
Total Votes : 149

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Swim Smooth




Joined: 22 Aug 2005
Posts: 1487
Location: UK and Australia

PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2006 6:18 pm    Post subject: Want to learn how to Bilateral Breathe...you should! Reply with quote

Dear All

Thought it would be an interesting topic to run and see just how many of us do actually breathe bilaterally for the majority of our swim training sessions. As a swimmer I used to be a bit slack fearing that the change to bilateral breathing would either be too hard or would slow me down. Now as a coach I preach it like its going out of fashion, and for good reason too.

Have a scan of the 'article' below and see what you think and whether you will be one of those people who never gets over the "two week bilateral breathing hump" no matter how much encouragement you receive. I encourage everyone to give their two cents worth so that hopefully we can develop this thread as a "self-help" guide with remedies or ways you have been converted or may have converted someone else.

We had a very nice guy who came along to our Manchester Clinic in October who said "you'll never change me, I'm too old!" and whilst it admittedly took some time, he recently emailed me to say he would never now go back to unilateral breathing. See if this is you...

Breathing Easy

As a triathlete, how often are we told that it is beneficial for us to be able to breathe to both sides when swimming freestyle? Frequently, and for good reason too. But how many of us are willing to dedicate some time to rectify our old unilateral breathing habits in favour of a more balanced bilateral breathing stroke? From experience, few people. So why exactly is it favourable to be able to breathe bilaterally and how can we go about making these improvements to the stroke?

Bilateral Breathing

Bilateral breathing is essentially the skill of alternating your breathing pattern so that you breathe once to the left, take three strokes, and then breathe once to the right in a continuous fluid motion. This helps to keep the stroke smooth and balanced. If you are counting strokes till your next breath, odd number counting (3,5,7) will lead to bilateral breathing and even number counting (2,4,6) will lead to unilateral breathing. Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many people struggle with this simple coordination exercise. Many people look to the great swimmers at the Olympics (e.g. Thorpe, Hackett and Phelps) and see them only breathing unilaterally and think, “Well if it works for them and is easier for me to stay to one side, why change?” However, in reality these swimmers do the majority of their training sessions breathing bilaterally to maintain balance and symmetry, choosing to switch to unilateral breathing during a race for both tactical and physiological purposes. Try to think of bilateral breathing as a good training habit to establish, and choose to switch to one side if the situation in a race dictates.

Avoiding the Chop

Most triathletes will relate to a certain race situation when the swell of the ocean was so bad, or the repetitive bashing by another competitor was so intense, that it just wasn’t possible to breathe to either the left or the right in that particular race. What if this was the only side you were able to breathe to? It almost goes without saying that we should all at least practice the ability to be able to breathe to our non-dominant side to prevent this scenario arising.

Seeing Straight

Bilateral breathing also helps people swim a lot straighter due to the enhanced symmetry of the stroke. You might find that in a pool you swim faster when breathing to one side, as you feel more comfortable with the breathing aspect of doing so. When you are restricted with the lane ropes it is hard to discern whether or not you are swimming straight. Most unilateral breathers will tend to marginally crossover the centre-line of the body as they repetitively breathe to one side, and thus cause a deviation from the straight line seen with a more balanced bilateral stroke. In the pool this is not really an issue, but when you are trying to swim in the open water with your only marker being 500m away, it is of paramount importance that you have the ability to swim as straight as possible, otherwise all your hard earned effort to improve your swim over the winter months may well go to waste. I have seen some excellent unilateral pool swimmers disappointingly fail dismally in the open water due to the inability to swim straight. Don’t let this happen to you.

Sore Shoulders

Probably the biggest concern for a unilateral swimmer is how much repetitive stress they are putting on their shoulders and supporting structures with respect to injury. Nine times out of ten a unilateral swim stroke will be a very asymmetrical swim stroke. An asymmetrical swim stroke can lead to problems with the biomechanics of the stroke such as limited body rotation, crossover, thumb first entry and associated internal rotation leading to impingement of the rotator cuff muscles. Not very nice, and something to be avoided at all costs. As a coach, one of the simplest to develop your symmetry is to prescribe bilateral breathing to help you with your balance. This is often easier for the coach than it is the swimmer, so how can you help yourself become a better bilateral breather? There are two reasons why you won’t be breathing bilaterally right now if you have always opted to breathe to one side:

1. Fear of running of air

The most common reason triathletes attribute for the discomfort experienced with bilateral breathing is the actual fear of running out of air. Effectively, most people see that to go from breathing unilaterally, i.e. every 2 strokes, to breathing bilaterally, i.e. breathing every 3 strokes, as having to “hold” their breath for an additional stroke or going “without” oxygen for another 50% of their normal pattern. This is hardly what you are after for an “aerobic swim”. However, this perception is precisely why people feel anxiety when it comes to bilateral breathing. You shouldn’t be holding your breath at all when your face is in the water. Ask yourself, how often do you hold your breath when you go for a run in the park? Never. So, in order to facilitate breathing we need to focus more on the exhalation process when the face is in the water, and allow the inhalation process to take care of itself. A very simple exercise you can do to allow yourself to relax in this manner is to simply repeat this “mantra” when you are swimming: “breathe, bubble, bubble, breathe”. So, by actually saying “bubble, bubble” in the water you will be effectively exhaling as you go along. As crazy as it sounds this really does work. Give it a try.

2. Lack of rotation to your non-dominant side

If you are already breathing every four strokes, dropping back to every three should not pose any significant breathing problem. However, most people feel like they struggle to get their face out of the water when they turn their head to their non-dominant side to take a breath. Again, you shouldn’t be trying to physically turn the head to get a breath in, you should be looking towards developing and enhancing the body rotation or roll to this side and allowing the head to turn for a breath as an extension of that body roll. There are many body roll drills out there, which will help you develop this part of the stroke. The best advice is to seek out the professional advice of a qualified coach who can spend some time with you analysing your stroke and directing you towards the best body rotation and other technique drills that will help you develop this aspect of your stroke.

Remember the key to an efficient freestyle stroke is the ability to remain relaxed when put under pressure, and your ability to do this lies very much in your approach to your breathing. Most people will attempt bilateral breathing for a period of about two weeks. After this time they will go through a self-assessment asking “does it feel and easier, or do I feel any faster” and if the answer to either of these questions is no, they’ll often revert back to their old unilateral breathing ways. Try to get through this “2-week Bilateral Breathing Hump” and you will be rewarded with better swim performances next season.

Thanks

Paul Newsome
Swim Smooth
www.swimsmooth.com
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Swim Smooth




Joined: 22 Aug 2005
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Location: UK and Australia

PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2006 11:50 pm    Post subject: Breathing Reply with quote

Good stuff everyone, I'm very keen to see the results of this poll so far. For the one person who said no, would you feel comfortable telling us why and if you're keen to develop this at all...no obligation to identifying yourself obviously just trying to help, and trying to strike up a discussion on how and why people may or may not breathe bilaterally.

Thanks

P.S Hope you found the rather basic artcile useful?

Paul
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SolarEnergy




Joined: 18 Sep 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 1:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Paul,

What would be a typical good swim session to improve bilateral breathing?
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robertrabbit




Joined: 17 Nov 2005
Posts: 545
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 8:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am afraid I am one of the 3 (currently) who have voted no. I tend to alternate between trying to breathe bilaterally and not. I don't think I have tried since the new year. I am quite prepared to have a go and have made a lot of progress but I suppose the main reason I slip back is when I go training with the club. In those sessions I tend to put more emphasis on keeping up with the quicker ones in the lane and so will slip back into single side breathing.

I really want to develop my bilateral and so should spend all of my sessions outside the club practising and maybe I should bite the bullet and drop towards the back of the lane to 'go bilateral'
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dr dre




Joined: 03 Jun 2003
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 9:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I switched to bilateral after about 6monts of swim training. started to get a sore neck from always breathing to the one side. after a few weeks of adapting ( and a fair bit of coughing up pool water ) I am now much happier and find I breathe every 3 strokes unless I am pushing it then can change to 2,3,2,3.

Definately worth changing and nows the time to do it.
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flyingelephant




Joined: 22 Mar 2004
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 9:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't ever remember not breathing bilateraly, I just thought it was the way you were meant to swim the crawl, so started from the beginning.
Sometimes do the 5 strokes, mainly 3. Othertimes vary depending on sea conditions. Also important when swimming in big waves with surfers around, not only to see the next wave coming, the next surfer, but also to breath on the protected side. Also goes for other swimmers, coarse spotting etc.
It's also good practice to be able to protect the intake of breath by looking back a little in really choppy conditions, might not be efficient hydrodynamicaly, but at least you get air.
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martinc




Joined: 03 May 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 9:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

my name is martin and i'm a unilateral breather. Sad
there, i've admitted it. i feel better already. Very Happy
i do it out of habit. years of training, occasionally being pushed by coaches to bilateral breathe, but i always raced unilateral.
good comments though swimsmooth.. i can see the benefit for triathlon in particular, as i've definitely been guilty of wandering around in the thames at windsor .. even found myself in the reeds at eton back in my first tri year!!
scouts honour i'll spend at least 2 weeks trying. (funnily enough i did do 200m bi last night, but that hardly counts does it!)
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Windmonkey




Joined: 01 Oct 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 9:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I changed to bilateral breathing as I was suffering with a dickie shoulder. It smoothed my stroke out and now I am more or less as quick as I was breathing unilaterally but with no shoulder problems. Like Dre if I'm pushing I breathe 2,3,2,3.

Very Happy
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Speedo Swimmer




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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 9:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Errrrrrr i have voted.......

God I am so ashamed.....

And a coach and teacher as well Crying or Very sad Crying or Very sad Crying or Very sad

But on the other hand my old Dad allways used to say "Do as I say not as I do" Very Happy
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shunty




Joined: 26 Sep 2005
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Location: Amersham(ish)

PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 9:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Welcome martin - I'm Steve and I, too, breathe uni.. erm.. unil... <cough> unilaterally - I could give up any time of course - I only do it for a bit of fun - it's not really a problem, honest Smile

I've swum like that for many years (30 ish I reckon). Don't think I overreach but I do have a bit of a thumb first entry and I also swim with my head looking forward. However I've never had any shoulder problems (other than self inflicted alcohol based ones) and it works reasonably well so I've never got round to changing. Two weeks?? I usually manage two sets of 200 before I get fed up with it and switch back.
If I could guarantee I'd swim 2-3 seconds quicker per 100 then I'd persevere but I'm lazy by nature and not changing is easier!!
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Speedo Swimmer




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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 10:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

shunty wrote:
Welcome martin - I'm Steve and I, too, breathe uni.. erm.. unil... <cough> unilaterally - I could give up any time of course - I only do it for a bit of fun - it's not really a problem, honest Smile

I've swum like that for many years (30 ish I reckon). Don't think I overreach but I do have a bit of a thumb first entry and I also swim with my head looking forward. However I've never had any shoulder problems (other than self inflicted alcohol based ones) and it works reasonably well so I've never got round to changing. Two weeks?? I usually manage two sets of 200 before I get fed up with it and switch back.
If I could guarantee I'd swim 2-3 seconds quicker per 100 then I'd persevere but I'm lazy by nature and not changing is easier!!


Blimey Shocked That must be my long lost identical twin, scarey!
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Apollo_Tim




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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 10:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Speedo Swimmer wrote:
Errrrrrr i have voted.......

God I am so ashamed.....

And a coach and teacher as well Crying or Very sad Crying or Very sad Crying or Very sad

But on the other hand my old Dad allways used to say "Do as I say not as I do" Very Happy


Em,.. what he said.

I know I should but when you're in the middle of a hard session, you think you need the air.

I usen't to breathe at all on my left side, but now I breathe on both sides equally - except usually unilaterally Rolling Eyes .

Just one hurdle left to jump.

Nice article btw - simple, straight-forward but all-encompassing. Smile
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shunty




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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 10:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Speedo Swimmer wrote:

Blimey Shocked That must be my long lost identical twin, scarey!

And all this time I felt something was missing in my life... (not just the lack of bilateral breathing)
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martinc




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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 10:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

mmm, i have a feeling my 2 weeks offer may last as long my new year's resolution not to drink.. yiccup! Razz
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Last edited by martinc on Tue Jan 17, 2006 11:04 am; edited 1 time in total
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Love-Tubs




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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 10:20 am    Post subject: Bilateral Reply with quote

During my fledgling FS months (I’ve improved little since) an incredibly fluid and fast (the tri gang couldn’t keep with him, some possessing podium results at half and full IM distance) TI swimmer (pool only) suggested I start bilateral swimming to ‘even out my crap style’ – and so I did as instructed.

The A1 race for my first Tri season was the London (05); I arrived a day early to take it all in and watch some of the swims, transitions etc – I think it was the 25 – 30 group on the Saturday whereby the lead swimmer was quite literally hammering the rest of the field - breathing to one side! In addition to this, a Tri coach once asked me ‘…why do you bother with bilateral breathing, there is no evidence to prove it is faster’…furthermore, drooling over the C5 IM, ITU events I observed a similar thing. Not much bilateral at all. So I’ve slipped into doing isolated lengths, changing my breathing side for each length.

Yet, as a physicist, I intuitively believe that bilateral breathing has to be the most efficient because, ultimately, it will facilitate a fluid and balanced transition through the water. So my question is this…does swimming bilaterally put ‘lower ceiling’ on velocity that can be overcome by unilateral breathing? I’m convinced that unilateral can’t be as balanced but does this actually matter wrt triathlon?

I’m also getting one of my hunches (steady) regarding the co-existence of two, seemingly identical activities (wetsuit and pool swimming) that are, in fact completely disconnected; rather like traditional rock climbing and bouldering - the same activity yet, worlds apart! Does the wet-suited swimmer necessitate an entirely different stroke that pool practice can’t relate, just like the climbing examples?

I’m not defending either style; in fact I’ll be attempting to revisit bilateral heaven today – it would be great to gather, as you suggest, a comprehensive list of opinions to then look for a pattern/theme.


Discuss everything J

RichU
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