Why bilateral breathing matters.

New swimmers usually have a preference when it comes to breathing (my runners reading this are probably going whattttt?). When I started swimming more for triathlon,  I found that my right side was so much more natural to breathe on. I even seemed to avoid turning to my left because it was just so darn awkward. But not this year! After a few weeks of consistent drills, and forcing myself to push through that awkwardness, the left side is ALMOST as normal feeling as the right side.

So do I really need to breathe bilaterally? It sounds like a lot of extra work…

Although it might take some struggle, and yes a few extra drills (hey, they might actually be good for you!), it will be worth it!

If you’re currently training for a triathlon, think about this: what if the waves are crashing on your right side or there’s a girl swimming stroke for stroke with you to your left. And what if one of these things is happening on the side you breathe on?!? Sounds like you can skip the hydration for the rest of the race because you’re about to drink the whole lake. Breathing to the same side can also cause you to swim off course if your stroke is asymmetrical – making you have to sight more often (wasting more energy).

Peasantman Triathlon 2016 – there was a small craft advisory on this day, making bilateral breathing pretty important with all the waves!
Alright, so maybe you’re a swimmer that is confined to pools where you ALWAYS have your own lane (lucky). You still should practice bilateral breathing! Why? Breathing to the same side over the course of a few hours a week adds up and will lead to muscular imbalance (not good)! Turning your head to the left puts extra stress on the right shoulder until your head is centered again. If you breathe bilaterally, this stress is evenly distributed over both shoulders throughout the swim – but, if you only breathe to, say your right, that left shoulder is going to be pretty angry for having to do all the extra work all the time. Overtime, you may develop an imbalance in strength and flexibility, which can lead to the dreaded swimmer’s shoulder (dun dun dun… more on this in a later post) or neck pain.

Injuries don’t make for fun training, so let’s try to prevent them! Otherwise you may have to make a few trips to my office.

I chatted with John Spitzer (aka my younger brother), who is a two-time MAAC Conference Champion in the 50 Freestyle (2014, 2015), MAAC Conference champion in the 100 freestyle (2015) and current Marist school record holder in the 50 Freestyle (20.63) as well as the 400 Freestyle Relay (3:00.69).

John in the white and red cap

We already know that breathing unilaterally can lead to injuries and wasted time getting back on course. John also pointed out that bilateral breathing is HUGE for proper stroke technique.

“If you only breathe to one side every time, your stroke technique will suffer – specifically stroke symmetry and body rotations.”

Add these drills to your routine to work on breathing bilaterally! Click the drill to see a video demo.

For some other really great swim technique videos, check out The Race Club.


Kickin ass, takin names at a Marist home meet.

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