• Technique

5 benefits of bilateral breathing

Learn five benefits of bilateral breathing and why you should take the time to master it as an open water swimmer.

It’s an age-old debate amongst swimmers.

Which is better? bilateral breathing or single-sided breathing?

Many swimmers get comfortable breathing to one side while others believe bilateral breathing is the key to peak performance in the water.

So what’s the answer?

Ultimately, it comes down to what you personally feel most comfortable with, although there are some significant benefits to breathing bilaterally.

Here are five benefits of bilateral breathing and why you should try breathing on both sides next time you hit the water.

1. Improves breath control

Bilateral breathing helps to increase your lung capacity and breath control while swimming which is great for when you are diving under waves to get through the wave zone on your way out for an ocean swim.

While breathing every second stroke might be easy on the lungs, increasing your breathing to every third or fifth stroke allows you to have better control over your oxygen and gets your body used to swimming under respiratory stress, similar to when you are swimming in the surf.

Overall, bilateral breathing will get your body used to swimming under oxygen shortage, which will then help your overall swimming ability and help get you through the wave zone easier.

2. Helps to balance out your freestyle stroke

Breathing only on one side when swimming creates a weaker side of your stroke and can also create an unbalanced stroke.

When you breathe to only one side regularly, the muscles on that one side develop more than the muscles on your other side, creating a dominant side and a weak side which can leave you more likely to develop injuries.

Breathing to one side also creates an unbalanced stroke where you can’t rotate as much and leaves you with less power in your stroke.

By bilateral breathing, you are using the muscles on each side of your body equally, allowing you to rotate on both sides and have an equal amount of power on each side of your stroke.

3. Helps to keep you streamlined and swimming in a straight line

When breathing to one side you tend to swim towards that side you are breathing to rather than in a straight line causing you to swim all over the place, especially if you are fairly new to swimming.

When your breathing is balanced you have a better chance of swimming in a straight line down the pool or in the ocean.

Swimming straight when ocean swimming is extremely important because no one wants to end up out at sea or swim any extra distance when you don’t need to.

4. Gives you more options for sighting

If you only breathe to one side, you’re going to be less flexible in your timing when in the surf zone and find it harder to keep an eye out around you.

Being able to breathe, and therefore sight on both sides will allow you to sight more regularly and allow you to match up your sighting with diving under waves.

When swimming along the beach, if you can breathe both sides you can keep an eye out to sea for the swell/waves, no matter which way you’re swimming.

Finally, as you’re swimming back to the shore, particularly when the sun is low in the morning/evening, you’ll be able to sight behind on the side facing away from the sun’s glare, giving you a much better view behind.

5. Allows full rotation on both sides of your freestyle stroke

If you only breathe to one side you might notice that you have limited rotation on the side you don’t breathe to compared to full rotation on the side you breathe to.

Bilateral breathing helps you to learn how to rotate evenly on both sides. This helps by allowing you to get in a better position for your catch which gives you more power in your stroke.

It will also help to balance your stroke which will help you swim more efficiently.

  • Written by Ocean Swims on 28 March 2023
  • (Updated on 6 August 2023)

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